Hidden Netflix Gems – House

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is a film for hardcore fans of things like Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King novels, and the more horror-heavy pages of the classic Heavy Metal magazine. In fact, in many ways it is very much like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt episode, one that is especially heavy on the comic relief. Produced by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed the first two sequels to that film, this is decidedly campy, deliciously cheesy and immensely satisfying B-movie fun.

Not to be confused with the 1977 Japanese cult movie of the same name, the 1986 film House (aka Ding Dong, You’re Dead, its original video release subtitle) stars William Katt as best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, a Vietnam vet who has been struggling with writing about his experiences in the war. One of his problems is that no one else seems particularly interested in this story, preferring he write another horror story instead, but more importantly, he is also dealing with the fact that his wife, popular TV actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), has recently left him. Even more recently, his beloved Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French), committed suicide by hanging herself in her creepy old Victorian mansion, where Roger and Sandy’s young son Jimmy (played alternately by twins Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared some time ago. Roger inherits the house and decides to try and finish his new book there, in solitude, while also dealing with the demons of his past.

Of course, he doesn’t exactly find the solitude he’s looking for, due to a bumbling but well-intentioned neighbor named Harold Gorton (George Wendt), who provides much of the films comedy, and a series of strange monsters that seem to come from another dimension within the house, who provide the rest. Saying the monsters are more funny than scary is not a criticism of the film, however, as this is clearly intentional most of the time. Though the effects will look dated to viewers in the modern CGI era, they are quite well-done; they are not the nightmare creations of other films of the time like John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but they stand up nicely alongside more silly films like Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

As it turns out, Roger’s preoccupation with his Vietnam memories is especially relevant to the literal demons he faces in the strange old house, and though the film takes some rather dead-end narrative turns along the way, its central story is pure pulp horror in the most classic sense. House is not a good horror film to watch if you want something genuinely frightening, but if you’re in the mood for tongue-in-cheek fun that only takes itself seriously enough to deliver a few cheap scares, it’s well worth a look.

  

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RIP Tom Mankiewicz

The son of the great writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) and nephew of equally great screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (“Citizen Kane,” “The Pride of the Yankees”), Tom Mankiewicz was by his own admission understandably intimidated by his relatives’ example. Still, he forged a reputation as a solid screenwriter and an ace script doctor, writing the final drafts of 1978’s “Superman” and 1980’s “Superman II” as well as “polishing” a number of scripts including “War Games,” “Gremlins” and Tim Burton’s “Batman.” He died today at age 68. According to his L.A. Times obituary, he had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

I want to remember Mankiewicz with the fun, and only slightly silly, openings to two of the most underrated entries in the James Bond series. The deliriously brutal “Diamonds are Forever” from 1971 and probably my favorite Roger Moore Bond, 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun” (which I’m not sure if I’ve even seen as an adult).  Note how both openings cleverly break the mold of most of the pre-credit sequences in the series. A necessity in the first case because of Connery’s temporary replacement by George Lazenby on “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and the unusually dark ending of that film which sets Bond off on a deadly vendetta against Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The second doesn’t even include the live Roger Moore, but we do see quite a bit of the great Christopher Lee as perhaps Bond’s most skillfully deadly nemesis, and Hervé Villechaize in a role which no doubt inspired the creators of the humorously awful “Fantasy Island.”

It really has been a long time since I saw this. All I’d like to know is — what was the Tabasco for? I didn’t see any breakfast. Gratuitous early product placement? H/t Mubi – David Hudson

  

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Cinephile blogs don’t care if I ignore them

But it’s still high time I take a look around the online petri dish that has nurtured me for so long…

* Jesus of film geek cool Dennis Cozzalio has a nifty conversation with director Joe Dante (“Gremlins,” “Piranha,” “Rock ‘n Roll High School,” “The Howling,” etc.) whose doing some ultra film-geek stuff in L.A. while finishing up his lowish budget 3-D horror film, “The Hole.”

* Kimberly Lindbergs reviews the new biography of Hal Ashby (“Harold and Maude,” “Being There”) whose fandom is definitely growing.

* There’ll be more posts like this to come, but I’ll wrap up with the amazing Self Styled Siren‘s discovery a couple of week’s back of a truly great YouTube clip featuring Fred Astaire dancing and singing a song now practically owned by Frank Sinatra. If Frank was the ultimate saloon singer, Fred was the ultimate urbane hoofer. And he was an underrated singer and actor as well.

Though the Siren has problems embedding, I can present it to you directly here. Even if you think you hate or have no interest in musicals, check this one out, by the time Fred starts dancing at 2:45, I promise you won’t be sorry. (The video, by the way, runs a bit long. Feel free to click away after Fred finally ambles out of the bar. Also, note that he tells humorist-turned-actor Robert Benchley that he plans to walk, not drive, home — which is not the way the song’s usually interpreted. That’s Astaire: class through and through.)

  

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