If you ask a horror fan about the movie House, you’ll most likely hear about the 1986 campy cult-classic haunted house comedy that was directed by Steve Miner of Friday the 13th fame. But every once in a while, you might get an earful about a crazy Japanese movie from 1977.
House (or Hausu, as it is known in Japan) is about a young Japanese girl nicknamed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) who is looking forward to a vacation with her father (Saho Sasazawa), a famous film composer. Gorgeous’ father surprises her by introducing her to his new wife (Haruko Wanibuchi), which upsets Gorgeous, as she is still not over the death of her mother. Instead of going on vacation with her father and her new step-mother, Gorgeous arranges a trip to her aunt’s house for her and six school friends who, like Gorgeous, have fun nicknames – Prof (Ai Matsubara), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Mac (Mieko Sato), Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), and Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo).
And that’s where House gets weird. Gorgeous’ aunt (Yōko Minamida) welcomes the girls, but her house does not. One by one, the house attacks and tortures the girls in strange and mysterious ways. Slowly, the girls start to figure out what is happening, but by then, it’s too late – the house already has plans for them.
Rumor has it that the Toho Company (yes, that Toho Company) approached director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi (The Little Girl Who Conquered Time) to make a movie that would cash in on the success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Rumor also has it that Ôbayashi entrusted his daughter, Chigumi, to come up with the story elements for screenwriter Chiho Katsura (Sea Prince and the Fire Child) to assemble into a semi-coherent script. The Jaws inspiration is very slight, if it’s there at all; House is more like an episode of “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” on acid. It’s a weird movie. And, whether it’s meant to be a comedy or not, it’s also hilarious.
A big part of what makes House so weird (and hilarious) is the visual effects. Ôbayashi supervised them himself, and they are purposely unrealistic and sensational, the director wanting a childish innocence to the appearance of the film. The effects illustrate how the house torments each girl, and the visuals range from simple rotoscope and chroma key effects to more elaborate and grotesque practical horror effects. The special effects are creepy at times, but more often they’re corny. Either way, the effects in House give the movie its surreal and nightmarish visual style.
For as campy as the effects are, the cinematography in House is impeccable. The film was shot by director of photography Yoshitaka Sakamoto (Battle of the Warriors), and the camera makes liberal use of everyday things like windows and curtains to supply a natural framing and a symmetric view of the action. The overall look of the film is artificial, almost as if the whole thing is a dream, with phony matte-painted backdrops on the sets and unnatural oranges and blues saturating the color palette. Sakamoto gets into the effects fun a little himself with some dolly zoom Vertigo shots (there’s the Jaws influence) and some really creative camera motion that had to have influenced Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead a few years later.
The editing in House in on point, too. The film was cut by Nobuo Ogawa (Deathquake), who gets almost as crazy with his editing as Ôbayashi got with his visual effects. The film is stitched together in a crazy and artistic series of conversational wipes and transitional animations that culminate in a strange musical sequence that almost looks like the intro to a seventies sitcom with a clumsy fool tripping all over himself. In any other movie, the silly segment would be odd, but in House, it somehow makes perfect sense.
And speaking of the music – the soundtrack to House is a collaboration between a rock musician named Mikki Yoshino (The Youth Killer) and a pianist named Asei Kobayashi (Shag). The score is essentially a whole lot of the same theme, but it’s a catchy and jovial. Kobayashi provides the piano tinkering on the motif, then Yoshino’s band Godaigo supplies the trippy, morphed version of the melody. There are a handful of pop songs, both in English and Japanese, in the film, but they’re mostly filler. The real fun is the cinematic scoring of Yoshino and Kobayashi.
Next time you want to have a little fun with your horror-loving friends, ask them if they want to watch House. When they agree, throw this baby on, and bask in the glow of the weird looks that you get.