Nobuhiko Obayashi – House (Japan, 1977)
Haunted House / Absurdist Comedy / Surrealism
Kimiko Ikegami / Miki Jinbo / Kumiko Ohba | 88 minutes
If you were to think about a movie to watch on a first date, perhaps the last thing that would come to mind is House –unless you are my fiancé, in which case it might actually pay off. The reason is not because this is a bad film, rather because of how bizarre of an experience it is, and therefore, how it can be described more as an acquired taste for many people.
A children’s nightmare come to life
Having come out of the imagination of Nobuhiko Obayashi, a seasoned experimental filmmaker, this film is nothing short of a wild ride, including monstrous watermelons, hilariously oblivious characters and malicious cats determined to see chaos reign. But none of this seems all that surprising when keeping in mind that Obayashi consulted his own daughter for the crafting of this cult gem; in a way, plenty of the atrocities that the protagonists of it endure seem to belong to a child’s nightmare or to a fever dream.
The core plot itself is of a relatively simple nature: after finding out that her father has found a new girlfriend subsequently to her mother’s death, a young girl named Gorgeous decides to spend her summer vacations at her aunt’s place along with her group of friends. However, what was intended to be a relaxing and fun time turns into a complete pandemonium as the girls, one by one, fall victim of the house they so eagerly wanted to visit.
At first glance, this might seem like just another haunted house horror flick, yet this film is so much more than that. The horror is spiced up with equal parts of hilarity, surrealism and absurdism, as the utterly nightmarish themes contrast with the richness of colour of the vignette-like frames. The characters themselves are almost parodic, each of them named after their most remarkable trait or interest (Gorgeous, Melody and Kung-Fu, to provide a few examples), while everyday objects are turned into voracious monsters or acquire an exaggerated potential to kill.
The visual aspect is perhaps one of the most important ones of the film, as there are often various things happening at the same time, or details that might escape the viewers if they are not paying enough attention. House also works with an outstandingly colourful palette that draws inspiration from Italian horror royalty –such as Mario Bava– while keeping a unique style and exploiting it to add yet another layer of reverie to the already illusory world in which it takes place.
Baby you’re a haunted House
As with the work of other surrealists such as Luis Buñuel, very little is explained in House –Hausu, for the connoisseurs–, as it all works within the micro universe created in the film. Therefore, be prepared to come out with more questions than answers. On the other hand, the film lacks all pretentiousness and, as opposed to heavily symbolic films such as Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jireš, 1970), it revels in its own absurdity, deciding to play instead with elements such as the pacing to keep the viewers on their toes.
Now, 43 years after its release, it is undeniable that House has become a true classic of the genre, not only in its home country but also in the horror genre in general. It is precisely its uniqueness that has kept this film relevant and compelling, inspiring generation after generation of cult lovers and making it one of the most recommended works amongst film enthusiasts.
So, regardless if you are a cinephile who wants to know if you’re making the right dating choices or you just want to have a fun and engaging filmic experience, don’t miss the chance to watch this absolute classic @ Schikaneder Vienna on the 24th of January (tickets here!) as part of the Til Midnight movie series. You might be surprised about how well your date reacts to it.