31 FLAVORS OF HORROR #21: HOUSE (1977).
Hausu (aka House, from 1977) is without a doubt, one of the weirdest fucking movies I’ve ever seen, and goddamn it but that really must be saying something. It’s strange that standing in the face of this thing has reduced me to profanity, when it’s most certainly the most innocent ultra-violent horror movie that could possibly exist. If profanity is the last refuge of the man with no wiser words to impart, then consider me speechless. Here’s a clip:
Am I exaggerating?
Janus Films and The Criterion Collection have excavated this cinematic treasure and unleashed it upon the world in the form of frequent local screenings (including one this weekend, at NYC’s IFC Center) and a wonderful DVD/Blu-Ray package for those who can’t make it out in person. GREAT crowd movie, though. See it with as many people as you can.
What this is, is the debut feature from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started out as an experimental filmmaker, transitioned into TV commercials, and then brought both contrasting disciplines brilliantly to bear in this one little-known landmark, which led to a career in features which continues to this day.
Hausu was written as a collaboration between Obayashi and his young daughter, Chigumi, which both makes perfect sense and none at all. According to the supplemental materials on Criterion’s DVD, legendary Japanese studio Toho wanted Obayashi to make a popular mainstream movie for them, and this is what he did with that dictum. (Dictum? Damn near killed ‘em!)
Hausu is the story of a group of teenage girls who go to visit the country home of the aunt of one of them. The house is a mansion on a hill, and it’s haunted and angry, in the most bizarre of senses. The girls are literally consumed, one by one, and spit out and toyed with in a dizzying escalation of joyous insanity.
Here’s the trailer:
In retrospect, it plays exactly like the collaboration between a grown man and a young girl. It feels like the dad made a horror movie, and the little girl went in and recut the thing while he was sleeping it off. Hausu is chock full of insane, bug-eyed, not-entirely-nonsexual megaviolence, but there’s not anything remotely hateful or misogynistic about it: This is surely history’s most cheerful movie ever to feature dismembered limbs dancing across across the keys of a carnivorous haunted piano. I mean, what’s the closest comparison? Evil Dead 2? Even Evil Dead 2 didn’t have a watermelon wearing a hat, or a killer lampshade, or a disembodied head with an appetite for buttcheeks.
Hausu makes Evil Dead 2 seem as restrained and mannered as one of those BBC Dickens miniseries. The tone of this movie is like a pre-teen sleepover between giggy girls bouncing off a major sugar high. It just happens to be a haunted house movie, with many of the conventions which that implies. It’s a little bit like the G rated version of Sucker Punch and the R rated version of Sucker Punch and a box of Junior Mints all at the same time. It’s a lot like the Hello Kitty version of The Exorcist. There is literally not a second movie to resemble this one. I guess there’s an art in that.