There’s a lot going on here for a film with the simple and straightforward title ‘House,’ and not all of adds up for a coherent or clear minded horror flick but it’s still a lot of warped, gooey fun with some great 80’s practical effects, a decidedly anthology vibe despite, well, not being anthology at all really and the same kind of mischievous, rambunctious, irreverent tone to the horror that one might find in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. It’s also directed by Steve Miner who has deep horror roots, having helmed the very first Friday The 13th long ago so the force is solidly strong with this one, in terms of horror speak. William Katt plays a writer who moves into a creaky old house with his family and before they even have a chance to unpack their shit his kid goes missing, like literally before you even get properly introduced to the characters, it’s wild and hilarious. As the ominous yet silly tone is set we also meet all kinds of other ghosts and ghoulies including some spectacularly gruesome monsters that live in the closet, a fat bottomed zombie girl who keeps showing up to torment him (this is where the film feels most like Evil Dead), some pesky sentient gardening tools that follow him around, George Wendt as his sorta friendly sorta nosy neighbour who keeps bringing him beer in offers that he rudely snubs and the mummified remains of an old Nam war buddy (Richard Moll) who come back to haunt and remind him of some psychological incident regarding the war that can’t be put to rest. There is a LOT going on and unfortunately the film can’t make proper sense of it or make it all feel like it’s coherently connected beyond a kind of scattered episodic feel, hence my references to anthology films above. However, what it lacks in clear vision it makes up for in cheer lunatic energy and boisterous charm, each oozy new set piece and special effect clearly showing a level of artistry, creation and off the wall deadpan humour that is impressive and fun, the acting from everyone, Wendt in particular, is very good and it all feels like everyone was having a good time.
They don’t make em like this anymore, and that goes for both the protagonists of Joe Begos’s VFW and the film itself. Coated in 16mm grain, dripping with gorgeous, driving 80’s style synth music and packed wall to wall with excessively gory, blood soaked extreme violence, this film feels like the old school right to the bone. Set in a particularly nasty urban hell where the opioid crisis has reached a breaking point, a group of tough, battle hardened Nam and Korea veterans fight til the death to protect their local VFW hall and drinking spot from a gang of evil marauding drug psychos out to get their stolen product back. It’s a barebones siege thriller infused with schlock from one angle but there’s a deeper level, care and attention paid to each of these characters, wonderful dialogue that has the scent of improvisation and super game performances from these familiar faces of the VHS golden age of genre filmmaking. Stephen Lang (Tombstone, The Hard Way, Manhunter) heads up the pack as ringleader and Fred is joined by beloved familiar faces including blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, MASH, Vigilante), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid, Rambo II, Death Race 2000), George Wendt (Fletch, House, Space Truckers), William Sadler (Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Shawshank Redemption) and David Patrick Kelly (Twin Peaks, 48 Hrs, The Crow). These guys are totems of a bygone era in terms of themselves and the characters they get to play. They all got their start in the industry back around the 70’s and 80’ when the age of VHS was just getting underway, and as such represent a time when you’d walk into a video store and see the horror/action sections adorned with countless titles just like this one. In the film itself they play these veterans with a strong sense of brotherhood, camaraderie and community, the kind I imagine you could only get from serving together or simply knowing what it’s like to be in the shit. The film shows a reverence for these old dudes as they fiercely rage against the dying of the light and lament a large portion of the younger generation lost to drugs. It’s also just a kickass fucking horror fest with retro sensibilities, a Wild Bunch meets John Carpenter with a dash of Panos Cosmatos kinda vibe. My favourite film so far this year and highly recommended, provided this aesthetic is your thing.