Gabby: The Indefinsibles share a wacky dream after watching and discussing Jeremy’s pick…
Jeremy: House II: The Second Story. The second best movie to prominently feature a crystal skull.
We should start with me saying why I picked this movie. I didn’t have a burning desire to cover House II, but I thought it’d be fun to revisit a movie I watched a bunch as a kid, which I haven’t seen since the ’80s. Also, when we were planning this “Summer of Sequels” series, I wanted one of our choices to be outside of the mainstream. This definitely fits the bill: a modest budget, late August release in the summer of ’87 – aimed squarely at pre-teens who probably didn’t see the first House because of its “R” rating.
Also, to my surprise, this turned out to be a big favorite of yours, Brett. How did this play for you now?
Brett: This is one of those movies that was on during a Saturday afternoon during my youth. I had no idea what it was, but we watched it and it was amazing. I thought I had maybe missed the earlier adventures of our heroes (Jesse and Charlie, two of the most ’80s best friends ever) but as it turned out I could follow it without seeing the first movie. As it turned out, this was the greatest achievement of Western Culture, possibly of all human endeavor. Okay, hubris aside, there are some issues with this movie. The role of women is non-existent, and the body builder (playing a pre-historic man) might as well be called Cotton Eye Joe.
Because where does he come from and where does he go? Also, if not for Charlie, Jesse would have been married a long time ago. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Jesse is the Natural Mask Protagonist and Jesse is the Han Solo screwball. They are friends, and they have adventures.
This almost feels like it was supposed to be a six-part BBC series that got cut down into a 90-minute movie. Threads appear and then leave without bearing fruit. The joke I used with Jeremy during the livetweet was that I couldn’t remember something that had happened two minutes earlier because you can’t go back, you can only move forward in House II.
On the other hand, I sort of like that the threads aren’t neatly tied up at the end. Jesse and Charlie don’t win the girls back. Gramps never becomes young again. Rochelle… I have a whole idea about Rochelle sneaking into one of the alternate worlds and becoming a goddess of the prehistoric world.
Jeremy: Who was Rochelle, again? The ex that shows up about halfway through the movie?
Brett: I think she was an ex… she was clearly someone Jesse had dealings with in the past. Her role here is to be a refugee from a French Farce and to make you feel kind of icky about how the movie treats women. A very messy script.
Jeremy: Yeah, the script’s a friggin’ mess. The main bad guy – Gramps’ old partner from the Old West – appears in the prologue to kill Jesse’s parents, then doesn’t appear again until the movie remembers him in the last 10-15 minutes. Jesse and Charlie just have a few adventures in the past and manage to alienate their girlfriends in the present. I wonder if they were filming without a script… or improvising because they didn’t have the resources to film what was on the page.
Looking up the cast on IMDB, I was surprised to see that the actor playing Charlie, Jonathan Stark, has been a regular sitcom writer since the early ’80s. He’s worked on some great shows (Cheers) and some not-so-great shows (According to Jim). It feels like he punched up his own material. His jokes are broad and sitcom-y, but they work well enough.
I want to go back to the female characters for a moment, which are… disappointing. Jesse’s ex pops up out of nowhere, and she’s just there to write off all the female roles except the Mesoamerican virgin who can’t speak English. Ick, indeed.
All the relationships go nowhere. It’s a shame. There’s probably a better version of this movie where Jessie shares the adventure with his girlfriend and best friend, who don’t get along. Having to choose between a serious relationship and your best friend is a well-worn trope, but it’s relatable. Certainly better than a lot of narrative dead ends.
And I’m not sure what the filmmakers wanted out of Jesse and Gramps’ relationship. Obviously, they have a connection – they’re family. It feels like they intended Jesse to be this path of least resistance guy who’s not really happy. And Gramps is there to make him man up and have an adventure.
There are some fun scenes with Gramps. Like you said when we were watching the movie, Brett, there’s something sweet about Jesse and Charlie being in such awe of Gramps. The film’s biggest problem for me is that Jesse is a complete blank. And it’s not Arye Gross’s fault. He was the right guy for the part… at least the way I imagine it in my head.
But I’m trying, God knows why, to turn this movie into a story where everything fits together and has meaning – when I should just enjoy how nutty it is. I mean, where else are you going to get a zombie cowboy feeding beer in a baby bottle to a cuddly two-foot-long worm with the face of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog?
Brett: About the relationships, there is something in here I really like. There are a handful of times where the movie surprises you. Take one example: they lose the skull (one of the 27 times THAT happens) and Jesse goes and wakes up a hungover Charlie. Now, we know Charlie is the screwball and should take the news that the skull is missing to be humorous and explain he’ll find the skull after nine or ten more hours of sleep. Instead, upon hearing the skull is missing he leaps up and the two of them rush off. Every time I thought, “Oh, we’re about to have a tedious scene play out like it does in every other movie” they don’t do that. A little subverting of my expectations, that’s all I ask.
Jeremy: Gabby, how did this play for you?
Gabby: I thought it was entertaining. I agree there are touching moments with Gramps and the women should have had more to do. I did really enjoy the handyman’s random appearance and participation in the movie as well.
Jeremy: John Ratzenberger’s scene is the highlight of the movie. It’s the closest the film gets to being on the level of something like Ghostbusters or Gremlins. Ratzenberger’s basically doing Cliff Clavin… if Cliff’s day job involved home repair and adventures in alternate dimensions.
Let’s wrap things up. What does everyone think about the ending, where Jesse and Charlie are exiled to the past?
Gabby: Because now he is a manly man and can face the old west?
Jeremy: Something like that. Is that the vibe you guys got?
Brett: I don’t know if I thought about it that deeply. By the time the movie ends, that was the only magical door left to go through. He’s trapped at that point.
Jeremy: Yeah – and I totally get I’m over-analyzing this movie. Probably just so we have something to talk about. Plus, I’m trying to figure out why I loved this as a kid. The answer’s actually simple: it’s a haunted house movie pitched at kids, with lots of jokes and monsters. It’s fun in places, but a Joe Dante joint this is not. With that in mind, closing thoughts? If any?
Gabby: I think it has some suprisngly sweet moments with the three main characters. It is not great but fun and silly. You really don’t know what’s coming next and it shows an adventure I wouldn’t mind going on myself.
Brett: This is the junk food of my entertainment diet. Empty calories, no fiber, just a bag of candy. This is filed under “I just don’t care” for me. I wouldn’t want to watch it every day, or even every year, but when I do watch it, I have a boatload of fun. And that’s what these dumb movies should be about. Every once in a while, just let a stupid, silly movie in that avoids cliche and logic just wash over you. That’s House II.
Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. This wraps up our block of films on summer sequels, just in time for Labor Day. We’ll be back soon and dedicating a month to Tim Curry movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a movie.