Movies can be great teaching tools. Most of my generation was raised on TV—which, now that I think about it, probably means that watching the OJ trial is how we developed our collective distrust of the legal system. Not every picture can teach great lessons, of course, but horror has proven surprisingly good at it. The genre has always had a fairly strong moral center, believe it or not. It’s not surprising, really, considering that the Grimm fairy tales were some of the first classic horror stories.
And there’s no better teacher than House II: The Second Story. Sure, the first House was a solid tale of a man battling his personal demons, facing down his past and reuniting his family, but House II is also about reuniting family and facing down the demons of the past, albeit in a somehow even more outlandish and ridiculous way.
House II is such an absurdly, unlikely fun feature that I have to believe you can learn something from it. It’s too damn charming not to have a takeaway. It’s not a horror movie in the traditional sense even though there are certainly horrific moments in it. I remember seeing the opening of this flick as a kid, just seeing that demonic figure in the shadows, and being unable to watch past that. I turned it off after that scene and was convinced that it was probably the scariest film ever made. I had no idea it was supposed to be a comedy or that it would have all of these weird elements because I just could not get past how much that opening scared me as a youngster.
The best thing about House II is that varying tone. It’s certainly never as scary as I remembered it being as a child—or very scary at all—but it does have this admirable balance of horror, humor, fantasy and adventure. While it might not be as great as some of the heavy hitters of the decade, it does tap into everything we love about ‘80s movies as a whole and distills it into one weird, eccentric ride. So of course I learned plenty from it. Keep reading for my top takeaways.
Lesson #1: Don’t stay stuck in a toxic relationship
Arye Gross and Lar Park Lincoln are one of the most ill-suited couples I have ever seen in a film. She comes off as icy because she’s just a totally different person than he is, she has a career that he supports but also kind of doesn’t support and, in general, they are just totally mismatched. They shouldn’t be together, as I think they both learn over the course of the movie.
He’s going to a be a really obnoxious guest, somewhere between that one friend who’s so successful and doing so much with their life that you just want to punch them in the face and that one uncle you always regret inviting to family gatherings. Also, this ties directly into the first point. Bill Maher is the catalyst to point out just how much this relationship is not working. He manages to highlight every problem they have with each other, just by being there.
Lesson #3: Have friends you can count on
Jesse’s best friend Charlie seems like an absolutely obnoxious asshole at the start and you can barely fathom how these guys have been friends for so long. He’s loud and unfunny, kind of creepy sometimes, but when weird things start to happen and Jesse finds himself in over his head, Charlie turns out to be the right guy to have by his side. Most friends would run off on you when you find a prehistoric jungle in one of your upstairs bedrooms. Not Charlie. He’s always got your back no matter how many corpses you befriend, and that’s the sort of friend you need in life.
Lesson #4: Don’t look down on people in service jobs
Judging from the size of the mansion in the film, the characters in House II are on the higher end of the social scale. At some point they call in an electrician, which they had forgotten about because of chasing a magic skull. They start to immediately assume that this electrician is blissfully unaware and ill-prepared to deal with the situation of their house. But Bill Towner is actually a cosmic adventurer who is the only one prepared to deal with what’s going on, he saves their asses and their electricity… he just does his job.
Lesson #5: It’s never too late to reconnect with family
So, if there’s a character who’s the emotional core of House II, it’s definitely the long-dead and warmhearted Gramps. A former great outlaw, betrayed by that no good Slim Razor, Gramps never got to see his kids or grandkids, so he reconnects with his great-great-great-grandson and they form a special bond. Jesse never even really knew his family, so that makes the connection extra special, and by the end he’s gone away to live in the Old West, just as Gramps would have wanted. If that’s not heartwarming—well, I can actually think of tons of things that are, but I think House II is pretty sappy, sweet as well.