Director: Lewis Abernathy
Screenplay: Geof Miller and Deirdre Higgins
Cast: Terri Treas as Kelly Cobb; William Katt as Roger Cobb; Scott Burkholder as Burke; Denny Dillon as Verna Klump; Melissa Clayton as Laurel Cobb; Ned Romero as Ezra
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #118
[Contains Spoiler for a Plot Point Early in the Narrative]
The House series sadly ends with a less than stellar straight-to-video finale. Being a straight-to-video/DVD film doesn't denote lack of quality, as great films have been bumped from theatrical release or were for the bludgeoning home media market. The bigger issue is that especially in horror franchises, sadly this form of release method developed a negative reputation because of films like this one which lack full creative juices and mar the format, tainting it as a negative buzzword where everything falls over. Sadly it's the nineties and beyond in particular where so bizarre cases take place where franchises, once on cinema screen, dragged out into the tens in the number of sequels they had from embarrassing straight to video entries. This is where if House had lasted as The Howling or Amityville Horror franchise things might've gotten painful and even Arrow Video would've baulked at releasing the full series, rather than the four, unless a huge chunk managed to buck expectations and be good films. House IV in its favour is definitely better than The Horror Show (1989), which was a separate film slapped with being House III in the first place, but it doesn't rise that far above that either.
The problem immediately starts with casting William Katt from the first 1985 film, as the same character I loved from that film, only to squander him. Whatever the reason his character had to be removed after ten minutes and only seen in occasional scenes after, be it schedule or practicality, it doesn't help the film at all. By introducing him as effectively the same character as before, now with a daughter inexplicably instead of a son, only to remove him undermines the film in comparison when the films before were their own separate, closed in stories. It causes further problems as Katt was such a virtue for the first House and, after he's still good in the scenes he's in, his lack of presence after feels like an energy has be yanked out violently from the beginning.
After that House IV is built from boilerplates. Where Terri Treas' heroine, as a grieving widow, is the single mother with a precocious daughter in a wheelchair (Melissa Clayton). That her late husband's stepbrother Burke (Scott Burkholder) wants the old family home for nefarious reasons. That there's a friendly native American in the vicinity named who's part of the house's supernatural history. The Native American subplot in particular feels like the baggage of countless, pointless clichés being mercilessly dragged across films of all genres; like so many of this kind not just in the horror genre but others, its meant to be respectful to Native American culture, but with how such characters are usually depicted as token minorities spouting script improvised gibberish mysticism it can be as misguided as when white actors used to play roles in brownface in old westerns, noble or otherwise. Then there's the environmental message which feels arbitrarily crow barred in when said stepbrother wants the land to dump toxic waste in. Toxic waste, that pop culture symbol still around when I was growing up in the nineties let alone the eighties, an unknown colourful barrel with a skull on the side, usually fragile and prone to spilling, mutating the fishes into superheroes, and was a cheap emotional stand in for environmental messages not told with any depth but for a cheap enticement for viewers. The only difference, in the one odd moment of the whole film, is that the owner of the toxic waste factory the stepbrother works for is actually a dwarf who heads the indistinct mafia too. One who constantly has to have fluids removed from his throat into what appears to be a milkshake glass. Abruptly in that scene, you realise that this film is slap bang in the nineties with how wacky its meant to be despite introducing this character late in the narrative and rarely using him.
Snippets of the old House films appear briefly when the rubber reality that became the early films' trademark is actually used. Where showers spurt out blood and an ornament literally becomes a guard dog with a lampshade sticking out of its head. But the rest of the film is incredibly obvious and deeply saccharine, managing even to make the sentiments in House II: The Second Story (1987) more jovial in their sweetness and like a boy's own adventure. House IV's sickly tone also has a frankly a schizophrenic tonal presentation where there's Mafioso who have harmed and murdered people but they also are bumbling idiots who participate in cringe worthy slapstick. Where baring the more gentle tone, it still has the heroine having nightmares of having to sign the papers to end her husband's life after permanent, life debilitating injury which feel like a shock of cold water to the mood when referred back to. It reflects a sad end for what started off pretty strong as a franchise. Sadly it was the moment The Horror Show was added that things dropped off when, honestly, the franchise really exists in the first two films. House was a fun romp in a haunted house, maybe making little sense at times but with William Katt and a bucket load of practical effects to bring a smile to your face to sooth this issue, Katt reduced to a magical plot device in the fourth film and the practical effects combed back. And I confess the film that would have the most divisive reactions, The Second Story, was my personal favourite, managing with its rubber logic and silly characters to win me over. That at least made the viewing experience more rewarding than this one, which whilst the third best of the lot, is a significant drop from the first two films of the series.