House IV (1992)

First published by Movie Gazette

In House IV, William Katt reprises the rôle of Roger Cobb from the first film – although, this being a series obsessed with alternative universes and other worlds, here Roger Cobb has a wife called Kelly (Terri Treas) rather than Sandy (Kay Lenz from House), he has a daughter Laurel (Melissa Clayton) rather than a son, and the haunted house which he has inherited is on a deserted shoreline rather than out in the suburbs. So Roger’s brother-in-law Burke (Scott Burkholder) may as well be talking about this film’s relationship to the original House when he says “You gotta let go of the past, man” – but in fact he is trying to persuade Roger to sell the old property.

Roger refuses, and shortly afterwards is killed in a car accident, leaving his wife and now wheelchair-bound daughter to look after the family home. Overwhelmed with grief and under increasing pressure from Burke to sell, Kelly begins to have disturbing visions in the house that make her question her own sanity – only this time far from wanting to harm Kelly, the unrestful souls of the house, including Roger himself and some Native American spirits, are trying to warn her of Burke’s murderous scheme to turn the ancient sacred spring which is concealed beneath the house into an illegal dumping ground for toxic waste.

All of the films in the House comedy horror franchise are just a little unhinged, but even when it is set against the dancing marlin of the first film, the half-caterpillar half-puppy of House II and the talking turkey of House III, the fourth and (so far) final instalment is without doubt the most satisfyingly deranged of the lot. No sooner have you got over the ‘brown goo’ that emerges from the house’s pipes (“it was more like mud, only a little runnier…and it smelt like I don’t know what”), and the plumber (Paul Keith) who reassures Kelly, “It’s a pleasure to work on pipes like yours,” – as though this were some soft-core porn film from the seventies – you are then faced with the truly bizarre spectacle of a home-delivered pizza terrorising Kelly with its extra cheesy rendition of the ‘Pizza Man’ song. From there on in it’s all people-eating mattresses and kitsch lamp ornaments that transform into barking dogs – and if this is not enough to whet your appetite for the outlandish, wait till you see the cartoonishly satanic villain of the piece – a moustachioed midget named Mr Grosso (Mark Gash) whose exposure to chemical effluents has so filled his lungs with thick phlegm that he has a special machine to extract it – the Phleg-matic – the contents of which he occasionally forces people to drink as a method of ensuring their loyalty (a scene which just has to be seen to be believed).

House IV is not a great film, and possibly not even a good film – but it is by far the most enjoyable House-film on the block, and one can only imagine what further madness Lewis Abernathy would have unleashed onto the world had he ever been allowed to direct again after this ‘idiosyncratic’ outing.

Summary: Putting the ‘mental’ in ‘environmental’, this madhouse sure is as fun as hell to visit.

© Anton Bitel