Who the heck is Lewis Abernathy? Because I think he’s got a lot to answer for.
One of the things that really sets House 4 apart from the rest of the series, is the budget… Or rather the lack of budget. It appears to be the lowest budgeted entry in the franchise, and it really holds it back. You can see it in particular once we’re in the house. Other than the living room, the house looks extremely plain and unremarkable. It feels more like a cheap TV show set rather than a residence. That’s not surprising, considering that it is infact a set. You might have seen much of this set used previously in The People Under the Stairs. in fact, The People Under the Stairs were actually reusing the sets from this film, House 4 was shot first, filming in 1990 but was shelved indefinitely until it’s direct-to-video release in 1992. Of course when you don’t have a budget, what do you do? You get a star! Or at least you get a cameo. William Katt returns for this entry, although if you’re watching this for him then you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed. He’s killed off almost immediately (and only shot 2 days on set) because of a power struggle and land deal over what has to be the creepiest family homestead out in the middle of nowhere ever! How anybody could look at this is anything less than a haunted house I don’t know!
Katt’s character Roger Cobb has a new wife and daughter, and a brother that we’ve never heard of before. He and his brother argue over what to do with the house. Roger made a promise to his father that he wouldn’t sell, it’s a generational promise that his father had also made to his grandfather, who believed the house was magic. The Cobb family gets in a automobile accident, killing Roger (and just to make sure we’re certain of it, we actually see his wife sign the do not resuscitate order… if I hadn’t already known he was getting killed early on in this thing, I’m pretty sure I would have been pissed) and crippling the daughter. The wife, honoring her husband’s wishes refuses to sell and returns to the house to live in it. We now have our setup.
It becomes Terri Treas film, but the transition feels awkward because part of me still wants Roger Cobb to be the main character. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly flashing back to the accident and looking at photographs of Katt – it’s an attempt to keep the character in the film, but it also subverts Terri’s character of Kelly as the lead. She’s brought back to the house with her grandfather (Dabbs Greer, who happened to play the minister on Little House in the Prairie) and he tries to talk her out of staying, but she’s adamant. Staying here will be her way of honoring her husband’s wishes, she even brings him home. Roger Cobb’s ashes rest on the mantle of this old house.
An unexplained housekeeper arrives to help them whip the house in shape and they gather up all the old junk for a yard sale. Around this time the brother shows up again, shocked to find Kelly living there. He expected the house to pass to him, but that’s not the way it worked. He attempts to apply some pressure on her but she won’t sell.
Creepy things start to happen, brown goo from the faucets, a vision of a hand emerging from Roger’s ashes, and then there’s the singing Pizza – which is possibly the weirdest and most effective gag in the entire film (That’s Kane Hodder’s face in the pizza by the way). Then the nightmares begin. It’s enough to drive her to the local Native American shaman to try and search for answers. He tells her that the house is built over a sacred spring, a healing place for spirits. A great seal was built to seal the last of this power and to hide it, the house was built over it, and now Roger is trapped there.
In the meantime, the evil industrialists still want the property, and Roger’s brother has promised to sell it to them. They’re looking for a dumping ground for toxic waste and it’s a cartoonish and its portrayal of the villains. It’s a very typical Captain Planet sort of bad guy. Since they can’t get them to sell, he send some goons over in fright masks to scare the mother and daughter. Curiously enough, the house protects them. A dog shaped lamp on the daughter’s nightstand transforms into a real dog to chases the men away. It does more than that, it shows Kelly the way that her husband was murdered – it’s giving her visions and now she knows that it was Roger’s brother who murdered him. It’s time for one last showdown between her, the house, and the bad guys.
The movie is far less polished and effective than the previous entries, but it really does manage to capture the spirit of the House films. The real quibble here is the wholesale alteration of every canon – we know from the first film that Roger had a son, not a daughter. Sure, this could be a step daughter and a new wife, but it’s not really clear – in fact it’s really suggested that this is his biological daughter and he’s been with her all along. That’s in congruent with the events of a film a mere seven years prior. It’s weird because while House 4 may be the weakest to the series, it’s far more true to the franchise than the third entry was and in many ways I like it better as a sequel. What I really need, is something to bridge it back to the first film and address the continuity changes. Could someone write me a novel please?