DirectorSteve Miner/Ethan Wiley/Jim Isaac/Lewis Abernathy
Release Date(s)1986/1987/1989/1992 (March 27, 2017)
Studio(s)New World Pictures/United Artists/New Line Cinema (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a U.K. Blu-ray release, but it’s both REGION A & B.]
Spearheaded by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham as the main producer, the House series began in 1986 and continued with three sequels, one of which was released in the U.S. with a different title. Mostly a mix of wacky horror plots, elaborate monsters, silly comedy, and nutty performances, the first movie was a popular staple of the VHS rental era, crossing boundaries between genre fans and general audiences. It also did well at the box office, mostly thanks to a successful marketing campaign. Eventually, like all movies in a series, each one lessened in quality and changed in approach once the initial concept had been abandoned.
House kicks the series off and tells the story of Roger Cobb (William Katt), a divorced and troubled novelist who after the suicide of his aunt, moves into the house where she had lived, as well as where his son disappeared several months prior. Once there, he begins experiencing supernatural phenomena, from monsters to illusions to gardening tools chasing him through hallways, all while his nosy neighbor (George Wendt) believes that Roger is losing his mind. It’s a bonkers movie that attempts multiple genres, including comedy, horror, drama, and thriller, and just barely succeeds with all of them. However, there are many elaborate and memorable sequences that stand out, including multiple special effects make-up designs that help give the movie its goofy style. William Katt and George Wendt feel totally unhinged in their roles and seem to be having a lot of fun. Meanwhile, the story is going in several directions, including flashbacks to Roger in Vietnam that wind up playing more of an important role in the plot much later. It’s a perfectly harmless and enjoyable movie that’s very playful in its approach.
House II: The Second Story, on the other hand, can barely be labeled as horror, let alone a movie. Reusing many of the same elements that made the first film profitable, it goes in a different story direction altogether, but not quite as successfully. It features a plot about a young guy named Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend (Lar Park Lincoln) who move into a house where Jesse’s parents were murdered when he was an infant. After the arrival of Jesse’s friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) and his girlfriend (Amy Yasbeck), both Jesse and Charlie being to investigate Jesse’s family cemetery, only to discover the reanimated corpse of his ancestor Gramps (Royal Dano). Learning of a crystal skull that Gramps and his partner discovered 100 years prior, it’s up to the three of them to keep it out of his partner’s undead hands while not getting killed in the process. Judging from that premise, the movie actually sounds more promising than it actually is. I honestly didn’t care for it and found it to be fairly insufferable for the most part. It’s more gonzo than the first, but not in an altogether good way. It does have some inventive and zany scenes, but just doesn’t know where it’s going whilst being crammed with characters that are difficult to tag along with. I can certainly see the appeal of it, but it just wasn’t one for me personally.
The next entry, House III: The Horror Show, was simply released as The Horror Show here in the U.S., but was marketed elsewhere as the third sequel in the House series, leading to much confusion over the years. Although it was produced by Sean S. Cunningham and Harry Manfredini returned to do the score once again, it bares little resemblance to the other films, mostly due to it being darker and mean-spirited. In the story, detective McCarthy (Lance Henriksen) manages to nab the elusive serial killer known as “Meat Cleaver” Max (Brion James). Max is then sent to the electric chair, only to return from the grave to take his revenge on McCarthy and his family, killing others and framing McCarthy for them along the way. It should be noted that I previously reviewed Scream Factory’s release of The Horror Show, and my summation was and it still is that it’s an effective movie but a dour one. Featuring an electrifying (pun intended) performances from Brion James and Lance Henrikensen, it’s probably the straightest movie in the series as far as tone, going more for something hard-edged rather than a romp. It’s similar to Shocker in some ways as well, but there’s terrific stunt work, strong performances, and amazing gore effects, the latter of which are on full display in the European version.
