House [ハウス Hausu] (1977)
Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
Expectations: Very high. A foreign cult movie with a Criterion release? OK!
On the general scale:
On the WTF-movie scale:
In the name of all that is right and good in the world, what did I just watch? Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is a surreal masterpiece that is constantly taking you off-guard with odd juxtapositions and abstract composition. Not to mention all the nutso goings-on. It’s got to be one of the most unusual horror movies ever made, so much so that it barely resembles a horror film most of the time. A near-complete subversion of the genre, House is definitely a film worthy of a look, especially for those that dig surreal cinema, Japanese WTF cinema, or white, fluffy cats.
At the base of all that surrealism is one of the most traditional horror stories in the book. Seven schoolgirls are off on summer vacation, and after their initial plans go awry, they all decide to visit Gorgeous’s aunt. Gorgeous’s mother died many years ago, and she hopes that by reconnecting with her aunt she can feel a bit closer to her. When the girls arrive in the hometown of Gorgeous’s mother, they find that their destination is a huge mansion on the top of a hill. And it’s a spooky looking mansion, too.
So that’s the basic premise, and while a lot of the resulting story does play out rather straightforward and linear, the mortar in-between the story bricks is anything but. Nearly every scene is heavily punctuated with surreal touches, and even the ones that aren’t visually flashy have something strange about them to keep you on your toes. In this way, House is something of an indescribable film, a movie that defies every genre classification you could lay upon it. It’s as equal parts horror, comedy and abstract experimentalism as it is a supernatural ghost story, a coming-of-age tale, and a symbolic representation of the frustration women feel with men that continually let them down. I didn’t exactly fall head over heels for the film, but it’s a powerfully unique movie that requires multiple viewings to really wrap your brain around everything going on.
In the spirit of respect, I feel that talking in any real specifics will adversely affect the experience of those that might see the film based on my review. I will say that there are things in this film that will stay with you, not because they’re anything horrific or disturbing, but because they are images so striking and perfectly captured that they will imprint themselves on your psyche. Unfortunately, my cat looks a fair bit like the cat in the film, so at least for a little while I’m going to be somewhat wary of her movements around me. You can never be too careful.
And this attitude really captures the spirit of the film well. It’s not a scary film by any means, but it is one that gets deep under your skin through repeated assault. The tone is always a strange, slightly comic melancholy, so that does a good job of tricking your brain into thinking that nothing bad is going to happen. So when the shifts come on suddenly, they are quite surprising, as the rest of the film moves about dreamily, lulling us to complacency with recurring melodies.
House is a trip. Go into this one without expectations of anything. Just try to roll with its shifts, and it’ll take you on a ride unlike anything else out there.
Will, this film is one of my alltime favorites…funny, surreal, and just plain bat-shit crazy….this movie is the antecedent to more recent avant-garde “horror” movies like Rubber….this should be required viewing to everyone who reads this blog.
And BTW- great review without giving away any spoilers!
Yeah, this one is WAY ahead of its time and very batshit insane! I agree, it should be required viewing! Glad you liked the review. I thought this film would especially benefit from not being spoiled, so I’m glad you think I did a good job. Thanks!
Holy shit, I love surreal, Japanese WTF, and fluffy white cats. I guess I better watch this one.
Hahahaha, yeah I was going to stress that you should watch this one, it seems right up your alley. It reminded me of anime in a weird way. Hope you enjoy it.
Well, I did track it down, and I’m not sure I have anything coherent to say about it. It was definitely a trip, and I think I’ll be looking back on it fondly once it settles in my head a bit more.
Hahahaha, I think that’s probably the intended response. I felt pretty much the same after it ended. I’m surprised I was able to wrangle a review at all, honestly. Glad you had a chance to watch it!
Yeah, I don’t know if I could write a review of this. I’ve reviewed some weird stuff, like Utena and Perfect Blue, but that’s stuff I’ve seen multiple times and had managed to wrap my head around. Coming right off the first viewing, all I can say is, “It was weird. Real weird.”
Nice review, Will. Surprised you covered so much without any spoilers.
Recently got around to seeing this and I was surprised how much it captivated me during and after viewing..
I read a great analysis about the film being a womans coming of age story. Mentioned that the girls are in that early teen development age, each name of the girls represents a characteristic a girl wants to be/hav. And this is a “horror” story from a child distorted POV
Thanks, Phil! Interesting to think of this as horror from a child’s POV. Makes sense, and this is definitely got a lot of coming-of-age threads throughout. Great fun that definitely sticks with you afterwards! I’m interested to check out some more of Obayashi’s films.
Oh man, I’ve always wanted to watch this movie. Great review. Now I have to track down a copy of this and check it out.
Thanks, hope you enjoy it!
House is a fantastic film that is a perfect for any kind of group party. If said group likes movies that are a bit different. I agree that there are images that will stay with you after you watch it, and not in a bad way at all. Nice Review
Thanks! It’d definitely be fun in a like-minded group setting! If only I knew more like-minded people 🙂