With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Save for a bizarre house with a mind of its own and returning screenwriter Ethan Wiley, who’s picked up directorial duties for this sequel, House II: The Second Story bears little in common with its predecessor. This time the story follows Jesse (Arye Gross), the new owner of a mansion that’s been in his family for generations. The more Jesse settles into his new home, the more he discovers its rooms function as portals to different places in time, and it’s all centered around a mysterious Aztec crystal skull. Jesse doesn’t just have to contend with new home ownership and a girlfriend with ambitions of her own (Lars Park-Lincoln), but he has a large role to play in the ongoing battle between good and evil within the house.
Wiley takes a kitchen sink approach to this sequel, and the comedic elements are played up even bigger than before. There are prehistoric dinosaurs, cavemen, a great-great-grandpa mummy, evil rotting wild west gunslingers, Aztecs, sacrificial virgins, and most famously, a caterpillar-puppy. The mystical world within the walls of Jesse’s home overwhelms him as he struggles to maintain his personal life, especially because no one believes his tales about his house save for best friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark). Of course, Charlie doesn’t take much seriously and compounds Jesse’s issues by throwing surprise Halloween parties or taking mummified Gramps (Royal Dano) out for a night of drunk driving.
The weird, wacky franchise that is the House series has very loose connections between the films, but the one thing you can count in a House film is Kane Hodder. In all, Hodder served as stunt coordinator and performed a lot of the stunt work. House II: The Second Story marked the first time in the series that Hodder cameoed on screen, only you never get to see his face – he’s in a gorilla suit during the Halloween party sequence.
What really makes these films so memorable in the sub-genre of haunted house horror is the creature effects.
It’s not ghosts that haunt the halls of these old mansions, but monsters. Like the original, House II didn’t have a very big budget to work with, which meant the special effects team had to get extra creative thanks to Wiley’s kitchen sink approach. Wiley tasked special makeup effects artist Chris Walas (Gremlins, The Fly) to design and create the film’s makeup and creature effects.
For Gramps, Walas wanted to keep Dano recognizable underneath the makeup, as well as a less ghastly look considering Gramps was a friendly force of good. In other words, he looked positively radiant despite his 170 years of age. Gramps’ adversary Slim (Dean Cleverdon), however, was full on zombie cowboy baddie, full of exaggerated rotting features and contrasting bright red hair. Many of the smaller creatures encountered were a mix of stop-motion animation and puppetry, namely the caterpillar-puppy and the baby pterodactyl. The former captured audiences’ hearts, which should come as no surprise considering Walas is responsible for designing the perennially adorable Mogwai from Gremlins. It was also a pretty easy puppet, being that only the eyes were mechanized. The pterodactyl, however, required a lot more effort due to its wings.
House II: The Second Story scales back on the massive, gnarly monsters of the first film in favor of a much lighter-hearted mashup that leans hard into time travel and old western movies for inspiration. It drops the scares for adventure and humor, but also gives us some of the decade’s most lovable monsters in Gramps and his beer-loving Cater-puppy.