Author Roger Cobb is a troubled man, having been separated from his wife; their only son Jimmy disappeared without a trace and his aunt committed suicide by hanging. On top of everything else, he has been pressured by his publisher to write another book. To the chagrin of his fans and publisher, Cobb plans a novel based on his experiences in Vietnam, instead of another horror story, as a way to purge himself of the horrors that he had experienced while there.
After his aunt's funeral, Cobb decides to live inside her house to write instead of selling it, as recommended by the estate attorney. After moving in, Cobb begins to have powerful graphic nightmares, including thoughts about his comrade, Big Ben, who died in Vietnam. In addition, strange phenomena spring forth from the house, haunting him in his waking hours. He tries communicating his fears to his next door neighbor Harold, but he thinks that Cobb is crazy.
One night while investigating a noise coming from his late aunt's bedroom, Cobb is attacked by a deformed monster inside the closet. Soon, more attacks occur: levitating garden tools attack him, his wife appears and transforms into a hideous hag-like creature to attack him, and gremlin creatures attempt to kidnap a neighbor's child whom Cobb is reluctantly babysitting. Eventually Cobb discovers an entry into a sinister other-world through the bathroom medicine cabinet and is pulled into the darkness, where he fortuitously locates his lost son Jimmy.
Cobb manages to escape with Jimmy but is soon confronted by an undead Big Ben who wants revenge on him; Ben was taken prisoner and tortured before dying, and he blames Cobb for failing to save him. Cobb confronts Ben, no longer afraid of his fears, and destroys him with explosives as he and his son escape the burning house. In the end, he triumphantly glances back at the house while regaining control of his life and reunites with his wife and child.William Katt as Roger Cobb
George Wendt as Harold Gorton
Richard Moll as Big Ben
Kay Lenz as Sandy Sinclair
Mary Stavin as Tanya
Michael Ensign as Chet Parker
Susan French as Aunt Elizabeth Hooper
Erik Silver and Mark Silver as Jimmy
Peter Pitofsky as Sandywitch
Felix Silla as Little Critter
Elizabeth Barrington as Little Critter
Jerry Maren as Little Critter
Dino Andrade as Little Critter (Critter Voices)
Mindy Sterling as Woman in Bookstore
Alan Autry as Police Officer
Steven Williams as Police Officer
Kane Hodder was the stunt coordinator on the film.
House began filming on April 22, 1985. The first two weeks of production comprised shooting exteriors at the estate known today as Mills View, a Victorian style home first built in 1887 and located on Melrose Avenue in Monrovia, California. At the time the building was owned by brothers Brian and John Wade, two Los Angeles firemen.
Production designer Gregg Fonseca and a crew of five spent about four weeks modifying the existing Victorian manor that included repainting the whole of the exterior, bordering the front yard with a wrought iron fence supported by stone pillars and attaching spires to the roof. The back of the house had its clapboard façade covered with brick and landscapers were brought in to plant flowers and reseed the dying lawn. The yard had no sidewalk at the time so a faux walkway made from plywood painted to look like concrete and positioned to lead straight to the front porch was added as a finishing touch. Some time after production a true concrete walkway was installed in the same spot, looking very much like the one in the film.
The final six weeks of production moved operations to Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood where two floors of the interior of the Monrovia house were recreated on sound stages. This included sets for the living room, staircase, den and three upstairs bedrooms. On a separate adjacent set the jungle exteriors for the Vietnam flash-back scenes were also built on sound stages, taking three days to put together.
A total of seven monsters were designed and fabricated for the production. These creatures--which included the obese witch, the zombified corpse of Big Ben, three demonic kids, the flying skull-faced monster in the void, the plaque mounted marlin that comes to life and the war demon from the closet--were constructed by seventeen special effects artists over a period of three-and-a-half months. The war demon in particular was an elaborately built puppet, measuring eighteen feet and fully mechanized and operated by fifteen people.
House opened in 1,440 theaters on February 28, 1986 and grossed $5,923,972 in its opening weekend, missing first place to Pretty in Pink. By the end of its run, House grossed $19,444,631 at the North American box office and $22.1 million worldwide.
The film holds a 50% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on ten reviews. Variety wrote, "Though much of this nonsense is played tongue-in-cheek, an audience can hardly be expected to swallow the screenplay’s arbitrary approach to Cobb's character."
In 1987, Richard Moll and Kay Lenz were both nominated for Saturn Awards. Director Steve Miner won a Critics' Award for his work on the film and was nominated for an International Fantasy Film Award.
The soundtrack for House was released on vinyl, cassette tape and CD in 1987. The soundtrack runs approximately 51:14 and has 25 songs that were featured in House and House II: The Second Story.