RM contributor Paul Counelis checks in with a new edition of Monster Kid Corner.
When I was a young teen in the ’80s, it was literally IMPOSSIBLE to go into a video store and ignore the amazing VHS cover art, particularly in the horror section. It called out to young boys (and girls) in an enticing way that I, like so many others of that wonderful era, was helpless to resist. There was aisle after aisle of those strange, colourful, often DERANGED big box rentals, promising unforeseen tales of spooky delight to those brave enough to take them home.
One of the very first of those flicks that I was able to talk my mom into renting for us kids was Steve Miner’s wacky 1986 creepfest House. That cover was immediately imprinted into my impressionable young mind; the long, skeletal finger reaching for the doorbell with the fantastic tagline underneath: Ding Dong, You’re Dead. (This was one of those VHS releases that actually had variant taglines for different regions; a few years later I saw House for rent at a different video store with the tag Horror Has Found A New Home. Pretty good…but not quite as, er, inviting.)
I practically ran that cover to my mother, who looked at it, flipped it over and read the back, then asked me a single question. “Why do you want to see it?”
“I need to know what the creature on the porch looks like, and what he wants, and why he is ringing the doorbell! What is IN the house? Plus, look… it’s the guy from Greatest American Hero! How bad can it be?”
She handed it back to me, seemingly unimpressed, but crucially, agreeable. “Okay.”
And so, late that night, we gathered around the living room (with my mom, much to her chagrin) and watched that crazy, goofy, creepy practical effects extravaganza unfold. And we were happy. From the early moments of the movie when William Katt (as Roger Cobb) is warily discovering the secrets of the intimidating old mansion, straight on through to the Richard Moll filled monster-y climax, we sat entranced: laughing, screaming, covering our eyes. When it was over, my mother smiled. “We all screamed at an empty closet.”
And that is part of the enduring allure of House. Sure, it has a lot of those ridiculous ’80s animatronic monsters and some particularly gruesome sequences, but the reason it remains fun all these years later is the number of surprises contained therein. There are some fairly obvious Evil Dead references and a healthy dose of likeable goofball George Wendt cracking wise (and not so wise). But there are also some truly frightening jump scares. Then there are those really cheesy yet cool cornball effects and, of course, the story itself, from the imagination of Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) and penned by Ethan Wiley (Children of the Corn V), which offers up the rather disturbing idea that Roger’s poor son has been trapped, for some unspecified amount of time, in a type of otherworldly dimension via some kind of bizarre portal in the pool that can alternately be accessed through the bathroom mirror. Yes, you read that correctly.
All of that and more, add up to a film that still holds appeal for a lot of today’s overly CGI-exposed youths.
I recently viewed the film again for the first time in years, this time with my own twelve-year-old daughter. She reacted in relatively the same way my sister and I and friends did once upon a time, with giddiness. When it was over, she turned to me and said, “I thought you said it wasn’t really that scary.”
That made me grin from ear to ear. So often, I am disappointed to learn that a horror offering from my childhood has not had the ability to retain its entertainment value for my own kids. This time, however, I was thrilled to discover that wasn’t the case. I questioned her a bit further. “Was it funny?”
“Yes! It’s hilarious!”
“And you did think it was scary, too?”
She rolled her eyes. “Some parts, yes. I mean, Dad, I jumped at an empty closet.”
A familiar refrain.