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Ethan Wiley
Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Bill Maher, John Ratzenberger
Ethan Wiley

It's getting weirder!
Rated R.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
None; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 6/25/2002

• Audio Commentary From Producer Sean S. Cunningham and Writer/Director Ethan Wiley
• Trailer


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House II: The Second Story (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Am I the only one who feels vaguely bothered by sequels that make no attempt to connect with the original films? These instances donít happen frequently, but they do pop up on occasion.

I wracked my little brain but couldnít think of too many examples of such movies. 1990ís Predator 2 lacks much direct connection to 1987ís Predator, but thereís some continuity between them above and beyond antagonists of the same species. From what I understand, it sounds like 1997ís Home Alone 3 has nothing to directly connect it to the first two pictures, but since I never saw it, I canít state this with certainty.

However, I do know that 1986ís House and 1987ís House 2: The Second Story have nothing to do with each other in regard to their characters, locations, or other film-based elements. Many of the same people who put together the first flick worked on the second, but none of the actors reprise their role; though a few bit actors did different parts, none of the main characters came back for the sequel, and the events depicted have virtually nothing to do with each other except for the fact that they both relate to mystical houses. Even the titular residence differed between flicks; the sequel took place at an abode not seen in the first movie.

I donít know if this fact bothered fans of House, but it seemed somewhat cheesy to me. It felt like an attempt to cash in on the first flickís popularity through a somewhat similar but ultimately unrelated tale.

However, I must admit that my indignation sagged as I watched House 2, all for one simple reason: I liked it more than I enjoyed the initial film. I found the latter to offer an awkward combination of scares and laughs that worked in neither mode. The sequel went with a much lighter theme; as such, it presented a more satisfying experience.

At the start of House 2, we see a baby whoís taken away from his parents. Eventually, we meet the grown-up version of that tot; heís Jesse (Arye Gross), and heís inherited the home in which the parents he barely knew lived. He moves in and brings along his record executive girlfriend Kate (Lar Park-Lincoln). Some odd things occur, but nothing terribly exciting. Eventually his opportunistic friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) enters the picture along with Charlieís Madonna-wannabe girlfriend Jana (Amy Yasbeck).

Eventually we see more of a mysterious figure from the filmís flashback sequences, as some nasty dude comes after ďthe skullĒ. Jesse finds some material that relates to this and decides to dig up the great-great-grandfather (Royal Dano) after whom he was named. To their surprise, Jesse and Charlie discover that Gramps - as he prefers to be called - wasnít really dead, as a strange crystal skull kept him in a state of zombie-hood.

The story then progresses through attempts to use the magical skull for a variety of purposes, and our leads spend much of the film in pursuit of it. The mysterious baddy turns out to be Grampsí ex-partner from the old days; they didnít part on good terms, and Slim is pretty cheesed off about the whole thing. Jesse and Charlie have to romp across eras and dimensions to regain the skull, which Gramps needs to rejuvenate his ancient corpse.

Itís a silly and thin plot, but I thought it made much better sense in this kind of framework than did the psychodrama witnessed during House. The events of the latter were far too serious to fit a light comic setting, whereas H2 never attempts to be anything more than a romp. It has virtually no pretensions to depth or drama, which may sound like a criticism, but the film really works better because it lacks much substance. One doesnít go to this sort of flick for an intricate experience; the genreís fans want to see some fun and get a few cheap thrills and thatís about it.

In that regard, I thought that House 2 was moderately enjoyable. However, I have to note that it often seemed like a mess. It marked director Ethan Wileyís first turn behind the camera, and his inexperience really showed. I donít dissect framing and editing as I watch movies, but the work I saw in H2 was so poor that I couldnít help but notice it. There were many examples when I thought the camera focused on the wrong parts of the image, and many others progressed in an illogical manner that drained them of effectiveness. H2 was a somewhat poorly-made film in that regard.

Nonetheless, I still thought it was a moderately enjoyable experience. I didnít much like the first one, so to say that I preferred House 2 doesnít say a lot. Still, for all its flaws - and it has many - the movie was a breezy and lightly entertaining piece that accomplished some of its goals. Iíve seen many better flicks, but Iíve also seen much worse.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio C- / Bonus C

House 2: The Second Story appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Sometimes sequels get less effort put into them when theyíre brought to DVD, but I witnessed no evidence of that here, as House 2 offered a very solid picture on a par with what I saw during the first film.

