Sunday, July 30, 2017


I see that the Criterion Collection has released the Japanese cult film House to DVD and Blu-Ray. It was on TCM Underground a few months back, so I recorded it then and watched it to do a full-length post on it. It's one that rather defies rating.

Gorgeous is one of several Japanese classmates who are about to have their summer vacations. The other six are all going to go off to some sort of summer camp together with their teacher Mr. Togo, but Gorgeous is going to be spending some quality time with her father, a film composer who has been working in Italy. Unfortunately for Gorgeous, her father reveals when he gets home from Italy that he is going to be remarrying; the first wife (Goregous' mother) died several years ago. Gorgeous doesn't like her stepmother-to-be, so she decides she doesn't want to vacation with them. Instead, she gets the idea to write to her mother's sister and ask to spend the summer there.

Meanwhile, Gorgeous' classmates learn from Togo that their summer plans are going to have to be nixed, as Togo's sister has gotten pregnant. So Gorgeous decides to invite her friends to come and visit Auntie with her. With that, Gorgeous and her friends all set off for the country. Just from reading so far, you might have gotten the idea that something is up since the main character is named Gorgeous. In fact, all of the classmates are named after their main character trait, and all of the characters are pretty much tropes. In addition to Gorgeous, there's Fantasy, who has a vivid imagination; Melody, who is musically inclined; Kung Fu, the athlete; Prof, the bookish one with glasses; Sweet, who is just a nice girl; and Mac, who is obsessed with food.

Auntie seems pleased to meet the young girls, but things start to go wrong. The cat's eyes sparkle artificially, and all of a sudden one girl's camera flies off her neck and gets broken on the floor. And that's the least of their problems. Mac has put a watermelon in the well to keep it cool, and never returns from fetching it. Fantasy goes to look for Mac, and pulls Mac's severed head out of the well! Of course, nobody believes Fantasy. It seems as though the house has a mind of its own, and the house is becoming increasingly malevolent.

As I said at the beginning, House is a difficult film to rate, mostly because it's so bizarre. In some ways, it seems almost amateurish, as the first-time movie director Nobuhiko Obayashi uses every film technique he can think of. There are bizarre transitions; flats that reminded me of the stylized dream sequences in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; homages to silent movies; animation; and so on. The result of this mélange, however, winds up being something visually striking.

The acting isn't high quality, but then most of the cast were not professional actors and are playing one-dimensional characters anyway. The overplayed characters fit well, as I think it's part of the point to portray everybody with an extremely broad brush.

As for the plot, I'm not certain whether Obayashi was going for straight horror, or whether he was intending House to play out as a comic horror film. At any rate, the characters suffer increasingly bizarre fates that grow ever more ridiculous and surreal. (You'll note that I'm deliberately not giving any of them away.) This elicits laughter in the vein of "What on earth is going on here"; I don't know if that's what the director wanted.

All in all, House is a unique viewing experience, and the sort of film where it's easy to understand why it has a cult following. I think the film does ultimately succeed, as long as you go into it knowing beforehand that you're in for a very unorthodox movie. If you want straight-up horror, you'll be disappointed; if you want "What the heck?", you'll get that in spades and enjoy it very much.

I just wish the Criterion Collection DVDs weren't so damned expensive.

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