House II: The Second Story (1987) — Much more than a good pun

“This Ronnie Reagan wouldn’t last five minutes in the West.”

Kyle’s rating: I think I still have the comic book adaptation somewhere. I am not proud of this fact.

Kyle’s review: When I bought my used copy of House, I was absolutely overjoyed to get it home and open it up to find it was one of the limited edition releases where you get House and House II. Two DVDs for the price of one used one! Two childhood favorites at once; back in my life after all this time! Finally I would be able to… wait, what? “Childhood favorites”? Is that accurate?

Only for the first House film, brother. That film is a horror comedy triumph. The second film, which was recorded courtesy of my grandma on a VHS tape following the first film, I believe only got play when I wanted to watch House in my basement while playing with LEGOs and I decided to just let the tape continue playing rather than get up and switch it back to normal television. Which meant once again entering the world of the second haunted house, with its crystal skull and hidden rooms and some other stuff, and the OTHER guy from Cheers. Sure. Why not?

House II is just bad, plain and simple. I sort of understand the motivations behind making a sequel to the successful and much more coherent first film, but I wish they hadn’t. I understand that attaching “The second story” to this sequel was extremely clever (put the film title together with the tagline and bask in the humor!) for a few seconds, but then it just dissipates. Just like the film itself!

This movie deserves MST3K treatment. I can’t think of a single positive thing about it. When I was a kid I was a little more forgiving because it was a sequel to a movie I really loved (and still do!) and I liked that crystal skull MacGuffin. I think the Gramps character was amusing as well, and it appealed to me to think that if my house were haunted I would be able to descend through secret passages and stuff into ancient Mayan temples and rescue damsels and have big sword fights. That part is still cool to me. The movie is not.

I just wanted to put another opinion out there to prevent you or anyone you love from wasting your time and money on House II. Unless you want a handy glimpse at how not to make a memorable horror comedy. Let me finish this review out by stating resoundingly: Don’t see this movie!

Justin’s rating: Easily the best movie ever about a crystal skull

Justin’s review: I have to kindly but strongly disagree with my colleague here — House II: The Second Story is not just a good pun, it’s an amazing little cult find from the ’80s that should be cherished for the weirdness it is.

Linked to the first House only through the theme of a haunted abode and a generally goofy supernatural-comedy vibe, House II moves us into a spacious 25-room mansion that belongs to orphaned Jesse (Arye Gross). Jesse’s there in part to figure out the secret behind the mansion, his parent’s death, and his great-great-grandfather Gramps (Royal Dano). Obviously, this all has to do with an enchanted crystal skull that was taken from an Aztec temple and reportedly has the powers to bestow eternal life.

You’d think that stealing a native tribe’s sacred relic would be enough to put you on some blacklists, but the robbers then followed that up by building Jesse’s new house with stones actually taken from the Aztec temple itself. So it’s like sixteen kinds of haunted, but not in the way you might expect. Jesse and his best friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark, playing it rascally like he’s at Weekend at Bernie’s) dig up his ancestor to get the skull.

Well, they get the skull, but they also get Gramps too — who is now a 170-year-old zombified cowboy. We’ve seen a lot of movies with zombies in them, but there aren’t quite as many when one is as talkative nor as nice as Gramps. For Jesse, who’s never known his deceased family, getting to connect with this relative is priceless.

As human and spectral forces start making a play for the crystal skull, the trio enlist the help of electrician/part-time adventurer Bill (Cheers’ John Ratzenberger) to secure the house and keep their power. This time around, the movie feels more Ghostbusters than Poltergeist on the scale of critter horror. Original House writer Ethan Wiley (who worked as a puppeteer on Gremlins and Return of the Jedi, in fact) returned to direct, and I like the change-up from the first movie’s premise. Here, the forces of the skull are causing time rifts in various rooms — “You see this in old houses all the time,” Bill says — and so we get glimpses into places like the dinosaur age and the Old West as the events progress.

As long as you’re not expecting actual scares, you should find a lot to enjoy about House II. It’s so ’80s that it hurts (Jesse’s girlfriend has the largest shoulderpads I’ve ever seen on a human being, and I’ve played World of Warcraft), and as such, it has no shame against veering right off the path of normalcy and plunging deep into the bushes of gonzo imagination. Taking your zombified ancestor around the modern world is a hoot, as is adopting a pet dogapillar from the ancient past. There are loads of great creature effects (puppetry and stop-motion) for those who are sick of modern CGI. It has Friday the 13th’s Kane Hodder as a gorilla. And you best be believin’ that there’s some banjo music at some point!

So yeah, House II is great amounts of dumb fun, especially when the supernatural shenanigans get going. If you like collecting movies with a Halloween feel but are a scare wimp, this is a perfect addition to your collection.

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