As we honor those who have served in the military this weekend, let’s take a moment to remember the ghoul in the steel helmet who had an ax to grind in the 1986 movie House: Big Ben.
It was 32 years ago that during a bit of a horror drought at the box office we got excited that the original Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham had written a film; a haunted house chiller starring one of the hottest television actors of the time, William Katt.
It was also exciting that Steve Miner, the director of Friday the 13th Pt. 2, was going to helm the film and music composer Henry Manfredini was doing the music.
It was a Friday the 13th reunion!
House pulled a lot of elements from popular horror movies of the time, from Poltergeist to Amityville Horror to pinches of Stephen King (Katt plays horror novelist Roger Cobb), the film was also a comedy much more so than Fright Night which came out a year before.
Katt wasn’t the only television star to appear in the film. George Wendt who played the lovable loser Norm from Cheers is in it. Then there was Richard Moll from Night Court who probably has the most important role as Big Ben, the Vietnam vet who haunts Cobb in his dreams.
The reason House is such a great movie to watch on Veterans Day is mainly because of its military plotline. You see, Cobb isn’t going to write another horror novel much to the dismay of his fans, he’s going to write about his experiences in Vietnam, something that he has yet to resolve.
His aunt dies by hanging herself and leaves him a gorgeous Victorian house. Soon after he moves in he begins to see visions of his missing son who disappeared into thin air a few months before.
He also has PTSD nightmares of Big Ben who’s an integral part of Cobb’s military mémoirs because he felt he had abandoned him in the line of duty.
Ben was mortally wounded and asks Cobb to finish him off but he can’t and subsequently, Ben is captured and tortured.
House isn’t the greatest film; much like its main character, it’s caught between two worlds. It doesn’t know whether to be a flat-out comedy or a serious supernatural tale of a house possessed.
But what makes it fun is the special effects. Thirty years ago CGI was in its infant stages so practical effects were the gold standard and House shined in that area.
Creature effects were created by Brent Baker. The flying skull demon is classic Lovecraft.
It even has an homage to Raimi’s Evil Dead in one scene with a cover of “You’re No Good” which comes out of left field.
Of course, there’s that unforgettable medicine cabinet scene; the gag has been mimicked so many times in later films.
But the centerpiece is Moll’s Big Ben who is the scariest with his full body prosthetic and unsettling visage. This pissed off vet isn’t going down without a fight.
In the years since House opened in theaters, the world has had many more wars to fight both domestically and abroad all with devastating results.
The only criticism of House is its lighthearted nature when dealing with PTSD. But given that there are so many iHorror readers who are also servicemembers both past and present, it’s nice to have a little levity in the genre they love so much.
We honor those who have served in the military and have fought for freedoms. iHorror thanks them for their service.
Even Big Ben.