Only recently released in the west, this horror film has earned cult status for being one of the silliest, surreal, inventive and fun horror movies ever, House is an exciting experience because director Obayashi uses various cinematic tools to create a cross between Poltergeist and Scooby Doo.
The summer holidays have arrived and for seven high school girls, Melody, Prof., Sweetie, Kung-fu, Mac, Fantasy, and Angel, they have the chance to go camping with their teacher Mr. Togo. Angel declines because her father is back from Italy and she’s looking forward to staying at a villa with him. Her plans are ruined when he introduces her to his potential new wife. Angel is upset at the presence of the woman and decides to visit an eccentric spinster aunt, inviting her friends along for the trip. After a long journey the girls arrive at the aunt’s house but find their presence has triggered a hostile supernatural force that immediately attacks them, picking them off one by one while the eccentric woman watches.
This simple haunted house story was dreamed up by Obayashi’s daughter and sets up an environment where the house disposes of the girls usually in a manner connected to the name of the girl. So Melody is eliminated whilst playing a Piano and… I won’t spoil the rest but the level of style ranges from high camp to terrifying gothic and never once does it sink to boring.
Enduring this are a cast of characters who, although playing types (Prof. is very logical), are enjoyable to watch. My favourite is Kung-fu because whenever she enters a scene she’s usually accompanied by a jaunty musical motif and enters the shot with a combat stance. Then she smashes something.
Sets are exquisite to look at, with expressive lighting, gorgeous painted backgrounds and interiors filled with familiar clutter made alien as we see props dancing, fake animals and telephone wires trying to choke people. Indeed this is the most surreal film set ever as the accoutrements and objects of normality spring to life.
The pace is kept snappy with a good rhythm to the scenes thanks to editing but mostly due to the verve of the direction. Within the first five minutes the audience is bombarded by a variety of visual tricks and distorted audio seemingly from a hyper-active imagination but it becomes expressive utilising split screen, freeze frames, slow motion to deliver story and scares.
Overall the story is not scary. Atmosphere be damned, this film has so many scene breaks, interludes, odd tonal shifts and musical scenes that clash, everything creating a dissonant tone. Some sequences are entirely pointless like a stop motion comedy scene where Mr. Togo gets his behind stuck in a bucket but what the hell? Played straight, this could be very effective horror but there is a happy-go-lucky quality to it so it is fuun to see moments of horror off-set by the slap-stick nature of many events.
In an age where horror has become increasingly violent, realistic and downright ugly, it is nice to watch something that brings a smile instead of a wince or a sigh of boredom. Cult status deserved and more!
A special note has to be made about this edition: It’s from The Masters of Cinema series put out by Eureka! And as a result it comes in excellent packaging with a neat reversible cover. The case contains one disc which has the film and features over 90 minutes of interviews with the director, scenarist, actress and a Toho exec, the original Japanese trailer and a high quality forty page booklet.
Released: July 30th, 1977 (Japan)
Running time: 88 mins.
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi,
Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Chiho Katsura (Screenplay),
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami – Angel, Miki Jinbo – Kung-Fu, Kuniko Oba – Fantasy, Ai Matsubara – Prof., Kiyohiko Ozaki – Mr. Togo, Yoko Minamida – Auntie,
Edition: Eureka! The Masters of Cinema