House IV: The Repossession is definitely the least entertaining of all the movies in the House series. Released as simply House IV here in the U.S., it tells the story of Kelly (Terri Treas) and her husband Roger (William Katt, briefly reprising his role from the first movie), who is inexplicably married to a different woman with a young daughter instead of a son. The three are traveling back from an old family home that Roger owns when they suddenly find themselves in a car accident in which Roger dies. Now widowed with her daughter in a wheelchair, Kelly takes it upon herself to move into the house, even at the annoyance of Roger’s brother who is more than eager to sell the property. While Kelly and her daughter attempt to settle down, supernatural events, whether real or imagined, begin to happen around the house. It sounds like a promising idea, generic though it might be, but it unfortunately fails, mostly because it’s not as much fun as its predecessors. It’s chock full of family dramatics with attempts at weird comedy, but the latter never, ever works. The balance is off, even though the performances are pretty good. As far as stopping points go, this is almost certainly the place to do it. Besides going straight to video, House IV is also removed from the original intent and going forward with more movies would likely have just widened that gap even further. As a series, House is definitely lopsided, but with interesting entries throughout.
Arrow Video has managed to license all four movies for a Blu-ray boxed set in the U.K., simply called The Collection, while only retaining the rights to the first two movies in the U.S., releasing them in a separate boxed set as Two Stories (also reviewed here). It’s worth noting that the first two discs are Region A/B, while the latter two discs say Region B on their respective discs, but do indeed work on U.S. players, so adjust your plans accordingly. Each film has been given a new 2K restoration from various sources, and once folks started getting these sets in their hands, discrepancies with the quality of each transfer began to emerge. I’ll get into that when I come across them, but as a warning up front, just know that I’m not too concerned with these problems. I am not as intimately knowledgeable about the home video presentations of these movies as other folks are, and I didn’t always notice the problems the first time through, so go ahead and assume that I’m going to go a little easier on these presentations than other reviewers.
House has been sourced from a 35mm interpositive element and looks really good. Grain levels seem fairly consistent with good color reproduction and decent skin tones, while black levels are mostly deep with shadow detail that sometimes leaves a little to be desired. Overall contrast and brightness levels are acceptable, and there are next to no film artifacts leftover. The transfer’s point of controversy is in its framing. On more than one occasion, more of the set and its crew is seen than was meant to be seen on all sides of the frame, particularly on the left. This has stirred up the Blu-ray collector community with some going so far as to say that it’s ultimately inferior to any previous SD release. While I can appreciate that argument, I respectfully disagree. Personally, I found these moments fleeting. They don’t crop up all that often and I doubt that many will even notice, let alone care all that much. So hardcore cinephiles that scrutinize every Blu-ray release to the Nth degree be forewarned, but otherwise, the transfer is quite strong and pleasant.
And although House II also has some framing issues, the quality shines through and actually favors slightly better than its predecessor by comparison. Again sourced from a 35mm interpositive, grain is much more consistent, as is fine detail. Colors are also richer with more natural, but not perfect, skin tones. Black levels are good, although not quite as deep, but with more satisfactory shadow detailing. Contrast and brightness levels are excellent and the overall presentation is stable and clean. There is a thin transparent line running through the right edge of the frame that is visible for the entire running time, which again, some viewers may not even notice. Otherwise, it’s a sharp-looking presentation.
House III is presented with both the European and U.S. cuts of the movie. For the U.S. version, an HD master of the 35mm interpositive element has been used, and for the European version, sections from a separate 35mm interpositive were used and inserted to complete it. To my eyes, the U.S. version is more or less identical to Scream Factory’s, but with a different encode obviously. The European version with the extra gore footage is very similar, although contrast and brightness levels seem slightly different. Otherwise, they’re both strong presentations that are very clean with mild grain on display and strong fine detail. Colors are also robust with decent skin tones and deep black levels. Not to say that there aren’t any, but I didn’t notice any framing issues on this one.
