One of House II: The Second Story’s taglines was “It’s getting weirder!”, although if you caught Steve Miner’s original film expectations should have been high that House II would be as frenetic and chaotic. But Ethan Wiley’s sequel does nothing with the first film, instead branching off of the notion that old houses have crazy secrets and running with it into western sub-genre terrain. Because House already paved the way for Wiley do off-the-wall shit, House II takes things even further – both with the zany storyline and with the comedy, which was always apparent in the first film but much bleaker than the slapstick here.
The Second Story starts with a rainy night, with a couple trying to get their child out of a house before a cowboy-hat wearing zombie shoots them up. And then it jumps years into the future, when Jesse (Arye Gross) finally inherits his parents’ house (we know this because he sees a picture of them and sighs, “Mom and dad…”). Jesse’s a budding writer, his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park-Lincoln) a promising band producer, and they’re both attracted to the ancient decay of the house because… well, they just are. Jesse’s friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) comes over to have a little party, and that’s when the fun starts.
Turns out Jesse’s grandfather was a pretty big outlaw back in the day, and he worked with Slim (Dean Cleverdon) until he found an ancient crystal skull. The thing attracts all kinds of riff-raff, from prehistoric cavemen to ancient Aztecs, opening up time warps in the house behind walls or in specific rooms. Then Jesse finds out why his parents got him out of the house all those years ago! The skull also brings back Jesse’s Gramps (Royal Dano), now a 170 year old zombie who can only come out in public at the Halloween party.
Unlike House’s tone, which was creepy but with a touch of black comedy here and there, The Second Story strips away almost all tension for a number of fun set-pieces. Instead of dark and dreary expanses of house, Wiley transports the viewer to new locales every half hour or so. We get to travel to a prehistoric Earth with dinosaurs and puppet pterodactyls, and then find ourselves in a dingy Aztec sacrificial den later on.
In general, the film never attempts to explain the reasoning for so many different individuals looking for the crystal skull besides the fact that it’s magic, but the development of that plot line is irrelevant anyway. Wiley recognizes that audiences willing to watch a movie about the Wild West, Aztecs, and prehistoric creatures probably don’t need an explanation, and so he wisely leaves all of that out to allow more time for crazy antics.
We’re left with a film that excels at slapstick humor more than the horror of its predecessor, a horror-comedy that is intentionally more outrageous. And that’s why I love House II so much – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all of the films in the series (yes, there’s even room in my heart for part IV), but there’s a wackiness to The Second Story that I find endearing. The puppet pterodactyl is adorable, the worm-dog disgustingly cute; even Gramps’ zombie visage puts a smile to my face, if only because he reminds me of a live-action Yosemite Sam.
But the best part is how the main characters interact. I love that Bill Maher is a fucking dick in this movie – it’s the only part I can imagine him playing. And it’s great to see that the conclusion of the film is Kate-less. Let’s face it, she’s a bitch and it’s better that Jesse run off with a virgin he saved from sacrifice. Wiley even works in Halloween, added brownie points for someone like me.
While I love the original House for what it is, The Second Story is still my dream home. Hell, view them back to back (skip the others, they’re not worth the effort) and figure out which of the two is your favorite, because both of them should sate a movie marathon craving. House II is weirder and funnier, a sequel that ups the ante of its predecessor.