Monday 12 December 2011

House: Japanese Evil Dead On Acid

Plot: A Japanese school girl takes some friends along to spend the summer at her aunt's house. Little do they know that the house is haunted, and its owner has a nefarious plan in mind.

The plot might make it sound like the least original one you can think of for a horror film, yet, despite the simple premise, this has got to be one of the weirdest films I have ever seen, and I have seen my fair share of them. This feels like a tornado of genres, borrowing elements from all sorts of films and stitching them out together without ever repeating itself and with little concern for tonal consistency, with an insane creativity and wonderfully twisted invention.

Of course, the film having been made in the 70's, while there is a distinct Italian horror influence of the era (especially the bright colours), House did not so much borrow elements as actually create them. In fact, it is easy to see how it can have influenced a whole lot of horror films, in particular Evil Dead for its blend of whacky, cartoonish violence, but also a whole generation of Asian horrors featuring female ghosts with black hair with a life of its own. Other part remind some of the darkest stop motion work of Jan Svankmajer and the Quay brothers.

Except that what you did not get in any of these films is a stop motion cat playing the piano while meowing along. A tap dancing skeleton. A swinging sixties Japanese musical number. An early comedy bit featuring some live action stop motion. And more bright colours than an acid trip.

The film begins as cute (or should it be kawaii), with garish colours and stylised sets, with a nearly whimsical tone. But once the action moves into the house, things take a more sinister turn. In fact it is surprising how nasty the whole thing turn. Not that it is very gory but rather cruel. And those Japanese girls look far too nice and sweet for the fate that awaits them, with a particularly nasty scene that sees a piano literally eats one of them, in a painfully drawn out scene that is a deluge of weird angles and bright colours before her limbs get spat out (nice!).

Of course, some will say this is all style over substance, and the simplistic plot and weak characterisation make it harder to feel all that concerned about what is going on, (but then characterisation has rarely been the forte of horror films). But while most horror fodder these days can barely manage enough decent scenes to make a trailer, House is a constant assault on the senses, the work of a creative genius, with a constant stream of striking images that truly makes you wonder what the director was smoking. This is a true, inspirational masterpiece that demands repeated viewing to take on all of its richness.

Hausu (1977) Directed by Nobuhiko Ohbayashi. Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo...

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