[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 14 – House (1986)

Director: Steve Miner

Cast: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz

Screenplay: Ethan Wiley

93 mins. Rated R.

 

I caught House on the Sci-Fi channel as a child and was swept up in it. I taped it and watched it again and again and again. I figured that, today, I would take a look back at this movie to see if it’s worth my love or if it’s just a guilty pleasure. Both are fine with me.

Roger Cobb (The Man from Earth, The Other Side of the Wind) has just inherited his aunt’s house after her passing, and he’s taken the opportunity to move in and work on his next book. He has bad memories of the house; his son went missing several before and the house was the last place Roger saw him. The resulting marital problems left him divorced from wife Sandy (Kay Lenz, Breezy, The Secret Lives of Dorks). He’s also suffering from PTSD from his time in Vietnam. Roger has a lot of demons, and he’s about to discover that the house isn’t a normal one. It’s a conduit of evil, and Roger’s about to face his worst fears within its walls.

I might have given myself up too quick on this one at the beginning, but I fucking love House. It’s easily in my top ten favorite horror films of all time. There are faults to the film that are more apparent watching it as an adult, but I don’t even care because all the great parts of House outweigh the bad ten times over.

Let’s start with the incredible William Katt, an actor who never got the full-on recognition he deserves. He’s been steadily working for decades, but he kills it as Roger Cobb. I may be harboring a man-crush for Katt because I grew up watching him in Carrie and Greatest American Hero, but I just find him to be such a charismatic neighborly presence onscreen and his portrayal of Cobb as a sympathetic tortured but sweet individual is really strong.

The supporting cast is small but mighty. Though Kay Lenz doesn’t get much to do, George Wendt (Grand-Daddy Day Care, TV’s Cheers) gets a lot of the heavy lifting as new neighbor Harold. Wendt provides the straight-man comic relief to the many horrors of the house, and he really hits that perfect level of smarmy but friendly and truly caring about his neighbor. He’s not always the most-loyal, but I was taken by the realism that a standard comic relief character was able to be conveyed.

The real stars of the film, though, are the creatures. House contains some of the coolest and creepiest creature designs I’ve ever seen, and it’s all for the sake of twisting and turning Roger’s life upside-down. I don’t even want to pick a favorite one because they’re all so great. Hell, there’s even a bunch of sentient tools from the work shed that come to life and try to kill Roger, and it somehow works for the exact tone that director Steve Miner (Warlock, Day of the Dead) is going for.

House is an absolute blast that can be repeat-viewed over and over again. It’s a shame that this franchise never really kept to the quality of the original because I love the idea of the house being something different to each of its occupants. William Katt kicks ass as the lead and the film boasts some truly spectacular creature effects. Seek this one out immediately!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 30 – Final Destination 2 (2003)

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Director: David R. Ellis

Cast: A.J. Cook, Ali Larter, Tony Todd, Michael Landes

Screenplay: J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress

90 mins. Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language, drug content and some nudity.

 

Sequels are tough. Sometimes tougher than the original. Especially when it’s the first sequel of a big franchise, which Final Destination ended up becoming.

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Final Destination 2 begins on the first anniversary of the explosion of Flight 180. Kimberley Corman (A.J. Cook, TV’s Criminal Minds, Mother’s Day) and her friends are heading to Florida for Spring Break, but when she has a premonition of a major traffic collision, she inadvertently saves multiple lives. Now, though, she and the survivors are dying one by one, and the only person who can help her is the lone survivor of Flight 180: Clear Rivers (Ali Larter, TV’s Heroes, Resident Evil: Afterlife), who resides in a psychiatric ward where she can be safe.

Final Destination 2 makes the fatal error of breaking the rules of the first film multiple times and insinuating that there are ways to cheat death when it regularly breaks its own rules. Death’s motives and methods change drastically in the film. The decision to bring back Larter and series regular Tony Todd (The Man From Earth, Hatchet II) were good choices, but to play with a pre-established set of rules really messes with the series.

I personally didn’t like many of these characters who came off as caricatures of normal humans. Kimberley is a nice lead and Thomas Burke (Michael Landes, Burlesque, 11-11-11), the Deputy Marshal, is a nice male lead, but most everybody else is rude, unlikable, or generally cartoonish.

Final Destination 2 definitely ratchets up the body count and style of the first film in spectacular fashion, now if only we liked the characters enough. The screenplay from J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (TV’s Kyle XY, The Butterfly Effect) gives us little in terms of character development other than interesting but fizzly Rube Goldberg-esque deaths.

