House (1977)

Directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi; Written by Chiho Katsura

I’d like to believe there are unexplored parts of the brain, parts unknown because the brains of scientists have kept their collective secrets during decades of medical scrutiny, and as a result there are closed rooms and dark bodies of water wherein the brain’s most ethereal, most idiosyncratic concoctions swirl, a sea of impulses summoning an entire universe in a second only for it to be unmade the next. 

I’d also like to believe it’s from this inscrutable water that House is siphoned: a mad ride of a movie, complete (and incomplete) in its surreal mix of horror, comedy, melodrama, gore and gallows humor, eye-watering sincerity and depraved antics – a mad cacophony of cinematic impulses. 

A young girl, Gorgeous (yes, really), comes home at the beginning of summer to find her father introducing her to a new woman in his life, a pleasant smiling stranger to replace a long-dead mother. A Douglas Sirk-ian scene ensues, the confrontation taking place on a balcony overlooking a cotton candy sunset, and an orchestral score lifting them into the clouds, even if Gorgeous’ heart plunges. Perfect melodrama. 

Distraught, she writes to her aunt, asking for a place to escape to this summer.  The aunt says she’s welcome, and together with her group of girlfriends, they arrive at a formidable house ready for the fun of a summer together, but the buoyancy is to be short-lived, as the house is possessed by something keen on the girls’ very innocence, and it’s a cinematic funhouse from thereon in. 

“It’s unscientific, unexplainable, unnatural, unreasonable,” says one of the girls, at the end of her wits as the house comes alive in gruesome fashion, preying on, dismembering, and grinding up the girls one by one. The same could be said of House, as it indulges any tonal and visual impulse, leaving a scene behind with abandon as it hurdles along to its next brief fascination. ADHD-editing gives you whiplash as the scene “ends” and you’re thrust into something entirely new, maybe spooky, maybe gory, maybe funny, sometimes a lot of it at once. 

It’d be unbearable to watch if not for Ôbayashi’s obvious revelry in conducting this orchestra, the sheer imagination and enjoyment obvious in every shot. Dialled in and up to 11, he sets out to make every scene a stand-out and succeeds in his own way. Many films dawdle on screen and glaze over your eyes, but evaporate from your mind like dew in the sunlight once the house lights come on. Not the case here: shots of a girl’s run-in with an old grandfather clock, a piano come alive, or a banana-fied corpse pile up like postcards from trips you’ll never forget. 

It’s a kaleidoscope of high camp and lowbrow entertainment, and it’s own particular type of fine art. A singular piece of filmmaking wielding all the tricks of what came before it, and roided up on its creator’s unique sensibility and timing, and if you watch it late at night, all those superlatives fall away and you’re left to simply describe it as rad and dope as hell. Watch it, be surprised, be thrilled, be bemused – impression guaranteed.  

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