The 70’s…yeah, what else needs to be said? A decade filled with outstanding art, music, cinema and most importantly Horror. The Exorcist, Halloween, The Omen and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre carved an indelible mark into the psyche of the youngin’s brave enough to watch and some adults too. But during this Renaissance there was something far more sinister and down right trippy occurring in other parts of the world. A film, equally as dynamic and perhaps a little insane, was destroying the screens in Japan and disturbing a lot of young minds.
House directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and produced by TOHO, is a simple story about a girl and her friends, who visit’s her ailing aunt in the remote countryside of Japan, only to discover her aunt is a witch that allows her home to devour the girls one by one.
Seems simple enough, until you watch it.
The film’s pace and look is spastic and often times incoherent, but it makes for some good viewing…you will not be bored. Nobuhiko Obayashi incorporates techniques that were used by famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. Fake skies, A B rolls, confusing soundtracks and crazy edits, gets served up every second in this film. Kind of like a cartoon, all the character’s are larger than life, with names that are as silly as some of the scenes. The lead girl’s name is Gorgeous (the pretty one), which is probably just a translation issue. She’s followed by Prof (the smart one), Kung Fu (the bad ass), Mac (The fat one, but she isn’t fat at all), Melody (the piano player), Fantasy (Whatever) and Sweet (….). These seemingly naive girls, accompany Gorgeous to her aunts house for a summer getaway, but things get crazy when Mac suddenly disappears. How we find out what happened to Mac is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on film. One of the girls goes looking for her and decides to check the well…she begins pulling the rope expecting to see a watermelon, they had tethered to it earlier to keep it cool, since the house lacks a fridge, she instead finds Mac’s “still moving head”. The head, now an eerie blue color and clearly green screened, flies out of the girls hand and bites her on the ass. From that moment on, I knew I must watch this whole film. Thinking that that might be it for the “craziness”, I was met with an onslaught of images throughout the film that had me thinking that if I was on acid while watching this, this wouldn’t be good, but I was able to distance myself from the “not so disturbing as much as it was psychotic” story.
Half way through the film it became a test of endurance. My mind struggled to figure out what was Nobuhiko Obayashi inspiration for some of these scenes. What did they mean? Were they metaphors or was he just trying to be as crazy as possible? If I had read this script, I probably would’ve ran from it, given the confusing pace. But for all my misgivings, it’s a thought out picture and although Obayashi never used a storyboard and there was apart of me that thought he could be making this shit up as he went along, it was perfect in it’s execution, but not everybody shared the same sentiment about Nobuhiko Obayashi vision including Obayashi.
Obayashi described the attitude on the set as very upbeat as he often skipped, sang and played quiz games with the younger actresses on the set. Despite having fun on the set, members of the Toho crew felt the film was nonsense.Obayashi found the acting of the seven girls to be poor while trying to direct them verbally. He began playing the film’s soundtrack on set, which changed the way the girls were acting in the film as they got into the spirit of the music.
In the end, the rawness and amateur nature of the film works to it’s benefit. You use what you have to create magic, and Obayashi used his skills in commercials to litter this film with intentionally cheesy effects to give the horror a child-like feel. Whether inspired or completely original, there’s no denying HOUSE’S creativity and ability to engage and to think we may not have ever seen it unless Janus Films decided to buy the rights to the film and redistribute it in 2010. Since then, HOUSE is popular amongst a whole new audience of crazies looking for a something from the heart.
How did Janus Films begin the process of bringing House to U.S. theaters for the first time?
House was originally brought into the Janus library as a possible Eclipse title, when Eclipse was conceived of as a possible subsidiary label for cult films. That changed, of course, and the film remained in limbo until we began to get a few screening requests from genre-savvy venues. It can be tough to convince theaters to book a repertory title that doesn’t have an established critical reputation, so we hadn’t originally thought of House as a theatrical release. It has developed a fair-size reputation on the gray market, where it’s been a staple for some time, but it’s such a blast to see with an audience that we did a small digital microtour in order to spread word of mouth. These screenings were successful beyond our expectations; we had two raucous, sold-out shows at the New York Asian Film Festival, and the film seems to have developed a cult-within-a-cult in every city it’s played.
You can purchase house now on DVD or Blu-Ray through the Criterion Collection