HAUSU (known to Westerners as HOUSE, from 1977) is without a doubt, one of the weirdest fucking movies I’ve ever seen, and goddamn it! but that really must be saying something. It’s strange that standing in the face of this thing has reduced me to profanity, when HAUSU is most certainly the most innocent ultra-violent horror movie that could possibly exist. If profanity is the last refuge of the man with no wiser words to impart, then consider me speechless.
Please, before we go any further, take a look at the trailer and see what it does to disrupt, unsettle, and delight those electrical signals that your optic nerves are supposed to relay from your eyes to your brain:
Am I exaggerating?
Janus Films and The Criterion Collection have excavated this cinematic treasure and unleashed it upon the world in the form of frequent local screenings — this weekend, it’s the midnight show at NYC’s IFC Center — and a wonderful DVD/Blu-Ray package for those who can’t make it out in person. It is a GREAT crowd movie, though. See it with as many people as you can.
HAUSU is the debut feature from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started out as an experimental filmmaker, transitioned into TV commercials, and then brought both contrasting disciplines brilliantly to bear in this one little-known landmark, which led to a career in features which continues to this day. HAUSU was written as a collaboration between Obayashi and his young daughter, Chigumi, which simultaneously makes perfect sense, and also none at all. According to the supplemental materials on Criterion’s DVD, legendary Japanese studio Toho wanted Obayashi to make a popular mainstream movie for them, and this is what he did with that dictum. (Dictum? Damn near killed ‘em!)
HAUSU is the story of a group of teenage girls — named Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), Prof (Ai Matsubara), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato), Sweet (Masayo Miyako) and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba) — who go to visit the country home of Gorgeous’ aunt. The house is a mansion on a hill, and it’s haunted and angry, in the most bizarre of senses. The girls are literally consumed, one by one, and spit out and toyed with in a dizzying escalation of joyous insanity. In retrospect, the film plays exactly like the collaboration between a grown man and a young girl. It feels like the dad made a horror movie, and the little girl went in and recut the thing while he was sleeping it off. HAUSU is chock full of insane, bug-eyed, not-entirely-nonsexual megaviolence, but there’s not anything remotely hateful or misogynistic about it: This is surely history’s most cheerful movie ever to feature dismembered limbs dancing across across the keys of a carnivorous haunted piano. I mean, what’s the closest comparison? EVIL DEAD 2? Maybe, but even EVIL DEAD 2 didn’t have a watermelon wearing a hat, or a killer lampshade, or a disembodied head with an appetite for buttcheeks.
Quite honestly, HAUSU makes EVIL DEAD 2 seem as polite, restrained and mannered as one of those BBC Dickens miniseries. The tone of this movie is like a pre-teen sleepover between giggy girls bouncing off a major sugar high. It just happens to be a haunted house movie, with many of the conventions which that implies. But HAUSU launches convention into space — almost literally. It’s a little bit like the G-rated version of SUCKER PUNCH and the R-rated version of SUCKER PUNCH and the horror equivalent of BATTLE ROYALE and a gallon of orange soda all at the same time. No, you know how I’d describe it? It’s the Hello Kitty version of THE EXORCIST. Mint that one. It’s the most acurate.
There is literally not a second movie to resemble this one. There is most definitely an art in that.
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