Published on October 28th, 2020 | by Blake Morrow0
Spooky TFS – Hausu (House)
Director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s insane horror experience House, or Hausu in Japanese, is required watching a Halloween movie that’s off the beaten path…of all known reality.
Dancing skeletons, floating heads, and death by bananas. These are all elements in horror-comedy cult classic House, the most Halloween appropriate movie to ever come from Japan. Made in 1977, the story utilizes many staples of J-horror such as ghosts, a haunted house, and even evil cats. That being said, its resemblance to any other movie ends there. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi unleashed all of his creative forces into this kaleidoscopic assault on the senses. House is a complete mish-mash of tones and ideas that blends together against all odds into a spooky experience unlike any other.
The plot for House is simple enough. A group of seven high school friends decide to spend summer vacation at the house of one of the girl’s aunt’s homes. Soon after they arrive, the house turns and begins to attack them one-by-one in increasingly bizarre fashion. The girls are less so characters than they are literal representations of their names. Gorgeous is gorgeous, Sweet is sweet, and Kung Fu is good at… you get the drift. It feels like it was written by a child because it was. Chigumi Obayashi, the young daughter of the director, was given a story credit because many of her ideas for how the girls meet their demise was used in the final product. The end result is a weird child-like nightmare, a film that flips between merciless bloodshed and careless summer fun with reckless abandon.
While the story may not stand out, what makes House such a cult classic is its bombastic visual style. A director of commercials before making this, Obayashi took a no-holds-barred approach to creativity. There’s an absolute smorgasbord of insane visual techniques whether it’s in the varied camera-work, trippy edits, or campy special effects. Couple this with stunningly painted backdrop sets and House is a dementedly gorgeous film to look at. Similar to the story, Obayashi wanted many of the visual effects to take the style of a child’s imagination. The decidedly fake-looking results are a deliberately inspired choice that adds to the psychedelic fairy tale atmosphere.
Another key component to House’s tonal wire act is its pop-infused score. The main musical theme is a minimal piano chord that can be eerily haunting on its own. However, that chilling tune is often mashed together with catchy rock riffs. Composed in collaboration with Japanese rock band Godiego, the film score is the biggest key in maintaining House’s summer vacation vibes. Just when things threaten to dip to pure terror, an upbeat pop song flies in the face of the horror of the situation. This melodic back-and-forth makes for a musical experience as memorable as anything else on-screen.
Although fun and silly on the outside, House is a movie that can just as easily be dissected for heavier themes. When discussing the film, Obayashi spoke at length about his desire to create a story about the atomic bomb. He grew up in Hiroshima and lost most of his childhood friends when the bomb hit. It’s hard to pick out that theme amidst the outrageousness but a visual essay by Kogonada on the subject, titled Trick or Truth, is a must watch for anyone craving an atomic interpretation. The storyline of the aunt’s husband, lost in war, coupled with the killing of the girls, makes for a poignant take on the bomb and its destructive resonance across generations of Japanese society.
For anyone wanting to see a movie that is singularly unique in its batshit nature, House is appointment viewing. Even if it has a serious subtext, it firmly falls more to the silly comedy side than it does thought-provoking horror. In a similar vein to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room, Obayashi’s masterpiece is a cult classic that needs to be seen to be believed. So what are you waiting for? Substitute this season’s jack-o’-lantern for a big fat watermelon and take a lovely trip to House.