There are many strange and puzzling films you may encounter over the course of your lifetime. But I feel reasonably safe in saying that you will never find anything quite so flamboyantly bizarre as the 1977 Japanese horror-comedy-musical-psychodrama Hausu, or House, a movie that exists in its own stratosphere of wackiness.
More than 30 years after its release in Asia, House was released on DVD later this year as part of the celebrated Criterion Collection. Don’t watch House at home. It demands to be seen with a crowd, and kudos to the Riviera Theatre in Three Rivers for making it a Halloween special.
What begins as a semi-arty but mostly comprehensible story about a group of schoolgirls who mistakenly pay a visit to a country home slowly turns into a whirlpool of psychedelic visuals, laughably tacky special effects and gruesome attacks that are liberally laced with sick humor. Oh, yeah — there’s also a sort of music video thrown in for good measure, set to an English-language song titled “Cherries Are Meant For Eating.” Let your imagination run wild.
Exactly what message director Nobuhiko Obayashi was hoping to convey is anybody’s guess. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but here it’s a cat that’s doing most of the killing -- in curious ways. A lovely but lethal Persian/Angora kitty stalks the careless cuties, and when those feline eyes flash neon-green, brace yourself for a crazy scene.
A musically inclined young miss is eaten (and coughed up) by a possessed piano; another is devoured by a hanging lamp; a girl who just wants to get a good night’s rest is sent straight to The Big Sleep when futons spring to life and suffocate her.
The mistress of the mansion is supposed to be the long unseen aunt of the leader of the schoolgirls. As played by Yoko Minamida, Auntie is a hoot of a hostess, cavorting in a sea-green silk gown and a blonde flapper wig that makes her look like she just wrapped up her run in the Nagoya Dinner Theatre’s production of “Chicago.” Instead of hunky chorus boys, Auntie does all her dancing with a laughing skeleton, at least when she’s not performing gold-medal-worthy gymnastic stunts. Upon the completion of one such flip through the air, this motherly maniac actually breaks the fourth wall, leering directly into the camera, as if asking the audience, “How you like me now?”
It’s tough to defend this as a “good” movie in the traditional sense, but it’s impossible not to be astonished by the imagination, daring and flat-out nuttiness of the vision. Whether it provokes screams of terror, shrieks of laughter or gasps of astonishment, this is a movie guaranteed to bring down the house -- or the hausu.