Blu-ray Review: 'House' (1977) aka 'Hausu'


How does one go about describing a surreal, absurd, and virtually plotless amalgam like the rediscovered cult favorite House (aka Hausu, 1977)? Hell, not even the back of the DVD case knows how to break it down. Equal parts haunted house story, early-era slasher-style horror flick (sorta), and technicolor fever dream, House is in every way one of the most bizarre pieces of foreign cinema you'll ever come across. And yes, it's also quite fun, provided you have a taste for the patently weird.

On the surface, the flick is about a bunch of girls who head to a creepy mansion and then get killed in various truly bizarre ways. But director Nobuhiko Obayashi, working from ideas provided by his young daughter, dabbles in all sorts of wackiness: sunny musical numbers, weird dollops of animation, any number of amusing wipes and transitions; broad comedy best described (to an American audience) as Monkees-esque ... and on and on. Unfortunately, and this is something that applies to even the most conventional horror films as well as the weird ones, House takes its good, sweet time in getting to the ostensibly scary stuff. But you won't be bored.

Aside from the weirdly intricate set design and some unexpectedly lovely matte paintings, House gets the most mileage out of its patently absurd "scare" scenes: flying heads, dangerous dolls, magical kitties, kung fu firewood, malevolent mirrors and mattresses, silly skeletons, carnivorous pianos ... like I said, it's one weird flick. But not one without its own quaint charms.

And since this is a Criterion Collection release, you can expect the flick to look every bit the crazy kaleidoscope of lunacy that Obayashi intended. (Seriously, this is one lovely looking piece of weird cinema, especially on blu-ray!) Extras include a 39-minute short called "Emotion," which is also directed by Obayashi; 45 minutes of recent (and rather excellent) interviews with the director, as well as his muse / daughter Chigumi Obayashi and screenwriter Chiho Katsura; a 4-minute appreciation of the film by House of the Devil director Ti West; and the original House trailer.

Certainly a must-own for the hardcore Criterion collectors, House is probably best defined as an experimental rental for the average horror junkie. It might be an imported relic worth seeing at least once -- or it could become your new favorite mind-bender and something you throw on the TV during parties. Yeah, it's that kind of movie.