Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: House (1977)

This week's review is a step outside my usual random picks. I had wanted to watch House for some time now, and as I was returning one disc to Netflix, I added House to my queue at #1 to get it in time for the weekend.

I've been a fan of Japanese film and pop culture for as long as I can remember. House was a hit sensation in Japan, although somehow I had never read anything about it until it was released on DVD and Blu-ray recently by The Criterion Collection.

I'm not sure if this is the strangest or weirdest film I have ever seen, but it may be in the top five. I'm not qualified to decide if it is the strangest film ever produced (I still haven't seen Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain yet). Somehow, I doubt it.

Here's the synopsis from Criterion:
How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years.
That says it all, really. I especially like the part about being beamed from another planet. I've used that analogy before when talking about some foreign films, and that's how it felt sometimes watching Japanese giant monster films -- or Italian crime dramas, or Russian fairy tale movies -- late at night on out-of-town UHF TV stations. "What is this? Is anyone else seeing what I'm seeing?" It's comforting to see this as a response from someone else.

Is it a love story? Is it a cautionary tale? Is it nothing more than a fun haunted-house romp? I'm still not sure I can answer that. I found the film fascinating to watch, particularly the different camera tricks and special effects used, the music, and the editing. The first half of the movie seemed much more strange and unique. Perhaps, with the distance of time and all of the other films that have used House as inspiration, some of the later elements didn't appear as fresh to me. This is not a criticism of the movie itself, as I feel that a work should be judged in the context of the time it was created.

If you are looking for a unique film experience, enjoy Japanese film (particularly fantasy or horror), or are interested in film-making styles of the 1970s, take a look at House. I highly recommend the recently-created mini-documentary "Constructing a 'House'", featuring Obayashi and his daughter, included on the Criterion disc.

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