Directed by Steve Miner, who gave us Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, and Sean S. Cunningham who gave us the first film, and was the producer for its sequels, gives us a different kind of horror (tinged with comedy) starring William Katt and George Wendt, and while there’s an interesting concept here, a nice spin on the haunted house story, the film can’t find its tone, and suffers for it.
Horror author, Roger Cobb (Katt) needs some solitude, so he moves into his late aunt’s house (she committed suicide, thinking the house was haunted, and was tricked into it by the house) where he wants to work on his new book, a memoir of his experiences in Vietnam. He’s literally haunted by his time there, centered around his time with Ben (Richard Moll), as well as the fact that his son went missing in this house (it’s pool actually) and was never found.
Throw in a recent divorce with his Hollywood starlet wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz) and you’ve got a huge host of problems, and after the first night in the house, Roger knows something is up.
There are some interesting creature designs, though a few of them are a little too cartoony to actually take seriously as a threat, and moments that could be truly horrific are played for comedy, which both Katt and Wendt, who plays his slightly nosy neighbor Norman, are good at.
Despite being a lower budget film, Miner makes the best of what he has, and is intent on delivering a fun film, which it is, but with no real follow through on themes, and Roger’s character arc seems to suggest that he let his past in Vietnam, even though it allows him to rescue his son.
The film moves a little too quick, and despite Katt’s earnestness, you are never really allowed to see the character develop, as the narrative wants to drop you right into the spooky, slightly goofy and funny stuff, immediately. And while there are some great moments, including a kid, a dog, and a reanimated hand, a little more time to develop characters, and their trauma, especially the truly haunting experience Roger had in Vietnam (he’s struggling to write a book about it!), could have evened this out a bit,.
That being said, I do dig a lot of the practical effects and creatures – the winged skull creatures, the closet monster, they’re very cool, the wife monster is a little too comic, and Ben’s appearance at the end of the film isn’t quite as gruesome as it could have been.
I watched this on VHS when it first hit tape so many years ago, as I was slowly as a teenager, dipping my foot into horror films (horror novels were my jam, the visuals of a horror movie took a little longer for me to acclimate to) and thought it was a hoot, watching it now, I see possibilities, and great moments, but overall a film that wasn’t as good, as scary, or as fun, as it could have been.