Criterion // 1977 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // October 22nd, 2010
"The girls will wake up...when they are hungry."
Trust me. Nothing can prepare you for this.
There can be no describing the "plot" of Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 cult movie House (Hausu). One can only describe the setup: a young girl named Oshare is troubled to discover that her father will be bringing his new girlfriend along on the family's annual summer vacation. In response, Oshare invites a group of friends along to visit her aunt, whom she has not seen in years. Though everything is fun at first, it turns out that Oshare's aunt is some kind of spirit and her house is haunted. None of the girls are safe.
It would be impossible to say more.
Part comedy, part musical, part haunted-house horror movie, House is one of the craziest movies you'll ever see. I don't mean "crazy" in a generic, I-don't-know-what-else-to-call-it way. I mean that House is the work of a madman. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi (supposedly working from an idea generated by his 7-year-old daughter) has created a film that has no interest in adhering to the rules of filmmaking. Or storytelling. Or Earth. It's the kind of movie that has developed an intense cult following in the 30-plus years since it was released, and it's easy to see why; immediately after viewing it, you will absolutely be telling someone else they have to watch it. It's not something that can be described. It must be seen. Experienced, even.
If you've got the tolerance for it, though, House is a total blast: a silly, colorful, absurdist dream of a film that's as entertaining as it is manic and confusing. What makes it work so well is just how fun it is; even in its darkest, most twisted moments (and this is a movie in which a woman's severed head comes back to life and bites another girl on the ass), it's light and goofy and wonderfully inventive. Director Obayashi packs in the old-school visual effects, and there doesn't seem to be a technique he overlooks -- it's clear that House was as much fun to make as it is to watch. That mixture of style and tone is likely to turn off many viewers (in case the narrative -- or utter lack thereof -- hasn't done so already), who prefer their abstract, experimental imagery to be more of the Lynchian "nightmare" variety (Eraserhead and Takashi Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris were the two movies that kept coming to mind while watching House). There's plenty of nightmarish imagery in the film, but it's presented like an upbeat cartoon. That's a disconnect that not all audiences will be able to take.
Never before available on home video in the U.S., House finally arrives in a stunning Blu-ray package thanks to the Criterion Collection, still the gold standard of digital media. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio in a full 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer, and it looks terrific. Despite some softness inherent in the source material, the image is bright and candy-colored and gorgeous and really shows no signs of aging -- any scratches or defects have been scrubbed away, still leaving the movie with a pleasant, film-like look. The PCM mono audio track is more faithful than forceful, but I never found it wanting; the dialogue is clear (helped no doubt by the English subtitles) and balanced well with the movie's wacky, pervasive musical score. Considering it's making its home video debut, House gets the royal treatment.
Though not as packed with bonus features as some other Criterion releases, there's still a good offering of supplemental material on the House Blu-ray. The best and most significant is a 45-minute retrospective documentary called "Constructing a House," in which the director, screenwriter and a few other creative personnel discuss the making of the movie and its legacy. It's an informative piece, but, better yet, it helps give some background and context to the movie's madness. Also included is Emotion, a 1966 short film by Obayashi, "House Appraisal," a four-minute interview with director Ti West (House of the Devil) about his reaction to and affection for the movie, plus the film's original trailer and a 26-page booklet containing the essay "The Housemaidens" by Chuck Stephens.
A true original is rescued from cult obscurity and receives an excellent hi-def treatment. Disembodied legs dance around while a cat laughs. A critic smiles and scratches his head.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* PCM Mono (Japanese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film