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The House Of Rock
voice cast: Gavin Claxton, Gary Howe, Richard Preddy, Cavin Cornwall, Morwenna Banks

director: Stuart Evans

150 minutes (18) 2002
Fremantle / Fabulous DVD Region 2 retail
[released 14 May]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Between 2000 and 2002, House Of Rock aired as part of Channel Four's late-night '4 Music' slot. Frequently cut into pieces and airing between videos, the programme ran for two seasons. Set in a derelict house in Limbo, House Of Rock centres upon a group of dead musicians who argue, fight and engage in weird adventures in the hope of warding off boredom until the day they eventually get cast into the flames of hell (there is no mention of anyone getting into heaven). Well written, nicely acted and with some genuinely memorable moments, House Of Rock is undeniably something of a lost gem of late night TV. This DVD release is long overdue and is only spoiled by slightly deceptive DVD packaging.

The housemates are Freddy Mercury (flamboyantly camp, sex-obsessed and quick to anger), Notorious B.I.G. (thuggish and missing his hip hop lifestyle), John Denver (optimistic and wholesome) and Kurt Cobain (depressed, self-loathing and dreams of appearing on UK game show Fifteen-To-One). In the first series, foppish poet Marc Bolan complemented this group, but he was replaced in the second series by pretentious droning scouser John Lennon.

Despite boasting some well-designed characters, House Of Rock's animation is rather crude. Each character only has a set number of gestures available to them and once you notice the patterns, it's difficult to stop waiting for Biggie to flip the devil horns or Kurt to cover his hands with his face. Clearly a reflection of budget rather than talent, this is a distraction in an otherwise aesthetically unique series.

House Of Rock's humour is undeniably abrasive. Whether it's silly sight gags such as Freddy Mercury hoovering his cat or more sly jokes, such as a satanic Davina McCall asking people to keep voting despite the calls not mattering in the least, the writing is systematically weird, funny and really quite unique, which is to be expected given that two of the three writers were Richard Preddy and Gary Howe, who have worked on classics such as ChuckleVision, The Fast Show and Smack The Pony as well as popular but flawed recent shows such as Green Wing and Man Stroke Woman. However, despite containing some decent laughs, House Of Rock does suffer for clearly being joke rather than situation driven.

The different episodes' plots are frequently shaky and serve only to hang the jokes on. A notable example of the distinction between these types of comedy writing can be seen if you compare early and more recent Simpsons' episodes. In the early episodes, the comedy flows organically from the interaction between the characters and the plot, but in the later episodes the situations are tailored to fit the jokes resulting in a slightly haphazard feel. House Of Rock definitely suffers for its approach to writing as it does for the decision to include a number of 'pop cultcha' gags which, seven years on, might leave people scratching their heads (I had to google to find out that Zoe Ball had a chat show called The Priory).

Preddy and Howe, along with fellow writer Gavin Claxton, actor Cavin Cornwall and comedy great Morwenna Banks provide the series' voice-work, which is invariably funny and more often does a good job of walking the line between imitations and stereotypical parodies. The only bum note in this regard is Gavin Claxton's Kurt Cobain who sounds overly caffeinated and chirpy for a man who spent the latter part of his life fucked on smack. However, we can overlook this lapse in judgement because Claxton also provides the series' standout performance in the shape of the snooty and preening Freddy Mercury.

This DVD contains all 10 episodes of the second series. The first series was released on DVD a while ago and, as with most VHS-only releases, is no longer all that easy to find. The decision to put only the second series on the DVD is an unfortunate one, made worse by the fact that the DVD packaging does not clearly indicate that this is second series only. By this I mean that the DVD is called House Of Rock rather than House Of Rock - series two or even 'The Best of House of Rock'. However, this minor affront is compensated for by the decision to include on the DVD the Comedy Labs All Aboard The Cat Bus and Popcultomania, which are both rather splendidly odd.

While it won't be troubling Fawlty Towers or Rising Damp as one of the all-time-great TV comedies, House Of Rock certainly compares favourably with other attempts at British animated comedy such as Rex The Runt and Stressed Eric. Definitely one for fans of surreal and abrasive humour...
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