Sunday, October 23, 2011

House II: The Second Story (Duh)

Normally I’m loathe to do things out of order here at Spectrum of Madness. Sure, I picked my Dino Squad reviews willy-nilly from the list, but that’s because it’s one of those shows where every episode stands on its own except in relation to the pilot. About the only thing I noticed that ever changed was Fiona’s kid sister being let in on her secret.

On those rare occasions where I’m not going to bother with an entire series to get to one thing, I try to give you enough background to understand what I’m talking about. Bearing that in mind, I could tell you about how House is the story of William Katt battling his undead ‘nam buddy Richard Moll for the life of his son, but I don’t have to. Because House II has nothing whatsoever to do with House.

After the opening credits a husband and wife pair in what looks like the 50’s (but by the movie’s dates would be 1961) see someone’s shadow in the upper floor of their house. The wife wonders if it could be “him,” but the husband replies it’s probably just some punks who broke into a neighbor’s house. Nonetheless he grabs his shootin’ iron before they go to look, and one supposes their doubts have to do with handing off their baby to a couple that drove away with all haste before this. That they appear to have hired a decorator with a fondness for Meso-American temple themes for their house doesn’t help ease the tension either.

Upstairs they look for the intruder, and probably not to their relief, find him: a zombie cowboy Dr. Claw. I’m not even kidding. But then, Frank Welker was kind of the go-to guy for evil voice roles in the 80’s. He demands “the skull,” and when they fail to produce it he pumps ‘em fulla lead.

Two and a half decades later, we find out the baby was Jesse McLaughlin when he and his musical talent scout girlfriend move back into the house where his parents were killed. Something that seems to barely register in his mind. Of course, within hours of taking up residence in the old place his obnoxious man-ho friend Charlie shows up with his latest floozie in tow (you can tell Charlie’s wild because he wears high-tops with a suit), so who can blame Jesse for being distracted.

While the inconsequential girlfriends are off discussing a musical career for Charlie’s latest acquisition (based on some of the lamest of lame 80’s rock I’ve ever heard), Jesse tells his buddy about some research he’s done about his great-great-grandfather (his namesake), who discovered a crystal skull supposedly possessed of mind-bending magical powers. But even if there’s no such thing as magic, the crystal skull has to be worth a fortune. So they do what any responsible guys would do and drive up to the cemetery to disinter Jesse the Elder.

Except the crystal skull really does have magic powers, and he’s still alive.

This movie doesn’t seem to care for you thinking about goes on, like when Jesse the Elder (or “Gramps” as he asks to be called for the sake of convenience) puts the skull in a little altar above the fireplace and tells the boys he needs them to help him protect it from the forces of evil. It even lights up at being put there, and might as well have a huge neon sign flashing “Hey bad guys, steal me” next to it.

Like a caveman (one with a metal sword, yet) tries to do the following night. And because it’s Halloween and Charlie invited everybody he knows over for a costume party, nobody notices except Jesse. He and Charlie follow Alley-Oop upstairs and find out the attic’s turned into a prehistoric jungle. And that’s just for starters.

House II takes itself less seriously than its predecessor, which is both a good, but mostly a bad thing. It seems like they wanted people watching the movie years from then to gag on the 80’s-ness of the whole thing. Like when Gramps is figuring out TV and they’re playing commercials for Toys R Us and Oreos. And of course, the fact that at the end of the movie you’re expecting to hear the villain growl “Next time, Jesse, next tiiiiiiime!”

The biggest problem, though, is the movie never gets into why the guys are willing to keep the skull in the house if evildoers who want it can appear from any time or any place via any door in the house. At least not when they seem to have no interest in figuring out how to use it for themselves. I mean, come on, you’ve got to have some kind of reason for dropping everything and grabbing the nearest sword when a bunch of balding Aztecs grab a knicknack of yours and run off. Plus, when they do, what kind of jerk do you have to be to give yourself an uzi and your buddy a gun that’s actually a cigarette lighter that looks like a gun?

For that matter, the movie has a young Bill Maher in a supporting role, who fortunately isn’t given much to do besides steal Jesse’s girlfriend. But she’s so wound up and career-focused you know as soon as you see her at the Halloween party that they’ll never end up together.

The good sadly isn’t as prevalent. John Ratzenberger turns in an amusing performance as an electrician who turns up in the second act and probably actually does see portals into other time periods on most jobs. Plus his cameo doubles as a hip in-joke to George Wendt playing a nosy neighbor in the first House. And the puppy-caterpillar thing they pick up from the prehistoric jungle is pretty cute. But for all that, the cheesiness ends up being more annoying than charming. I’m saying that as someone who can appreciate some cheese as part of a fun end product, but it’s easy to make something so silly it’s just silly, too.

This movie makes me want to upchuck in my shorts, all right.

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