Late in the 1977 film “House” (aka “Hausu” in its native Japan), one of its young women in peril comments on their predicament, “It’s like a horror movie. That’s out of date.”
Director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s cult hit indeed was, but in a good way, being ahead of its time. And, one could argue, it still is. See for yourself as this sumptuous slice of Halloween hilarity finally hits DVD “ as part of the Criterion Collection, no less!
The story, to stretch the definition, concerns Gorgeous and six fellow schoolgirls taking the train to a faraway village to spend the summer at her aunt’s sprawling estate. The girls have names befitting of their personalities: Melody likes music, Prof is studious, Kung Fu kicks things. By that logic, Gorgeous’ aunt should be named Dead.
See, the house is haunted, and every time the eyes of Auntie’s cat glow, freakiness occurs. There’s not so much a plot as there is a checklist: floating heads, dancing skeletons, a carnivorous piano, ghostly apparitions and general activity of the poltergeist and/or paranormal variety.
If you look for lucidity in its 88 minutes, you’ll not be attuned to its one-of-a-kind vibe. This is a movie that is likely the best on-screen representation of dreams. This is a movie that would make even David Lynch scratch his head. This is a movie I had to watch twice before writing this review to ensure I wasn’t hallucinating it the first time around. This is a movie where, by the time it gets around to introducing a clothed bear standing in a noodle hut, you won’t even blink.
This is also a movie that’s a real work of art.
Spooky setting aside, “House” is not a horror film. It’s too funny for that. That said, it’s not really a comedy, either, because Obayashi paints so many frames with a master’s touch that the emphasis is on luring viewers into his otherworldly web.
He uses so many tricks that Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” looks restrained. Although the film mostly resonates in vibrant, psychedelic color, other scenes exist in black-and-white or monochromatic tints. There’s stock footage and animation. There are slapstick sequences, acts of martial arts, and yes, even musical numbers.
Constructed with images born of Gothic literature, pop art and comic books, “House” is so all over the place “ again, in a very good way “ that one can spot elements that have influenced other filmmakers. It carries the colorful creepiness of Dario Argento, the enthusiastic playground of Sam Raimi.
You’ll be seduced by that and so much more, starting with the never-ceasing score. Like much of the movie, it’ll stick in your head for days. It’s quite the experience.
Criterion gives this the deluxe treatment it deserves, with Obayashi and his daughter discussing how they came to build “House,” plus an early experimental film by the director that shows he was always a little “out there,” if not always successful. Young “House of the Devil” helmer Ti West heaps praises upon Obayashi’s heretofore-unknown masterpiece in a brief segment that’ll help set you in the proper viewer’s mind-set, but don’t read the lengthy essay booklet until afterward. You’ve been warned! “Rod Lott