Years ago, a friend told me about this movie, House (aka Hausu). It had a cat painting in it that spit out blood. Sprayed it, actually. That was pretty much enough to get me interested. I think watching this with a group was the wrong way to see the movie for the first time. I often feel most great films need to be watched in solitude. Especially subtitled. It’s important to focus on the plot. Anywho, years went by. I didn’t get the chance to see it but I kept that crazy image of the cat painting with me. Knowing someday I’d return and see it with a completely new perspective.
About 5 or so years later. The movie got released through Criterion. Pretty much my favorite company for movies. This heightened my curiosity to give this movie another go. It’s a very eye-catching film. But the story is quite demented. Apparently, Obayashi tapped into his 10 year old daughter’s brain. He dug out what scared her and took ideas for scenes straight from her nightmares. This was Obayashi’s first film. He did something I don’t know if anyone else has done as well. He made a movie to scare kids.
This can best be described as a horror movie from the mind of a child. Think about how frightening that truly is. I mean any movie that scares me, scares me for a reason. Cause our first experiences in sheer fear occur during childhood. I still can’t for the life of me even try to watch Poltergeist due to a nasty childhood traumatic experience. But that’s another article right there.
House starts very innocently. A group of seven girls, all friends go to an aunt’s large house in the country. This is the seventies by the way. Japan is still about half the old world right
alongside the beginnings of a future metropolis. So, the kids are quite modern minded, for the seventies at least. Their experience takes them on a strange and wild ride. Life appears to be perfect for them. There’s songs, even laughs. There’s even a little slapstick (strange, I know) but it’s all to prepare you for what’s to come. What’s going to truly play with your mind as you’re disarmed, being led into a fun and fancy free story.
In a weird homage to Disney, each girl is named for their distinctive personality. There’s Gorgeous, Kung Fu and even Mac, which is short for stomach. As you can guess, she’s the one who’s always hungry.
The lighthearted first thirty minutes of the the film leads you right into the walkway of doom. But still it’s goofy fun. I tend to appreciate horror more if I’m enjoying the ride. But had I seen this as a child, I’m sure it would have spooked and pulled a Poltergeist on me. Maybe there’s a Japanese version of me, who has the same Poltergeist experience I did, only with House. For them Poltergeist would pull a House. The Criterion Bluray is excellent for a movie like this (it’s on Hulu as well). The colors and natural special effects look brilliant. I also enjoy that this movie uses many painted backgrounds, adding to the depth and cartoon like feel of this wacky film. Even at one point, using a painting for a sunset. I find it remarkably fun. It’s almost like a caper that the Scooby gang would have been perfect for, if that caper took them right into the jaws of hell, that is. Truly, what blows my mind is that this is this director’s first movie. I’m sure nobody in Japan expected a wacky horror movie. I’m sure they were used to the traditional Kurosawa samurai standard with their films. Their idea of horror at the time was probably still a giant monster attacking. But I’ve felt for years that Japanese horror is way scarier than any gorefest we can drum up. Mainly due to the obsession with ghosts and the supernatural.
So, this movie must have been shocking at the time. I don’t even think it made it to America til way later. But it was a sensation in Japan. Obayashi had been a successful commercial director for years. But he dreamed up this insane idea, even promoted a comic book with pictures instead of drawings two years before the film’s release. He just acted like it was coming soon, hoping a studio would make it.
Not only was he a step ahead of the game where marketing was concerned, but he was blending genres here. It’s experimental film for the time, and wow. All I can say is, it’s timeless.
Truly, I do wish I could’ve experienced this movie as a kid. It’s a kind of frightening joy that it exhibits. There’s a really great sweet spot in that feeling. Your terror lines right up alongside your giddy enjoyment of something scaring you with a great big smile. If anything, I’d say this is the joy that horror movies give me. I’m enjoying the horrifying madness. It’s horrifyingly beautiful.
But yeah. House is good. And it’s got a Criterion release.
Abed Gheith is a writer for Rick and Morty and the inspiration for the character Abed on Community. He reviewed Alien last year.