House IV comes sourced from a 35mm internegative. Since it’s a couple of generations removed from the original camera negative (and at least one from the interpositive), it looks characteristically different than the other transfers in this set. It’s darker and grainer by comparison, and also not quite as sharp. However, it’s still filmic in appearance. It’s also less detailed with a lesser amount of information in the shadows, but with deep blacks. Color reproduction is good, although nothing really pops. There’s also next to no film damage on display. Some might be disheartened to learn that the movie is also misframed, like its predecessors. Again, I’m not going to give it too much thought. I certainly understand that for a small group of people, it’s a deal breaker. For me and perhaps for many others, it’s not. On the whole, outside of this issue, these movies have never looked better.
As for the audio of each film, House comes with three options: English 1.0, 2.0, and 5.1 LPCM. All three tracks have little distinction between them as it’s mostly the same audio elements placed within multiple channels, but the dialogue in the 5.1 definitely has a different tonal quality to it than the other two tracks. The 5.1 also doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamics or speaker-to-speaker activity, but it does widen the soundtrack out a bit, particularly the score. The mono track is definitely narrow and likely represents the film’s soundtrack more accurately, but I found the stereo track to be the happy medium between the two. Your mileage may vary here, and it’s just nice to have so many options to choose from. House II’s soundtrack options are slightly more limited, but they include English 2.0 mono and 5.1 LPCM tracks. Both are solid, but sonically, the 5.1 track has more of a push, especially when it comes to LFE activity. Dialogue is clean and clear, and both sound effects and score have decent room to breathe. House III’s audio comes in two options as well: English 2.0 and 5.1 LPCM. Both tracks are good, but again, the 5.1 opens up the soundtrack in the rear speakers a bit. Strong dialogue levels and good score, music, and sound effects are also present. Dynamic range and LFE activity also manage to give it an edge over the 2.0 track. House IV’s audio comes with English 2.0 and 5.1 LPCM tracks. The 2.0 audio has decent stereo movement, particularly the score, but dialogue is mostly flat. The 5.1 track has much more life to it, including ambience and surround activity. LFE is also active from time to time. Some minor hiss is detectable on both tracks, but hardly worth complaint. All four films also come with optional subtitles in English SDH.
HOUSE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B+
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D+/A-/A-
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/A-
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B+/B+
As for the supplemental materials, this boxed set comes load for bare. The extras for House on Disc One include an audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt, and screenwriter Ethan Wiley; the feature-length Ding Dong, You’re Dead!: The Making of House documentary; a vintage The Making of House featurette; an animated still gallery; 2 theatrical trailers and a teaser; 3 TV spots; and a paper insert covering the restoration details of all four movies. House II’s extras on Disc Three include an audio commentary with writer/director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham; the hour-long It’s Getting Weirder!: The Making of House II documentary; a vintage EPK featurette; an animated still gallery; the theatrical trailer; and a TV spot. House III’s extras on Disc Five feature material carried over from Scream Factory’s release of the film, including an audio commentary with Sean S. Cunningham; The “Show” Must Go On! with Kane Hodder; House Mother with Rita Taggart; and the movie’s theatrical trailer. Newly included is the Slaughter Inc.: The Horrors of The Horror Show featurette; behind-the-scenes footage; a brief set of workprint trims (most without sound); and an animated still gallery. And last but not least, House IV’s extras on Disc Seven include an audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy; the thirty-minute Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV documentary; an animated still gallery; and the theatrical trailer. There are also DVD copies of all of the movies included, as well as “The House Companion”, a 148-page hardcover booklet with an introduction and notes about each film by Simon Barber, as well as press materials, artwork, behind the scene photos, and multiple posters from each film’s release.
Arrow Video’s attempt at a massive House boxed set mostly succeeds, especially when it comes to the beautiful packaging and documentary material. All of it is well worth a watch. Some will ultimately find flaws in the transfers, causing them to stave off from purchasing this set, but I personally think it’s not as big a deal as it’s been made out to be. It’s a terrific set and since the set is a better bargain than its U.S. two movie-only counterpart, it’s definitely worth an import.
- Tim Salmons