House II: The Second Story (1987) – Ethan Wiley

While Friday the 13th franchise producer Sean S. Cunningham returns for House II, he and composer Harry Manfredini seem to be the only connective tissue to the first film. And while the first film was able to walk a bit of the cult line of camp, horror, comedy, and flat-out silliness, House II most assuredly stumbles and is a bit of a mess.

Long before Indiana Jones took it on, Jesse (Arye Gross) and his buddy, Charlie (Jonathan Stark) find themselves caught up in an adventure with a crystal skull. Jesse returns to reclaim his ancestral home, which looks like a bit of a Mayan temple inside and learns about a magical crystal skull that his great-great-grandfather, Jesse aka Gramps (Royal Dano) discovered, and didn’t share with his partner, Slim (Dean Cleverdon).

Slim has wasn’t revenge down through the ages and has been stalking Jesse’s family, and now trouble is going to strike the 80s.

What follows is a silly dimension jumping tale with lots of puppet, matte, and stop-motion work that actually seems pretty cool but has none of the scares let alone a halfway decent story to back it up.

Throw in a young Bill Maher, and Amy Yasbeck, and, well, you still have a mess, but it’s an interesting mess because of all the recognizable people. In fact, one of the stars gives the best performance in the film, and honestly, I would be more interested in following his story. John Ratzenberger plays Bill a card-carrying electrician and adventurer, and he just gets his role perfectly. It’s funny, restrained, and his delivery works wonderfully, and his appearance far too brief.

As Jesse, Gramps, and Charlie try to keep the skull safe they will tumble through doors and windows throughout the house that will take them to strange and unusual places, and eventually lead them to a final showdown with Slim.

The story is unbalanced, the editing equally so, and the film can never really find its tone. It feels like it wants to be a family-friendly comedy as opposed to the second installment in a potential new horror franchise. And I’m sure that stumble cost it.

None of the characters are fully realized and the film seems to want to use wipes and transitions in the oddest places. There may be something fun somewhere in this mess of a film, but there’s no cohesive gel to hold it together and it just can’t seem to find a tone, style, or a functioning narrative to guide the viewer through.

It’s too bad because I like a lot of the cast, but none of it seems to truly work. Some of the special effects work is cool, and the Kane Hodder cameo is neat, but the rest of it fumbles.

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