Not all film sequels share strong ties to their predecessors. Sometimes, the only connection is thematic, resulting in an anthology-like feeling for the series. Such is the case with House II: The Second Story (1987), the sequel to the horror-comedy House (1985). House II: The Second Story takes the audience to a completely different haunted abode than the first film. A young man and his girlfriend move into an old mansion he has inherited, which just might have a secret associated with it. While searching for a legendary crystal skull, he disinters and accidentally revives his great-great-grandfather, an Old West outlaw. The skull keeps his great-great-grandfather alive, but it also is a target for other-worldly creatures that are opening portals into this world via the house. Unlike the first movie, House II: The Second Story favors adventure and time-travel elements over horror. The film really is more of a family-friendly action comedy than anything else. It does feature some nice stop-motion and practical events in spite of its limited budget.
Jesse (Arye Gross) is a twenty-something artist who has just inherited his family’s large old home. As his parents were mysteriously murdered in the house when he was just an infant, he has no other family connections. He and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln), a manager of musical acts, move into the mansion, which is decorated in a style reminiscent of Mesoamerican temples. Their friends, aspiring singer Lana (Amy Yasbeck) and goofball Charlie (Jonathan Stark), come on by for a housewarming visit. While looking through some family keepsakes, Jesse finds a picture of his great-great-grandfather Jesse (veteran character actor Royal Dano), a Wild West outlaw, holding a crystal skull. Jesse thinks that his ancestor may have been buried with the skull, so he convinces Charlie to help dig him up. When they do, they find Gramps to be pretty spry for a dead guy, having been kept alive by the skull. At least he turns out to be friendly. After the three of them return to the house, Gramps places the skull on a mini-altar on the mantelpiece. He tells the boys that the house is a temple and warns them that forces of evil are after the skull, so it must be protected. They soon find these forces of evil are not coming from outside, but from inside the house itself. As portals to parallel universes open within the various rooms, Jesse and his friends must contend with threats as diverse as cavemen and Aztec priests who are after the skull. Yet, the biggest threat may come from Gramps’ past, putting all of their lives in jeopardy. Now that Jesse actually has family in the form of Gramps and his friends, he is now in danger of losing them.
Whereas the first movie, House, is a horror-comedy, House II: The Second Story probably is best described as a time travel action-adventure comedy with some horror elements. There are some sequences, such as the opening scene of the murder of Jesse’s parents, which touch on horror, but they never actually are that frightening. Perhaps this is because the film is not really shot so as to support the horror with any atmosphere. The sets look a bit too stagey and are lit too brightly to give the audience any sense of danger or menace. This lessening of the horror elements appears to be an intentional decision by the filmmakers. Instead, the focus seems to be on action-adventure and time travel. The alternate universes that intersect with the house range from one populated with prehistoric creatures, Ã la The Land That Time Forgot (1974), to an ancient Aztec temple to the Wild West. These are fun and varied enough that they keep the audience interested, though those looking for more frightening thrills may be a bit disappointed.
The real focus of House II: The Second Story is on comedy. Early on, much of the humor comes from Gramps experiencing culture shock and exasperation with the world of the late 1980s. While this is a well-worn trope for films involving characters that are out of their time, Royal Dano’s expert delivery as Gramps keeps it fresh. His simple delight at the seemingly endless supply of tissues in a tissue box is a little gag that ends up being one of the many details that endear his character to the audience. He is also a bit upset that, while the skull has kept him alive, it did not make him young again – “I’m a 170-year-old fart. A goddamn zombie!” The various adventure set pieces are mostly used to set up comedic bits and gags. One of the funniest of these segments involves a cameo by John Ratzenberger as Bill the Electrician. What starts as what appears to be a slight riff on his Cliff Clavin character from the sitcom Cheers (1987) becomes something quite different by the end. To say much more would spoil the gag. The humor is good-natured, for the most part, adding to the charm and family-friendly aspects of the film. This is fitting, as the overall theme of the film is family.
While House II: The Second Story does not focus on horror, this does not mean that it neglects the use of special effects. It does have a limited budget, keeping some of the effect modest, but the filmmakers do a lot with them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the effects team includes such notable talents as Academy Award winners Chris Walas (Gremlins (1984), The Fly (1986)) and the legendary Phil Tippet (Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993)). There are some delightful stop-motion effects, particularly during the dinosaur world sequence. These bring to mind classics such as The Lost World (1925) and add to the Saturday matinee feel of the movie. A stop-motion animated zombie horse that shows up later in the film adds just the right touch of surrealism to the final confrontation between Jesse and the main villain of the piece. When the characters have to interact directly with the fantasy creatures, the filmmakers make use of animatronic puppets. The two most heavily featured of these puppets are a mischievous baby prehistoric bird and the bizarrely adorable caterpuppy – a puppy-sized caterpillar with the face and personality of a pug. Needless to say, when a film has a character named “caterpuppy,” the effects lean more toward charming than horrifying.
House II: The Second Story is and oddly sweet sequel to the horror-comedy House. The horror elements are toned down significantly this time around, with the focus being on action-adventure. Good-natured comedy is the driving force of the movies, with the various setups being provided to support for the humor. The filmmakers take a limited budget and make it go a long way, using classic techniques, such as stop-motion animation and puppetry, to bring the assorted fantasy worlds and creatures to life. While horror fans may be disappointed in House II: The Second Story, those looking for a fun and amiable family-centered film should enjoy its simple charms.
House II: The Second Story (3.3 / 5)