Monday, April 05, 2010

Hausu / House (1977).

Before going to the screening of House, I had read that it "defies description". Oh great I thought, what a scintillating review that will make.

And the problem is folks, they weren't wrong! Have a gander at the trailer:

That isn't "crazied-up" for dramatic effect, the film really is that insane.

As the name suggests it's basically a haunted house tale, centred around schoolgirl Oshare and her six friends.

The girls have nicknames relating to their personalities and talents:
  • Oshare/Angel: Angel is according to my DVD subtitles, but she is "Gorgeous" on IMDb
  • Fantasy: the dreamer
  • Sweet: the cute, baby of the group
  • Gari/Prof: the brainy one
  • Mac: the one who is always hungry/eating
  • Melody: the musician
  • Kung-Fu: the tomboy fighter. She was by far the coolest
They take a trip to the country during school holidays to visit Oshare's aunt, Obâsan, a mysterious woman who even breaks the fourth wall at one point.

Sadly they don't realise until it's too late that creepy auntie Obâsan is actually an evil spirit who feasts on the flesh of girls of a "marriageable age". All because she was abandoned by her lover many years ago. Bloody men eh?

And so one by one the girls are dispatched, the cannibal spirit eventually possessing Oshare herself and continuing the legacy of death in the family, by killing her soon-to-be-stepmother just before the end credits roll.

The only way I can describe this film, is that it's a mix of supremely cheesy teen melodrama and horror-fantasy, plucked straight out the head of an Evil Dead fan with a penchant for Japanese girls, who happens to be in the middle of a bad LSD trip.

We get blood spurting, stop-motion, tits and... soft focus lighting and whimsical romantic music. Before you even have chance to finish the sentence: "What in god's name just happened in that scene?", you find yourself having to say it again.

Rarely scary, occasionally creepy and repeatedly funny. Also by far the highest WTF factor I have ever encountered.

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, the idea for the plot (such as it is) came from his young daughter. She happened to mention being scared that her own reflection would come out of the mirror and eat her. Obayashi then asked her what else in the house might attack her; her answers are some of the main sequences.

The piano.

Electric lights.

Being trapped inside the gears of a grandfather clock.

This film was made at a time when Japanese cinema was desperate to rejuvenate itself. Even though prior to this, Obayashi was only to be found working on commercials and independent films, the studio execs liked the cut of his jib and gave him free reign to create this crazy classic, in the hope of bringing the Japanese film industry back from the brink of death. It worked.

He clearly had a lot of fun with it, adhering to no one rulebook of film-making. Time structure (speeding up, slowing down, repeating) and using lots of different media (painted backdrops, blue screen and animation) are just two of the things he toys with in House.

Obayashi's background in advertising is also impossible to ignore, with unexpectedly (and uncommon in Japanese cinema in the 70's) over the top production design. Several times early on in the film, an actress will tilt her head and sigh in a way which appears lifted directly from a cheesy commercial. You fully expect her to produce a can of Pepsi or bottle of shampoo from somewhere, then press it to her cheek.

This stylistic flourish is at its height whenever the stepmother is on screen. Always lit beautifully, accompanied by soothing music, she even has her own wind machine that seems to follow her around, giving her a wistful, ethereal appearance at all times.

The juxtaposition of these images with, say, something like this:

Well it makes for an interesting ride.

There's no mistaking that House is a must-see - and a gift that can keep on giving, if you want it to.

This movie can be viewed purely for its insanity and left at that. It's very entertaining on a surface level, leaving you blinking and dumbstruck.

However, like many films but particularly this one, put a little work in, do a little light background reading and it not only doesn't ruin the magic, it enhances the film by putting it into some really interesting context. I've mentioned some of this here, of course, but for fear of plagiarising all of the wonderfully comprehensive booklet which accompanies the DVD, I've barely touched on the trivia.

So, it's up to you how serious you want your relationship with House to be... an enjoyable one night only thing with someone who's fun and clearly cuckoo; or time invested in trying to figure them out, but ultimately calling it a day - with no hard feelings or anything, but you'd still rather not run into them whilst doing your weekly food shopping.

Er, perhaps that analogy got a little too involved.

Well whatever you decide, just make sure to hook up with it in one way or another.


  1. Wow, that looks bizarre to say the least. I assume it's available on DVD?

  2. It is over here (and only very recently). I'm not sure about elsewhere...

  3. That trailer was just nuts! You're bang on the money when you say its off the WTF meter.

    Did you ever get a multi-regional player sorted?

  4. It's mental. But good-mental.

    I never did, no :( Kind of fell down my to-do list a fair way.

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