House Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi

[Toho; 1977]

Styles: comedic, horror, fantasy
Others: Sada

Early in the film, Gorgeous, House’s protagonist, is told by her father that “Leone told me my scores are better than Morricone’s,” With this kind of farcical nonsense, the psychedelic-horror-comedy moves seamlessly from John Hughes-style teen comedy to Sam Raimi-style horror come Theater of the Absurd. The film, originally released in 1977 but not until now in the US, is hard to define: the horror is too odd and graphic for the film to be a comedy, yet too knowingly asinine to truly be horror.

Because of this uneven mixture of Easy Rider acid-trip sequences and over-the-top humor, House becomes more and more incomprehensible as it moves forward (which may be the precise recipe for a cult classic). The film starts with Gorgeous and her friends (all named with an odd “seven dwarfs” bent) retreating to her aunt’s home for the summer. Gorgeous, Fantasy, Mac, Prof, Sweet, Melody, and Kung-Fu make their arrival at the house with The John Hughes Cheese Factor off the charts: there is a lot of running and laughing, discussions about boys, and joking about their easily compartmentalized personality traits. Pop anthems bounce along to what can only be described as general frolicking.

But the frolicking soon turn for the worse, as Mac disappears during dinner. Moments later, her head is found inside of a well, just before it flies high in the air and swoops down, laughing, to bite her friend in the ass. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi utilized every effect and tool he could think of to make this as psychedelic and as hilarious as possible, further distancing this film from easy classification. From mattes, newsreels, and animated sequences to collage and stop-motion animation (used to show a man fall down the stairs and land ass-first into a bucket), if the trick was available in 77, he tried it here.

The weirdness doesn’t end here, either. The film quickly unravels into a non-sensical plot about Gorgeous’ aunt waiting a year for her husband to return from WWII. For one reason or another, this leads her to start feeding on young girls to stay alive. Then she disappears and, oddly, Gorgeous becomes her. Apparently, this all has something to do with a fluffy cat that stays by her side, which also serves to foreshadow someone’s doom when its eyes glitter. Even a painting of the cat foreshadows doom, as it, when kicked, pukes blood until the house floods and drowns one of the girls. And yes, it’s funny.

Indeed, House is hilarious in ways that most films would never try to be. Sure, it’s morbid, but it’s also slapstick. The film doesn’t need resolution, because it accomplishes its goals without tying up the loose ends, portending both the rise of the horror comedies of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi and the often incomprehensible Japanese horror of the last decade, like A Tale of Two Sisters or Miike’s MPD. And when a film ends with a man turning into a pile of bananas, do you really expect a resolution? The true power of this soon-to-be cult classic is that it gives credence to the hope that, no matter what you may know about cinema, it will continue to surprise and entertain, even with films over 30 years old.

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