Only A Witch Cat Can Close A Door: House (1977)

A film that is constantly referenced on my blog, Nobuhiko Obayashi's House is hands down one of the most insane and logic defying films to ever come about, and as one of the guys on Criterion Cast put it, House is one of those films that Criterion releases in which you have no idea you wanted to see, but love watching it once it becomes available.  A film that is wholly experimental, staunchly within the horror genre and yet still not quite capable of categorization, Obayashi's work exist as an example of what is possible in cinema when one truly drops all notions of traditional filmmaking and instead focuses on making a work unique, as well as a celebration of their past work, in the case of Obayashi work on commercials, something that Japanese autuers deemed lowly.  Perhaps no movie deserves to be called trippy more so than House, as it's technicolor backdrops, schlocky after effects and unbridled use of sexuality as a means to advance plot all suggest it as having a place right next to the classics of b movie horror, yet again though, this placement manages to overlook so much of what is being created both in terms of genre hybridity and the way in which cinema is viewed and consumed.  A blatant, and self-proclaimed answer to Steven Spielberg's Jaws, House manages to capture the exact same sort of unconventional zeal and enthusiasm of the classic American horror film, in that we can clearly see that the film is not made by a master filmmaker like Ozu or Kurosawa, but by somebody who is still finding their footing as a director, however, this footing is clearly to be grounded in the absurdist tradition, far more indicative of the work of Seijun Suzuki, than a Mikio Naruse.  I often place House on as many top ten lists as I can because quite frankly it is one of the few films I could countlessly revisit, as well as something that I feel required to share with the rest of the world.

House certainly has a plot, figuring out exactly where it comes and goes is admittedly a bit troublesome.  Suffice to say the film's main protagonist is a young woman nicknamed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) who is still adapting to the recent announcement by her father that he will be remarrying after the death of his wife, and Gorgeous's mother over eight years earlier.  Frustrated, Gorgeous asks her Aunt (Yoko Minamida) if she can stay at her mother's former home for the summer...along with her group of friends from high school, which include an eponymous group of women like Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato) and Melody (Eriko Tanaka).  Sending a cat named Blanche as an aid to fetch Gorgeous and the other girls, Aunt is ecstatic to have them stay.  Informing their school teacher that they are headed there the girls pack and travel to the house, only to discover that it is in the remote portion of a rural village and has become quite dilapidated.   Aunt, a much older woman now, explains that she cannot move as well any more and that is why the house is not only in such ruin, but also seems to take on a life of its own.  However, it become evident quite quickly that the house is possessed by a demonic spirit of sorts, one that begins attacking the various girls, often in ways that reflect their personalities, Mac is killed via food, while Melody is killed while at a piano.  All of this crashes together in a bloody climax that defies explanation and is certainly not benefitted by spoiling, suffice to say you will come out of the ending probably knowing a little less than you did going in, but in this situation it may well be for the better.

House is a horror film, one could comfortably place it in that genre with little or no confusion.  Yet when it comes down to explaining why this film is creepy, many a critics find themselves explaining that it is far more comedic than scary, and after screening this to my film club during my undergraduate it would seem to be the case with the amount of laughter that occurred throughout.  Despite this the movie does have a very tense and creepy quality about it, in its lack of explanation.  Every scene that exists within the film, even before it becomes a horror narrative, suggests no sort of linear composition and has the viewer perked up in anticipation and at some points dread of what will occur next, and in my mind that is a major necessity in a horror film.  This notion that it is scary is furthered when on realizes that Obayashi recruited the aid of his daughter, who at the time was ten, to help create some of the scenes in the script, particularly the one that occurs in front of a vanity mirror.  In an interview regarding its relationship with Jaws, Obayashi explained that things like bear and giant ant attacks were horrors created by the rational adult mind and he wanted something far more surreal and imaginative with his work and he felt his daughters freed mind could provide such occurrences.  I find this fascinating and it certainly helps to elucidate why the horror seems creepy, without altogether being grotesque or unbearable.  It is a horror movie of a different conception and different execution and one that its scary in its unpredictability.

Key Scene:  Anything involving the piano is magical.

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