(1977) director Nobuhiko Obayashi
Freakishly freaky, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 horror/comedy is stranger than the sum of its parts. Or rather maybe the sum of its parts are just stranger than just about anything out there.
It wasn’t until this film played at the Castro Theatre here in San Francisco earlier this year that I’d ever heard of the film. And quite frankly, this was an unusual case in which what got me so excited to see the film was the movie poster. Not the one cited above but below here, with a link to its Criterion Collection release. The design was so cool, I just HAD to see it!
I had no idea about the movie, though I’d read that it was more of a Surrealist oddity than a true horror film. And unfortunately, I missed the Castro showing and had to wait for the DVD.
It’s something else! Though it’s really nothing like them, the two films that came to mind for me were Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain (1983) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987). I draw that comparison to an extent based on the manic nature of the film’s fantasy sequences and the eclectic film techniques that create the movie’s special effects. That, and both Zu and Evil Dead II are two of the most innovative, inventive, and strange films that I’ve seen, while essentially being genre films. They both made a huge impression on me. And while House took a while to take a hold of me, I can only imagine what I would have thought of it if I’d seen it 20 years ago.
House is ostensibly a haunted house story, wherein seven very pretty Japanese schoolgirls take a holiday in the country at the home of one of the girls’ long lost aunt. The film foregrounds its artificiality, using all sorts of strange techniques, with luridly-painted sunset backdrops, animations, split-screen shots, and more. The film also has invasive musical elements and at times seems a bit reminiscent of an episode of The Monkees or something. As the film gets going, its hyperkinetic editing, cartoonish characters, and ping-pong-ball pacing make you wonder what you’re in for, but when the oddball horror sequences begin and then go crazy, it’s enthralling.
The madness that ensues is almost too ornate to detail, but the best sequence for me is when one of the girls gets “eaten” by the piano she is playing. It’s just so damn weird and funny and visually inventive.
Like Zu and like Evil Dead II, the film has a manic energy and left field swings that even 30 years later still surprise and confound. While Evil Dead II is well-renowned and has been hugely influential (and American), House and Zu are probably well under-seen in the United States. As I’d said, earlier this year, I’d never even heard of the film. And, a day after having seen it for the first time, I’m still reeling at its wacky innovation, wild designs, and non-stop chaos.