Saturday, October 24, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—House (1977) ***½

NR, 88 min.
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Writers: Chiho Katsura, Chigumi Ôbayashi (original story)
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Satô, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi

Have you ever seen one of those Japanese variety shows where you are wondering just what the heck is going on? Well, the 1977 cult horror film “House” comes from the same mindset. In it you will witness a floating head attack a friend, a piano eat its player, a girl who loves to clean killed by linens, a man turn into a pile of bananas, a woman taking a bath attacked by hair, an old woman who likes to hang out in the broken refrigerator, and a skeleton dancing in the background of many scenes without any explanation. But, even that list of absurdities fails to do the movie justice. It is one that must be witnessed to be believed.

The story, which seems quite secondary to the film’s weirdness, is about a girl named Gorgeous (in the English translation), who’s father brings home a new wife years after Gorgeous’s mother has died. She’s unwilling to accept this new mother and chooses to take the summer to visit an aunt she hasn’t seen in years. She invites all of her school friends along with her and one of their male school professors, which seems strangely inappropriate, but since he never actually makes it to the house, I suppose it’s OK.

After arriving at the house, the aunt seems strangely distracted and not necessarily capable of living on her own as she has. The house is dusty and well… quite clearly haunted to some degree. The girls don’t seem to mind much. It’s all an adventure to them until the one they call Mac—because she eats constantly??? Maybe it’s a reference to McDonald’s?—shows up as a disembodied head after having disappeared on a mission to find food. The girl named Kung Fu fights the head and the movie is off to the races—the crazy clown car races. Actually, it’s already well into the bizarre by that point, but it really gets weird after that.

The film employs puppets, animation, obvious false background landscapes, and dozens of low budget filmmaking tropes. It all feeds into the strange atmosphere and gameshow-like delivery of the story. You have to be willing to accept just about any cinematic stylization as part of this universe, because just about every one at the time of the film’s production is used. This makes the movie much more insane than scary, but its themes are firmly rooted in horror.

The movie obviously influenced filmmakers like Sam Raimi. Its influence can be seen in his “Evil Dead” movies and even in the 1986 U.S. horror comedy “House”, which is by no means a remake of the Japanese film. Those movies tone down its oddball sensibilities ten fold. The Japanese “House” is like some sort of horror acid trip, however, that is an entity unto itself. Certainly it is not for mainstream horror audiences. It is an acquired taste that requires a good amount of experience in accepting non-traditional story telling and an open mind on blending genres with unique humor. But, for those experienced cineastes yearning to see something the likes of which they’ll never experience somewhere else, it is a must see. Just leave all your expectations at the door.

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