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The Criterion Completist – House (1977)

October 31, 2012

 

written by: Chiho Katsura

produced by: Nobuhiko Obayashi and Yorihiko Yamada

directed by: Nohubiko Obayashi

rating: none

runtime: 88 min. 

Japanese release date: July 30, 1977

 

Modern fright flicks such as “Ringu”, “The Grudge” and “Audition” have put Japan on the map as a leader in the horror film genre.  But recently, Criterion unearthed the cult classic “House”which shows that the Japanese had been creating strong cinematic films for years.  Not to be confused with the 1986 American horror film of the same name, “House” is the highly bizarre creation of Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, and one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, horror or otherwise.

The set up is a familiar one:  seven schoolgirls (named Gorgeous, Kung Fu, Fantasy, Mac, Prof, Melody, and Sweet) go to Gorgeous’ Aunt’s spooky old home in the country for their summer vacation.  But when they arrive, they find that Auntie is not as benevolent as she appears and that the house might even be …haunted!  This simple premise soon devolves into absolute insanity, as the already wacky movie (filled with cartoonish sound effects, animated sunsets and hilarious dance numbers) turns into a psychedelic, kung-fu ghost story.  Severed heads float through the air biting people and vomiting up blood, a hungry piano devours a young player and piles of mattresses and pillows turn murderous, all while an evil white cat with twinkling green eyes orchestrates the girls’ torment.

 

 

The movie is completely nonsensical and outlandish in the extreme, yet maintains a vibrant, creative energy for most of the running time.  Cheap special effects and a non-stop cacophony of music and sound effects underscore and highlight the chaos, keeping the viewer invested (if not totally bewildered) throughout.  The movie most obviously influenced by “House” would appear to be Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead II.  From the geysers of spewing blood to the dancing skeletons, both directors appear to view ghostly spirits as more mischievous and devious than downright evil.  As a result, humor plays a big role in both films, and by mixing the terrifying with the ridiculous, makes the horrifying imagery a little easier to handle.

Criterion has included a fantastic extra, the 30-minute video Constructing a “House”, a very illuminating interview with director Nobuhiko Obayashi and his daughter Chigumi that explains some of the madness behind the film.  As he explains, Nobuhiko wanted to know what children were afraid of (instead of adults, who have a more limited imagination), so he asked his daughter what her biggest fears were.  So when Gorgeous’ reflection attacks her through a mirror (another nod to “Evil Dead), that was because his ten-year old daughter was afraid of that happening to her.  Obayashi also explains the long, tortured process of getting the film made in the uptight world of “proper” Japanese filmmaking, especially amid the stuffy politics of Toho Studios.

Other extras include a video appreciation of the film by director Ti West (“House of the Devil“) and an essay that can be read on Criterion’s website.  “House” is currently available to rent or download on ITunes, and streaming instantly on Hulu Plus.

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

 

 

Matt Streets saw his first film in 1980, when his parents took him to see Robert Altman’s “Popeye” at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, IL.  Since that rocky start, he has become a lifelong movie fan, and has written film reviews on and off since giving “Medicine Man” two stars for his high school newspaper back in 1992.  He is currently attempting the insane feat of watching every single film in the Criterion Collection as The Criterion Completist.

 

 

 

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