FINAL DESTINATION 2, Keegan Connor Tracy, 2003, © New Line
FINAL DESTINATION 2, Keegan Connor Tracy, 2003, © New Line

Final Destination 2 is a fun movie, but one that is picked apart quite easily. This movie has straight-up flaws, and most of them could be fixed by just understanding and respecting the mythology. Director David R. Ellis (Shark Night, Snakes on a Plane) would return to helm the fourth entry of this franchise to similarly misunderstood results.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wong’s Final Destination, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 19 [Happy 25th Birthday!] – Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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Director: Tom Savini

Cast: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles

Screenplay: George A. Romero

92 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language, nudity, and violence.

 

Last year, we covered Night of the Living Dead, an incredible classic of the horror genre. This year, we’ll cover the remake, a less stellar but still interesting reworking of the zombie hit.

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Night of the Living Dead runs in much the same way as its predecessor. Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike) is out visiting her deceased mother’s grave with her brother Johnny. When Johnny is attacked and killed by a vicious ghoul, Barbara flees for the countryside, stumbling upon a farm house where she meets Ben (Tony Todd, The Man from Earth, Sushi Girl). Together, Ben and Barbara, along with several other survivors, attempt to make it through the night of the living dead.

Tony Todd makes a great Ben. Patricia Tallman makes a better but not great Barbara. Tom Towles (Halloween, Miami Vice) does okay as Harry Cooper, who only has one goal: protect his wife and sick child (a goal that would prove to be less on his mind as our story progresses). Performances all around are passable.

The real divergence from the original is the screenplay from George A. Romero (The Crazies, Bruiser). Many won’t notice the differences between the two stories, and in fact, there are but few. Barbara’s character arc alters, and the film omits several plot points from fellow screenwriter John Russo, who originally wrote the screenplay with Romero. I prefer this script, but I prefer that movie. Just saying.

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There isn’t a whole lot wrong with the film. Tom Savini’s directing is still very novice here, but it works well enough. Night of the Living Dead has the potential to keep you up all night. It does. You just need to get over a few bumps along the road.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 29 – Final Destination (2000)

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Director: James Wong

Cast: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd

Screenplay: Glen Morgan, James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick

98 mins. Rated R for violence and terror, and for language.

 

Death comes to all of us. When it is your turn to die, it is your turn, and there is little that can be done about it. That’s the message we get from Final Destination, from director James Wong (The One, Dragonball: Evolution). The original idea for this film came from James Wong’s time as a writer on The X-Files. He envisioned the story as an episode from the wildly popular sci-fi television series. Unfortunately, the idea was scrapped several times and eventually was reformed into a feature film screenplay.

It tells the story of Flight 180 and its passenger Alex Browning (Devon Sawa, TV’s Nikita, Idle Hands). Alex has a premonition of the plane exploding upon takeoff, and forces himself and several other students from his field trip from the plane. The plane explodes and the seven survivors feel as though they just cheated death. They soon discover that you can’t cheat death for long, as the survivors are being picked off in the order they were supposed to die on the plane, but Alex starts seeing clues, and along with fellow student (Ali Larter, TV’s Legends, Resident Evil: Afterlife).

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The original film in this series is the best one, though it is still riddled with multiple technical and artistic issues. These characters are just not very smart. Alex keeps searching out clues and getting himself deeper and deeper with law enforcement as he tries to stop these crimes. He grabs murder weapons and tracks DNA all over crime scenes. He sees signs that clues him into the next death, yet at one point, he sees a man burning leaves and then assumes that a house will blow up. I like the idea of a magazine getting shredded and his friend’s name comes up, but the fire is a bit much. Then there’s the cops who believe that Alex is somehow capable of committing these crimes, like somehow orchestrating a bus hitting someone when they are surrounded by witnesses that could attest to his innocence. We have a character who believes that if it is his time, he should kill everyone else with him. I get it, these are students and teenagers, so they still have some learning to do, but these are dumb teens.

I like the performance given by Tony Todd (The Man from Earth, Hatchet II) as coroner Bludworth. It doesn’t amount to much more of a cameo appearance, but it is a classic horror film trope of the warning of death and dark times to come, much like Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th. He practically yells “Doomed! You’re all doomed!”

Wong’s directing is really nothing special. His cinematography is disappointing. The film has nice pacing though and moves along with ease, not stopping long enough for most of these issues to take away from the enjoyment of the film.

I do really enjoy the clues that Alex and Clear do not see. I like that there are numerous noticeable clues in the film that foreshadow events soon to come, many of them are ones that aren’t even pointed out by our main characters. There is even the inclusion of John Denver songs at many of the Rube Goldberg style deaths. If you didn’t know, Denver died in a plane crash and his music works as a calling card in many ways, a warning like Bludworth’s. I know I didn’t listen to his music for a while after seeing this film.

I also like the score of the film. It stays with you long after the film ends. It won’t win any major awards, but as far as horror scores go, not bad.

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So there you have it. Final Destination is far from perfect, but it is a lot of fun. I find that it still holds up now, 14 years later.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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