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Imagine that you and your 6 friends are visiting an elderly aunt in the hills of Japan. Imagine that you are all schoolgirls. Then imagine, one by one, the house that you are staying in eats all except one of you alive. This is the plot of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s ‘Hausu’ (Released as ‘House’ in America), The controversial and dazzling blood fest that was called a “fever dream” by the Criterion Collection. As an avid peruser of World Cinema, ‘Hausu’ has left an undeniable impression on the inner recesses of my mind, not only because of its ridiculous special effects, odd story line, and lackluster acting (sorry Mieko Sato, it was a noble attempt). It was the fact that, despite all these shortcomings, ‘Hausu’ still was one of the best horror films I had ever watched, typical of the elusive and indefinable “le cinéma du WTF?” akin to the work of Italian giallo master Dario Argento. The mood was so affecting, so overwhelming, that it created an epileptic fit oflove, confusion, and downright incredulity in my inner psyche. And I mean that in the most amazing way possible.
‘Hausu’ begins with the first chords of a romantic theme, and the words “A MOVIE” surrounded by a blue box. The words then transform into the title, and a simultaneously creepy and hilarious voice utters “HAUUUSUUUU”. The “O” then turns into a mouth, from which emerges an eye, and then a hand. All this shown in eye-popping reds, blues, and whites. This paradoxical beginning represents ‘Hausu’ as a singular piece of artwork and cinema: simultaneously creepy, beautiful, and odd. As the quirky, colorful scenes progress, so does the wonderfully disjointed zany plot. We meet seven schoolgirls who live in Tokyo, each of whom embody a certain archetype of a young teenage woman. There is Gorgeous, our leading lady, who exemplifies beauty and womanliness beyond her years. Fantasy is her closest friend, who is always daydreaming. Prof is the smartest of the bunch, decked out with glasses and never too far away from a book. Mac loves to eat, and makes sure she never goes anywhere hungry. Melody is adept at all instruments, but seems most partial to piano. Kung Fu loves all athletics, especially her eponymous martial art. Finally, to round off the gaggle of girls, there is Sweet, a kind, goodhearted kid who wants to make everyone happy. Gorgeous is planning to go to her family’s country house, while the rest of her friends go on a camping trip with an attractive teacher.
However, conveniently the teacher cancels the trip just as Gorgeous finds out that her composer father has returned from Italy with a new bride, a gorgeous model who is shot by Obayashi just like an actress in a shampoo commercial. All that’s missing is the product placement. Gorgeous, angry and spiteful, rejects her vacation plans and writes a letter to her elderly maternal aunt, who lives in the mountains above Tokyo. She is graciously allowed to come to visit the Aunt, along with her friends. They arrive, ominously shown the way by the local watermelon vendor, who comments that Gorgeous “has her aunt’s eyes”. When they first enter the eponymous house, they are greeted by flowers, flittering butterflies, and Gorgeous’ aunt, with her cat, Blanche. Blanche is adorable, a sort of Persian/Angora mix, pure white, and, as it will soon be seen, menacing. In 5 minutes, one girl is dead. Mac, her appetite consuming her for the last time, goes to retrieve a watermelon that has been cooling in a well. She does not return for some time, so Fantasy goes to retrieve the same watermelon. To her horror, instead of the fruit she had been hoping for, there is the decapitated head of Mac in its stead, which then proceeds to bite Fantasy on the ass, and fall to the ground, regurgitating blood. Fantasy returns horrified, yet no one, not even Sweet, believes her. Of course, even to the audience, it seems a bit absurd. But remember, this is a movie that is subtitled “How Seven Beauties Were Eaten!” So continue we must, suspending disbelief, for this is a fantastical horror film, more akin to “Suspiria” then “Saw”.
What follows is a phantasmagorical show of hilarity, dark humor, horrific deaths, and absurdity. Should we laugh or scream when Sweet is eaten by the futons housed in a closet, only to be found later being ripped apart by the huge grandfather clock? Should we scoff or sit open mouthed when we watch as Gorgeous beautiful ivory visage chips away, leaving only a flaming mass remaining? Should we be confused or terrified when the living room suddenly fills with molten blood, which then disintegrates Prof’s naked corpse? The answer is: Who the hell knows! Being an avid fan of this film, who wakes up every morning confronted with its insane movie poster, I always try my best to convince people that, yes, that blue screen effect in the scene where Melody is eaten by the piano IS necessary! It doesn’t matter if you see the grainy Prussian shade, as long as the visuals shock you, and the content intrigues you, enjoy the fucking movie! However, I understand that for many, the acting will be too horrible, the effects too corny, and the plotline too listless and unfollow-able to warrant any interest. However, it is these imperfections that bring me back over and over again to this movie. Every time I view it, I find another plot point, or another beautifully horrid visual, any my mind is blown once more. To close, I implore you to go out of your way to find this movie, and sit down, either alone or with your craziest acquaintance, and watch the whole thing through. By the end of the movie, sitting there, you will find that your brain has begun coming out of your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, viscous and unsettled, covered in fake blood and swimming with visions of fluffy cats, man eating lamps, and step mothers being engulfed by one viscous teenager’s fire and brimstone.