"Well, what is it?" asked Zombos. He was cowering in back of Glenor Glenda, our usually highly strung maid.
"Wait a minute, my flashlight died again," I said, rapping it against the floor of the closet. It flickered into dull life. I was deep into Zombos' closet. Glenor had been doing her monthly dusting and tidying up when she came running to us, frightened out of her wits by what she discovered in his closet.
"It's a big one," I said, looking at the jagged four-foot hole in a rear wall of the closet. My flashlight failed again, leaving me crouching in the gloom. The closet lighting system was not working. Whatever caused the hole must have knocked it out also.
"Is anything missing?" asked Zombos, still cowering behind our trembling maid.
"Yes, I believe so. The shelves that were on this wall are gone," I said. "Let me think, what was in this corner? Oh, yes, the Troma Entertainment archives are gone."
"No great loss," said Zombos.
"And the Hammer archives."
"Damn!" said Zombos. "What about the Universal Studios archives?"
"Luck! I moved those last week. The Ed Wood shelf is missing, though." I added.
"Lord, no, not that!" cried Zombos. "What about Plan 9 From Outer Space?"
"Curses! The bastards!" yelled Zombos.
"Wait a minute: I found half of the Glen or Glenda DVD."
"What?" asked our maid.
"Not you, the DVD," I told her.
"Which half?" asked Zombos.
"Not sure," I replied.
"What ?" she asked again.
"Lord love a duck! Nothing! Never mind." I said. "It looks like it was chewed a bit, though." There was slimy, sticky residue on it.
"Chewed?" asked Zombos.
"Yes, chewed. By an amazingly large mouth judging by the size of these bite marks." I realized what I had just said and quickly retreated from the closet.
"I would suggest the exterminator be called in, " I told Zombos, dusting off my clothes.
He turned to Glenor. "Glenor, get Delbirt the exterminator over here right now." She hurried off.
While we waited for the exterminator, I popped House into the DVD player in the study and went for the Claret. Zombos needed a bit of calming down, and I knew Steve Miner's 1986 horroromedy would be a good choice.
Written by Ethan Wiley–from a story by Fred Dekker–William Katt (loved him in Greatest American Hero!) plays Roger Cobb, a flashback-plagued Vietnam veteran who has mysteriously lost his son, and is estranged from his wife. He is also a Stephen King-styled writer suffering from writer's block, and still doing book signings for his year-old last novel. With his agent on his back, and unresolved conflicts simmering in his subconscious, he is angst-ridden, a little jumpy, and superbly played by Mr. Katt.
And then there's his creepy aunt. She lives in the titular (no giggling please) house, which is equally hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it creepy. Unlike the current trend for darker lighting and queasy art design tones for creepy houses and creepy apartments in today's movies, Mac Ahlberg, who also did the cinematography for Re-animator and From Beyond, takes a more natural approach, and bathes this strange house in warm colors and tones, giving it a deceptively cheery atmosphere. Until the clock strikes midnight.
The opening scene, as we follow the grocery delivery boy entering the house and investigating odd noises coming from upstairs, introduces us to the quaint furnishings and fairly normal–if a bit dated–looking rooms. But those Night Gallery-esque paintings on the walls, painted by Mr. Cobb's odd-ball aunt, do seem out of place, and provide an inkling of the strange happenings going on here. Not much is mentioned about his aunt, who could double as a perfect Grand Mama from the Addams Family, before she suffers an unfortunate accident early on: she hangs herself.
With her departure comes Mr. Cobb's arrival to the house. It is the place where he last saw his son, who, in a bizarre turn of events, suddenly wound up in the middle of the swimming pool, and disappears just as Mr. Cobb jumps in to rescue him — right from the middle of it. Of course the police don't believe Mr. Cobb's version of events, but he is haunted by that memory, and now he has returned to the house. We also don't really know what is going on: is Mr. Cobb suffering from delusions, or is there something about the house that maliciously plays with people?
My more literate readers, those who have read William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderland, may already know that answer, but for the rest of us, events must unfold to give us a clear sign that something other-worldly is going on. And those events begin, as Mr. Cobb spends his first night in the house. In a disquieting vision, his aunt returns to warn him that the house tricked her into killing herself, and will trick him if he is not careful.
The following morning he meets his pesky, but concerned neighbor, Harold, as played by George Wendt (from TV's Cheers) in Wendt's natural comedic style. Harold begins to suspect that Cobb is suffering a nervous breakdown, and calls Cobb's wife for help. James Cummins' creatures begin to pop up to bedevil Cobb, and some nasty lawn and garden tools, with a mind of their own, start flying through the air in his direction. Mr. Cummins' foam and armature creatures are similar to the designs he used when directing 1991's The Boneyard, which I discuss in another review. There, as well as here, they seem to lack a sense of realism, even if they are meant to be somewhat comical.
One humorous scene has Cobb trying to bury a headless, but still very much animated, monstrosity in the backyard, only to be interrupted by another neighbor taking a dip in his swimming pool. She ingratiates herself to him, while he quietly steps on the monster's hand before it can grab her ankle. He finally gets rid of her only to have her show up that night with her son in tow. To his horror, clinging to the back of the boy is the monster's severed hand, still very much alive. He scrambles to remove it, while she scrambles off to a date, leaving him stuck with the little rascal.
It isn't long before two mischievous troll-like creatures show up to snatch the boy up the chimney, but Cobb manages to rescue the bemused youngster. Cobb seems to be taking all this in stride, and tricks Harold into joining him in a midnight romp with the War Demon in the closet. Harold isn't much help, and Cobb gets sucked in, back to Viet Nam, the crux of his nightmares. It is here we begin to understand why Cobb is suffering flashbacks, and here we also meet Big Ben, a soldier on the edge, played by the six foot, seven+ inch, Richard Moll (from TV's Night Court).
The story quickly escalates from here, and soon Cobb is going through the medicine cabinet mirror to find his son. In a wonderfully crafted Lovecraftianesque encounter with a stop-motion winged nightmare, and other nasties, to the climactic confrontation with an EC Comics-styled ghoulish nightmare from his past, the film comes to a nonsequelization-antic ending that is satisfying and triumphant, and leaves the house burning out of control.
Of course, that did not stop them from making House II, and III, and IV, though they really should have stopped after II.
Now where is that exterminator?