Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: ‘Hausu’

After Toho, the studio responsible for all those terrifically cheesy Godzilla movies, approached Nobuhiko Obayashi about making a Japanese answer to Jaws, the advertising filmmaker took a rather novel approach. He recalled seven of his school-age daughter’s worst fears and crammed them into a haunted house movie that plays like Suspiria reimagined by Sid and Marty Krofft. A severed head flies from a water well and bites a schoolgirl on her bottom. A piano consumes human flesh and disembodied fingers pound on its keys. A girl gets into a kung-fu brawl with some firewood. A cat’s eyes glimmer with cartoon sparkles. And there isn’t a single shark in sight.



Naturally Toho was baffled by Hausu (House), as were critics. But the 1977 film became a huge hit in its homeland because kids instantly recognized the candied horrors and psychedelic flights of fancy as reflective of their own whimsical imaginations. As gruesome as this story of seven schoolgirls who meet varying fates in an old dark house can be, the delivery is more cartoonish than your average episode of “Scooby Doo”. Teeny-bop pop chirps cheerily on the soundtrack, and the actresses play their parts as though they may break out into The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits at any moment. Those characters are just as transparently farcical as their adventures, each one named for the stock stereotype that dictates her every move: there’s Fantasy, Gorgeous, Kung Fu, Prof (as in “Professor”), Mac (as in “Stomach”…she’s always eating!), Melody (the musician), and Sweet. Collect them all!

The film plays out with the logic of a weird dream, so don’t go looking for a plot. The scares are on the level of those in Wizard of Oz, which means they will be particularly effective for a certain age group even as kids of all ages recognize how disturbing some of the occurrences in Hausu are. The special effects are non-stop, ranging from primitive video manipulation to “How the Hell did they do that?” magic, as evidenced by those ivory-tinkling fingers. You may step out of Hausu scratching your head, but you surely won’t step out bored.



The new Criterion Edition of Hausu comes with all the bells, whistles, and delightful doo dads one can expect from a Criterion disc, including sharp picture and sound, an enlightening and even moving interview with Obayashi and his daughter who inspired the film, a somewhat interesting interview with Hausu superfan and House of the Devil filmmaker Ti West, and “Emotion”, a bonus short film by Obayashi.

Get Hausu at Amazon.com here.
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