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'House Ii': A View Of Life Endured Way Too Often

August 28, 1987|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

The cleverest thing about "House II: The Second Story" (citywide) is its title. It has an edge of cynicism, of playfulness; just how cynical, we quickly discover. This alleged sequel has little to do with the surprise 1986 hit, "House," which preceded it.

It does use the same scenarist (Ethan Wiley--who also directs this time), producer (Sean Cunningham) and cinematographer (the estimable Mac Ahlberg), and it's a horror movie that takes place in a menacing house.

Beyond all that, the two movies are discrete entities. They have different characters, different houses--all sadly in need of renovation. Only marketing seems to unite them--though there's always the possibility that, illumined by their own creative fire, these film makers now envision an endless chain of such "Houses": all mad, all haunted, all rife with hallucinations and maniacs, stretching like a chain of poltergeist-ridden HoJos from one seacoast to the next, popping up every year or so, right after producer Cunningham disgorges a new "Friday the 13th."

The first "House" seemed clearly inspired by "The Shining." In it, a horror novelist-- holed up in a gingerbread-style psycho-mansion to complete an improbable Vietnam war memoir--found himself under siege from the house itself, as grotesque slime-covered beings leaped out from every closet, knives and hatchets swooped menacingly toward him, windows opened into alternative dimensions and his vanished son kept calling him from the walls. A question nagged through all this ruckus: Why doesn't this guy just lock up and head for a motel?

The same question nags here, too. For his latest "House," Wiley has imagined a wild inter-dimensional battle over a crystal skull that glows in the dark and supposedly confers mysterious powers on its possessors.

"Give me the skull!" yells Slim--a cadaverous, cowboy-hatted fiend--at the beginning of the film, promptly killing one young couple before they have a chance to respond. This impetuosity proves unwise: The fiend now has to wait another 25 years for the couple's child to grow up and become his next target.

Was it worth it? Grown-up Jesse McLaughlin (Arye Gross)--identified as editor of a sophisticated art magazine--arrives with wisecracking buddy Charlie (Jonathan Stark), and their respective girlfriends, and immediately steeps himself in McLaughlin family lore: a predilection that leads him to grave robbing, the disinterment of his 175-year-old dead great-great-grandfather Jesse (Royal Dano), and a series of encounters with cavemen, dinosaurs, pterodactyls, perspicacious electricians, fanatical Aztec priests and his valium-popping sweetheart--all of whom pop out of the walls with unnerving regularity.

Royal Dano's dignity and craft shines through the gray latex and rescues this character; very little else could.

Finally, at a happy little banquet attended by Jesse Sr. and Jr., an Aztec maiden, a baby pterodactyl--who resembles a fluffy toy dodo--and something cheaply Ewok-ish called a "caterpuppie," they are interrupted by the furious Slim, rising up from the mashed potatoes to hurl them all into yet another alternative dimension. There for some reason, Slim has decided to restage the climactic gunfight from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," with himself as Liberty.

The rest of the movie (MPAA rated: PG-13) is another example of special effects amok, in the service of a view of life constructed entirely, and not very well, from other movies. The alternative dimensions begin resembling a madly flipping VCR. Movies on movies, disposable images: It's a view suffered too often, endured too much. As Shakespeare once said: A pox on both your houses! Or was it a curse? Curse I or Curse II?

'HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY'

A New World Pictures presentation. Producer Sean Cunningham. Director-writer Ethan Wiley. Camera Mac Ahlberg. Production design Gregg Fonseca. Editor Marty Nicholson. With Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Lar Park Lincoln, John Ratzenberger.

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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