House (1977)

“She eats unmarried young girls. It is the only time she can wear her wedding gown.”

‘House’, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi in 1977, is a Japanese horror-comedy-musical-teen movie that rivals ‘The Wicker Man’ for its genre bending, ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’ for its manipulation of  visual conventions and ‘Donkey Skin’ for its sheer, unabashed oneiric weirdness. It tells the story of a schoolgirl, Gorgeous, who, along with her seven friends, visits her aunt in the countryside. They stay in a remote house and are gradually ‘dispatched’ in a variety of strange ways. Obayashi’s movie has a sense of freedom and fun that makes it completely engrossing despite the alienating visceral and surreal elements. The characters are cyphers, but each has a distinct personality that shapes the way they are killed, for example the gluttonous Mac (short for ‘stomach’) is decapitated and her head is magically substituted for a watermelon then eaten by her friends. In another memorable sequence, Melody is ‘eaten’ by a piano, a scene that is hilarious, gory and strangely beautiful all at once. Despite the violent lurches in style, the movie also has a number of poignant moments though. For example, when Gorgeous is possessed by a mirror, Obayashi uses the effect of overlaid fire to demonstrate the transfer of consciousness between the girl and the object. The director also uses every special effect technique he can to create the comic/experimental look of his film from stop motion to animation via prosthetics. The only comparison I can make with Hollywood movies is Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’, a series that has the same low budget effects and balance of horror with comedy, but Obayashi beats Raimi with his absolute dedication to playing games with the audience. I’ve heard someone describe ‘House’ as being like a fever dream – and this is accurate.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I would suggest it in a double bill with ‘Donkey Skin’, but for the sake of your sanity maybe a piece of Italian neorealism might provide a balancing ‘downer’.

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