House II: The Second Story
Twenty-five years after the tragic death of his parents when he was still an infant, Jesse inherits his family’s large, sprawling family home. The strange house was built by Jesse’s great-great-grandfather, who was reputed to be an outlaw and treasure hunter. One of his Great-Grandad’s most famous acquisitions was reported to be a crystal skull he and his former partner swiped from somewhere south of the border, a skull that was supposedly able to give its owner eternal life. But of course, with the exception of a single photograph, no one has actually seen the skull for years.
Hey! There it is right there!
Working off a hunch, Jesse enlists the help of his buddy, Charlie, and convinces him to help dig up his ancestor’s grave to search for the skull. To their surprise, they find the skull…. Along with a not-quite-so-dead Great-great Grandfather. Turns out the strange skull actually works, just not quite as intended, since Gramps is now a walking corpse. Another downside? Turns out the skull is essentially a magnet for morally questionable opportunists who want to use the power of the skull for their own evil ends. And the strangely designed house? Oh, well, it actually functions as a gateway to other time periods, allowing all sorts of riff-raff to sneak in and cause mischief. Meaning Jesse and Charlie not only have to deal with a zombie, but are also going to deal with prehistoric brutes, angry Aztecs, and the ghost of Gramp’s former partner, who are all hell-bent on getting that skull. This is going to prove to be a very eventful weekend.
This is what happens when you give your interior decorator free reign of the house.
House II follows a strange, yet familiar pattern in the horror movie franchise sphere by creating at least one big hit, and then immediately changing the previous, pre-established formula completely for the next film, in an attempt at trying to make the new movie the start of a (hopefully) ongoing anthology series. While this might be a good idea in theory, it almost never works like the filmmakers think it’s going to (hello Halloween III), and the series either course corrects, peters out, or outright croaks. The House series is even odder, in that it tried to switch to horror/fantasy in this second installment, switched back to pure horror for the third, and then petered out after the fourth by revisiting the plot-line from the first film and leaning back into the fantasy angle. And it’s that same indecision and flip-flop of priorities that bogs this film down just as it did the series. Because while it has some nifty ideas and fun set-pieces, the movie’s lack of consistency makes for a very disjointed experience.
I’m sorry, but… WTF is happening?
To put it in the simplest terms: House II is the type of film that does not know what kind of film it wants to be. Which is particularly odd, since both the first and second films were written by the same writer. It starts out as a horror by introducing Gramps’ creepy cowboy/ex-partner’s ghost who then kills Jesse’s parents. So you initially think you’re in for another traditional haunted house flick. But as soon as Gramps makes his way out of the ground it very suddenly, and inexplicably, turns into a comedy, and then a fantasy adventure, by forcing Jesse and Charley to run around these various time periods like chickens with their heads cut off, all because people keep stealing this stupid, fake-y looking, crystal skull (though it does look better than the one from that particular Indian Jones movie, so I suppose we should at least be grateful for that). But then, after now having spent the bulk of the film with this group of incompetent lunatics who never once get the bright idea to lock the stupid skull up in some kind of safe so no one can take it, the film seems to suddenly remember, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, we had a villain…”, and it brings back the evil ghost dude and turns back into horror. But it also has this weird western standoff vibe going for it too, which still doesn’t make a lot of sense (but, you know, evil cowboy and all), but the whole “western motif” does give the filmmakers the chance to have the characters ride off into the American Southwest in a covered wagon and cowboy hats, which seems to be what they were aiming for, so good for them. I guess. Point is, this thing is all over the map, and some of it works, and some of it doesn’t. Thankfully, even when it doesn’t, some of the scenes and characters at least still end up being kind of fun and entertaining, but the movie still completely lacks a cohesive story-line or tone, making for an oftentimes very jittery viewing experience.
The other knock against the movie is that there’s just a lot of things going on that really don’t make a lot of sense if you stop to think about it for more than half a second. And that’s taking into account that this is a silly comedy/fantasy film and all the leeway both of those genres are usually given. Like, the whole aforementioned “why do they keep leaving this sought after skull out in the open instead of locking it up” thing immediately comes to mind. As does the question of why anyone would willingly build a house that functioned as a portal between worlds in the first place? Because that seems like a horrible idea if you’re trying to keep your super-special skull OUT of the hands of would-be thieves. Do portal houses affect physics? Cause there’s some seriously weird crap going on with the gravity in this thing. What “time period” exactly does the dog-worm creature come from? What was the point of giving Jesse a girlfriend if she was just going to up and peace-out halfway through the film? If the evil ghost was already stalking Gramps for years why didn’t it already know where the skull was? And, perhaps most importantly, how, on God’s green earth, does one strangle a zombie into unconsciousness? Please, if someone could explain just that one lingering, unanswered plot point to me out of all the film’s other lingering, unanswered plot points, I’d feel a whole lot better.
He’s already dead, damn it! He doesn’t need to breathe! Son of a bi-
The one thing that saves House II from being completely forgettable is that, for all its faults, it still ends up being a very original production. Sure, it may lack any and all form of internal logic, but the various set-pieces are fun and creative, and the designs are absolutely fantastic. Like, things just look shockingly good in this movie, far better than you’d likely expect them too. The house is gorgeous, if eclectic. The cinematography is nice, the colors are bright and vibrant, and the special effects are shockingly well done. Yeah, there’s at least one moment of obvious green screen, and you can tell the puppets are puppets. But the puppets they used were GOOD looking puppets, and sitting through the crappy green screen effect for a couple of seconds is totally worth it just to see how they animated the nifty claymation horse corpse the evil cowboy rides in on. Now, does any of that really help to make House II a good film? Nope, not even a little bit, no matter what some reviewers might say. The narrative is just too jumpy and disjointed to ever really call it “good”. But what it does do is help make the movie interesting. So while very little of the film makes sense, it at least makes for a unique viewing experience. So if you’re drawn to films for the visuals, then House II should be worth at least one viewing. But if you’re watching this for anything resembling a coherent story, then you very well may end up grinding your teeth.
House II is available on a variety of streaming services.
House II is also available on DVD and Bluray.