House (1977)

Movie poster illustrates the aunt's cat Blanche sitting on a pedestal before the aunt's house which is surrounded by trees and flames. Text at the bottom includes the film's title production credits, and small portrait shots of the cast members.

House (Hausu) is a Japanese Comedy/Fantasy/Horror film by Nobuhiko Obayashi,  a director once known for creating overly bizarre Japanese commercials and an experimental film about Japanese life (1968’s Confession). Firstly, I’ll preface this review by stating that House is one of the most insanely unorthodox films I’ve ever seen. I’ve witnessed unorthodox films before, such as Eraserhead, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and Holy Mountain, but I’ve never seen anything like House in the many years that I’ve been watching horror films, or even Asian films for that matter. From the first scene to the last, House does away with any notion of cinematic realism. Every single aspect of House is wildly exaggerated, from the acting, to the special effects, to the editing, to the vivid lighting and luscious backdrops. House is truly a one in a million type film, it is unlike any film to emerge from the 1970’s and, to this day, no film has managed to match it’s energy, it’s visual quality and it’s incredibly bizarre sequences. It’s important to note, however, that House was inspired by Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 10 year old daughter who gave her dad ideas for character death scenes, and she inspired the story as the main plot was based on the ghost stories she was telling him at the time.

To begin with, the story of House is a simple one, and it’s about the only thing in the film that can be described as simple. The plot is based off of Japanese folklore ghost stories, and it’s based off as many as Nobuhiko Obayashi could get away with. The main story involves a group of young women who travel to the country house of one of the girl’s Aunts, but when they arrive, everything starts getting weird, magical and deadly. That’s the main plot of House, and the film doesn’t deviate from that basic story, nor does it offer any hidden depth or subtext. The characters themselves are all stereotypes whose personality quirk is summed up in their names – Angel, Melody, Prof, Fantasy, Sweetie, Kung-Fu, Mac. Yes, they are the names of the girls. Thus, there’s no surprises or twists in terms of story, and it’s all relatively straightforward. However, House is a film that doesn’t need to provide any surprising twists or turns in the plot, because the surprises come from the film’s absolutely ludicrous visual style that constantly changes as the film progresses. House is a film that’s more similar to Japanese commercials than a traditional film, as many Japanese commercials focus more on emotional impact than realism and sensibility, and House does the exact same thing. House was created to have an emotional and visual flair instead of having a realistic sensibility, the result of which, creates a watching experience that feels like one is watching a dream, with all the surreal and nonsensical experiences that that implies.

However, what makes House so memorable is the film’s incredibly creative production values. House is an unorthodox example of experimental and incredibly imaginative production techniques. Firstly, the cinematography is an absolute visual treat. The aesthetic qualities of House are incredibly creative thanks to the film’s imaginative cinematography, stunningly beautiful backdrops, well designed sets, amazing editing and eye popping special effects. In some respects, the particular style of House has a very ‘cartoon-ish’ quality to it through the exaggerated colouring, unrealistic style, stop-motion animation and visceral special effects which were absolutely ground-breaking in 1970’s Japanese cinema.

The death scenes in House also carry on that ‘cartoon-ish’ quality by, surprisingly, not showing any of the girls actually ‘dying’, as in killed off and spending the rest of the film as a dead husk. The girls vanish one by one, certainly, and some of them are mutilated quite badly, but they soon reappear as surreal ghosts who deliver comedic comments on their situations, such as one girl’s floating head who bites into the behind of another and comments that the other girl’s butt is ‘rather tasty’. This technique of killing off a character, but not actually ‘killing’ them is something I’ve never seen in a film before, I’ve seen it in many a cartoon, but horror films usually delight in the killing off of characters in many bloody ways. This innovative approach does end up trivializing the ‘horror’ in this supposed Horror movie, but due to the film’s very strange, light and bizarre tone, it fits in rather well and doesn’t wind up becoming distracting.

House is a film that’s incredibly hard to describe. I can’t do it justice by talking about it alone because words cannot capture that absolute insanity that is House, so I recommend that one experiences the film for themselves, as it’s amazingly enjoyable to watch. The film’s story content itself is rather decent, but the film’s visual style is definitely worth seeing alone as it is unlike anything that exists, or has ever existed in the world of cinema. It’s bizarre and surreal without being confusing or disturbing. Over the years since it’s release, House has become the inspiration for many cult video games such as Sweet Home and Monster Bash thanks to it’s simple premise and extreme visual style. In conclusion, House is an absolute joy to watch, and I believe that there hasn’t been any film released since House that has matched, or bettered, the craziness of House and the craziness of Nobuhiko Obayashi.

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