Monday, October 24, 2011

Hausu (1977)

While the anomalous Hausu (aka 'House') is not the sort of horror film to truly torment the audience, or even really scare them, there's no question that it sticks with you long after you've experienced it, and whether you wound up enjoying or hating it. This is largely in part to the rather unique, over the top cinematography which involves all manner of cheap, half-assed special effects that come off beautifully amateurish, even for the mid to late 70s. Make no mistake, though, these were no accident. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi, who had previously worked exclusively in experimental film, decided that he'd intentionally incorporate such phantasmagoria to transform an average at best plot line into something so completely bonkers that it feels as fresh about 35 years after it was first unleashed as a cult hit in Japanese theaters.

Seriously, you need to see this to believe it. Obayashi's pastiche of circular close-up shots, black and white flashback reels, film overlays, still picture clippings and pure animation is only scraping the tip of the iceberg here, and even at its most tranquil, the film is a cheesy but effective wonder of ill-advised filmcraft that works despite itself. We are transported from the 20 minutes of ridiculously bubbly character development to what is one of the more unique and oddly potent ghost films I've ever seen. Now, let's be clear on this: I generally fucking HATE ghost movies, which rarely abide by any horror rule-set that would create any real tension. It's hard to be afraid when the script has folks eliminated at random by spiritual manifestations that can do just about anything at any given moment, but while Hausu does not necessarily deviate from the formula (which was not commonplace in the 70s, granted), its lavish and peculiar eye candy more than compensates for its corny, sporadic chills.

*Supoirasu ahead*

The story's not a complex one: due to various family situations and scheduling screw-ups, a group of six school girls and a professor chaperon head into the countryside for their Break, to visit one of the girl's Aunts, who happens to live alone and 'crippled' in a sprawling, rustic manor near a watermelon shop. Auntie is not who she seems, the house is haunted, and what's up with the fluffy white cat that happens to appear just about everywhere? The rest you can probably guess, and Hausu soon transforms into a series of deaths and disappearances as the 'House' ingests the girls in various, absurd ways. Not all of the bucket kickings are filmed directly, and this often feels cheap, but where they are presented in all their splendor, like the character 'Melody' (haw haw) being devoured by a piano and then having her disembodied head comment on her fate, are hilarious and subtly disturbing somehow.

The acting is pretty much shit across the boards, overshadowed by all the swirling psychedelic set pieces and special effects, but it by no means cripples the film. What I found mesmerizing were all the odd little details throughout the film, like the guy reading the Horror movie guide on the train ride to the country, the rats exploding out of a cupboard, the lizard being impaled by shards from a chandelier and no one making much of a big deal out of it. How about the bear noodle chef cropping up in one of Mr. Togo (the other chaperon who separated from the girls for some reason)? Or the most unforgettable watermelon chef ever? Or the cat, 'Snowy', who plays a central role in the film. Its movements are remixed to the soundtrack in one scene, and its likeness appears everywhere when the shit hits the fan at about an hour into the film. Its eyes glow green to signify something bad about to happen. Its eyes glow from the various walls of the set, like a haunted house attraction. It spews blood once the character Kung-Fu's amputated leg kicks it, and then another character drowns and dissolves...fully that blood...

Truly, truly a screwy experience, and I don't actually mind the sensory overload in the slightest, but where the film does stutter is with a few of its more cluttered choices, like the scenes of Mr. Togo wandering around in the city which don't have much to do with the central events, or the use of multiple, flaky pop songs used to create drama in the finale. There are so many random details being cast at the audience that some seem silly and disjointed, and as cool as the special effects are, several seem incredibly hack to the point that they're not even ironically amusing. But that aside, Hausu remains a very intriguing view for those into the unique perspective of Japanese cinema, and several of its aesthetic tones were recycled for later, more successful films like Ringu or Uzumaki. From its excellent, psychedelic rock soundtrack laden with jazzy grooves, to the innocent innuendos of its seductive cast, to the the jaw-dropping clamor of its climactic hauntings, Hausu is the very definition of compelling cult horror-comedy.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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