HOUSE III (1989) Blu-ray
Director(s): James Isaac
Arrow Video UK

While rights issues caused Arrow Video USA to reduce their UK Blu-ray/DVD combo set HOUSE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION to HOUSE: TWO STORIES, American fans who missed out on the limited boxed set can get individual (and region free!) editions of HOUSE III and HOUSE IV from Arrow UK.

If you’ve ever wondered why the HOUSE franchise skipped from the theatrical second installment to the direct-to-video fourth part, you may have missed out on THE HORROR SHOW or rented it without any idea that it was released overseas as HOUSE 3. Serial killer Max Jenke (Brion James, BLADE RUNNER) is the essence of pure evil with his body count of over 110 known victims (including seven cops). His capture by Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen, PUMPKINHEAD) – which cost the life of his partner (DAY OF THE DEAD’s Terry Alexander) and a little girl – still gives the cop vivid nightmares that have kept him on desk duty and in therapy. Witnessing Jenke’s execution via electric chair does little to bring him closure (especially since Jenke is able to stand up even after a blast of increased voltage and swear to McCarthy that he’s “coming back to fuck you up” even as he burst into flames and dies). Also at the execution is Professor Peter Campbell (Thom Bray, PRINCE OF DARKNESS) who attempts to warn him that Jenke may be dead but he is far from resting. His spirit has traveled through the power lines and taken up residence in the McCarthy family basement, leading to several false scares as the plot contrives to find reasons for each family member – mother Donna (Rita Taggart, MULHOLLAND DRIVE), daughter Bonnie (Dedee Pfeiffer, VAMP), and son Scott (Aron Eisenberg, PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON’S REVENGE), as well as Bonnie’s expose-your-abs-and-die boyfriend Vinnie (David Oliver, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) – to visit the basement.

HOUSE III bears a striking similarity to Wes Craven’s SHOCKER (one of two films he made for Alive Films, the other being THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS). Although it was released six months before the Craven film, it can be seen as the low-tech, low-ambition version of the same concept (although SHOCKER was no great shakes either). Produced by HOUSE franchise producer Sean S. Cunningham (FRIDAY THE 13TH) and directed by late visual effects artist James Isaac (who later directed JASON X), HOUSE III is heavy on the false scares (a cat even jumps out of a cabinet to startle Henriksen at one point) and lackadaisically-visualized ELM STREET-esque nightmare sequences. James is his weird, imposing self, but least scary when he is speaking here, especially since he isn’t restricted to Freddy-esque one-liners. Since it’s not really a HOUSE film, the McCarthy family home isn’t really a character of its own, but it does start in on some surreal grisly comic visuals common to the series later in the film, including an amusing stop-motion turkey monster. The cast also includes Matt Clark (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES) as McCarthy’s psychiatrist, Lawrence Tierney (THE PROWLER) as the prison warden, Lewis Arquette (SCREAM 2) as McCarthy’s superior, and a late comic appearance by Alvy Moore (GREEN ACRES) as the punchline to an unfunny running joke involving McCarthy’s postal fraud scams. The photography of Mac Ahlberg (HELL NIGHT) – who also shot the HOUSE films and DEEP STAR SIX for Cunningham – is occasionally atmospheric but less accomplished than some of his other low-budget horror works from this period while the scoring of Cunningham regular Harry Manfredini (DEEP STAR SIX) is undistinguished.

With the dearth of imagination on display here, KNB Efx’s gore would seem to be the film’s raison d’etre, but the film was neutered stateside by the MPAA for an R-rating like just about every other horror title during this period. A slightly longer pre-MPAA cut was screened theatrically abroad and has been available on import releases like the Japanese tape (and presumably the Hong Kong laserdisc) and one of the British DVD releases. MGM was not able or unwilling to supply film material from which to create an uncut version for Scream Factory's stateside Blu-ray release which also did not include the pre-MPAA footage as an extra. Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray uses the same older HD master but it features both the R-rated edition (94:19) and an unrated European version (95:16) which restores the MPAA-cut gore mainly to the opening diner massacre from a workprint source. While there is some degradation in quality, it is nowhere near as much a jump as Arrow's treatment of the unrated version of HELLRAISER III. Both cuts feature DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmixes and an LPCM 2.0 stereo track as well as optional English SDH subtitles.

The audio commentary track with producer Cunningham recorded for the Shout edition has been carried over and is playable on both cuts. He discusses the HOUSE films and their principal architect Steve Miner (FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D), and that THE HORROR SHOW was actually intended to be HOUSE 3 – and a more hard-edged one after the more “family friendly” HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY – but United Artists wanted it to be seen as a one-off (or at least not a continuation of a rival studio’s series). Cunningham dismisses ideas that the film was a set-up for a franchise; however, he says rather unenthusiastically that it might have led to sequels had the film been successful. He does admire the film’s technical elements (like Ahblerg’s photography and his general nurturing presence with filmmakers on low budget shoots), but groans at the cat scare and some of the by-the-numbers elements of the plot and the execution of the suspense scenes (of the shower scene he admits that it’s hard to make such an obligatory scene scary anymore). Felsher and Cunningham address the gore that was cut (including the stuff that showed up in none of the finished cuts), and how it had the effect of making the film seem more serious.

Also carried over from the American Blu-ray are a pair of interviews. Stunt coordinator Kane Hodder (11:07) is on hand for a video interview in which refers to the film as “the equivalent of HOUSE 3” and recalls how excited he was to get to work with Cunningham. Usually cast as a character (or creature) that requires stunt work rather than actually doubling for another actor, Hodder fondly recalls working with James, Ahlberg (who he felt was instrumental in getting him hired for HOUSE, the first of his Cunningham collaborations which lead to his later work as Jason Vorhees), and Isaac who had faith in his abilities as a stuntman. Actress Rita Taggart (10:52) recalls working with the original director Blyth and not feeling as if Isaac was experienced with directing actors (although she seems to understand his position). She speaks warmly of her co-stars – and recalls that Pfeiffer was not pleased to learn she had a nude shower scene – and cites the turkey scene as her favorite setpiece.

New to the Arrow edition is the featurette "Slaughter, Inc.: The Horrors of THE HORROR SHOW" (16:01) with KNB's Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger, and Gregory Nicotero recall that the film was their first major assignment with a budget as KNB – Nicotero and Kurtzman having previously worked with Cunningham on DEEP STAR SIX – and spend the featurette breaking down who supervised which effects from the diner massacre to the electric chair scene and the monster turkey. The featurette is illustrated with behind the scenes video, more of which is scene in the behind-the-scenes footage segment (20:57) while the workprint trims (1:23) features an alternate take of the ending. A still gallery (5:19) and the film’s theatrical trailer (1:31) are also included along with a reversible cover. (Eric Cotenas)