Really, the two images were very similar. Sharpness looked crisp and accurate throughout most of the film, with only a few small examples of softness along the way. However, these stayed modest, as the movie usually appeared detailed and distinct. I saw no problems related to moirť effects or jagged edges, and print flaws were also rather minor. A few instances of speckles and grit cropped up from time to time, but as a whole, this was a nicely clean and fresh picture.

As with the first film, House 2 featured a fairly subdued palette, but the colors appeared to be acceptably concise and vivid. They looked fairly distinct and lively at times, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels seemed to be fairly deep and solid, and shadow detail was nicely opaque without heaviness. Low-light situations looked very good, as they appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Happily, House 2 provided a fine picture that almost merited an ďA-ď from me. Too many defects appeared for me to feel comfortable with that rating, but for an older, cheap flick like this to earn a ďB+Ē - which is a very positive mark - stands as a pretty remarkable achievement.

While the picture quality of the two House movies seemed to be comparable, unfortunately the audio took a dip for the sequel. While not a terrible track, the monaural mix of House 2 showed more problems than I heard during the original film. Dialogue generally sounded acceptably clear and natural, but some edginess interfered at times, and I also witnessed occasional examples of sibilance. Intelligibility remained adequate, but the distortion made speech less pleasant.

Music and effects betrayed no similar concerns, as they sounded acceptably clear and concise. However, they did lack much dynamic range. At times I heard a little depth from Harry Manfrediniís score, but as a whole, this track displayed limited scope and it sounded rather flat for the most part. I also heard occasional examples of background hiss. Ultimately, the soundtrack of House 2 wasnít terrible for its age, but it lacked the clarity and accuracy heard during the first film.

In addition to the filmís theatrical trailer, House 2 packs an audio commentary from director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham. Both men were recorded together for this running, occasionally screen-specific track. Wiley dominates the proceedings during this spotty but periodically interesting piece.

As was the case for Houseís commentary, this one includes a fair number of blank spots. Quite a few moments pass without discussion, those these didnít seem to be overwhelming. Actually, though the track for the first film suffered from a roughly similar number of gaps, they seemed less bothersome here, mainly because H2ís commentary featured half as many participants; House had four speakers, so it had less reason to go silent at times.

In any case, Wiley and Cunningham provide a reasonably interesting experience for a fair amount of the commentary. They cover a decent variety of topics, from the tribulations of low-budget filmmaking to anecdotes from the set and general impressions of some of the actors. Wileyís background comes from special effects, so he adds a few good remarks about that area.

Their statements occasionally stick with screen-specific topics, but they often veer off into tangential information. For example, we hear some stories about Wileyís relationship with actor Royal Dano, and thereís also his coverage of his career and other issues. Personally, I like these sorts of tracks that donít just tell me basic facts about the shoot, but I know this kind of free-form piece irritates some folks. Overall, the commentary for House 2 was fairly mediocre, but it offered enough interesting notes to merit a listen.

By the way, the pair provide some misinformation during the track. For one, they relate that John Ratzenberger appeared in Star Wars as a rebel pilot during the attack on the Death Star. Thatís not correct; he actually played rebel Major Bren Derlin, a character briefly apparent during the Hoth battle scene. However, he made no appearance in the original film. On the other hand, Ratzenberger did appear in both 1978ís Superman and 1981ís Superman II though he played different parts in the two flicks.

Second erroneous detail: although actress Devin DeVasquez indeed was a Playboy Playmate - and also the winner of the modeling contest on Star Search - she wasnít Playmate of the Year. For 1985, that honor went to Kathy Shower. Yes, it frightens me that I can relate this from memory.

While House 2: The Second Story didnít greatly outdo its predecessor, I have to admit that I found it to offer a more satisfying combination of horror and comedy. The movie maintained a lighter tone that seemed to better achieve what the filmmakers set out to do. Itís not a very good flick, but it presented a modestly enjoyable experience. The DVD offered surprisingly solid visuals and a decent audio commentary, but the audio was a mild disappointment. I didnít think that House 2 was a very memorable experience, but fans of this kind of offbeat horror tale should get a kick out of it.

Note: House 2: The Second Story originally came out on DVD in June 2001. At that time, it appeared solely as part of the limited edition package for House. The DVD found here exactly duplicates that one found there, so you donít lose anything through the purchase of the solo disc.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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