House (1977)

Class: Staff
Author: J.L. Carrozza
Score: (4/5)
August 26th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

House (not to be confused with the 1986 American horror flick of the same name) is no doubt the strangest film ever to bear the famous Toho logo and be financed by Tomoyuki Tanaka himself. It's also a highly offbeat and wonderfully entertaining film filled with absolutely arresting imagery and brilliant filmmaking.

Now as sadly no subtitled version of the film exists and as my knowledge of the Japanese language is shaky at this time, please excuse me if I make a few minor plot errors. The film introduces us to Oshare, a gorgeous schoolgirl, who, with six friends (all with bizarre Anglo names like Sweet, Melody, Fanta, Kung Fu, etc), goes to spend some time at her grandmother's house. However, soon things start to get increasingly strange and it turns out that, in fact, Oshare's grandmother is dead and the house itself is possessed by her sexually frustrated soul. Soon, it begins consuming the girls one by one.

House is directed by one Nobuhiko Obayashi, who got his start directing commercials, including some featuring such Western actors as Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson, before debuting with this film in 1977. His direction in House is absolutely ingenious. The film uses every single filmic technique under the sun, including double exposures, cross fades, split screens, optical printing, cell animation integrated with live action footage, stop motion animation, mattes, fast motion, slow motion, etc. Like a horror themed music video 10 times more impressive than Thriller, House barrages the viewer with wild set piece after wild set piece, often resembling a nasty LSD trip. Its most incredible sequence being one where one of the girls is devoured and hacked into bits by a grand piano. The film is so manic and wild that it seriously makes Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) look kind of dull and routine in comparison.

The film also boasts an amazing production design that brings everything from Masaki Kobayashi's supernatural anthology epic Kwaidan (1965) to Dario Argento's masterpiece Suspiria to mind and like both Kwaidan (1965) and Mario Bava and Argento's films, the movie boasts an excellent and often quite eyepopping use of color. The music, by frequent anime composers Asei Kobayashi and Mickey Yoshino (with a few 70s pop tunes sung in English by the band Godeigo, who provided the theme to the Galaxy Express 999 movie) is quite catchy and perfectly supplements the film's manic and arresting imagery.

Most of the acting in the film is quite decent, but I think the lovely Kimiko Ikegami does a particularly nice job in the lead as Oshare. The character development was kind of lost to me since I could only watch the film in raw Japanese, but the film appeared to not really rely on it much anyways. One character development bit I did catch involved Oshare. Her mother died when she was just a little girl and her father now has a new fiancee, whom Oshare hates and eventually uses the power of the house to destroy in the final sequence.

House turned out to be a big hit in Japan and director Obayashi then went on to direct such popular films as School in the Crosshairs (1981), Transfer Student (essentially the Japanese equivalent to Freaky Friday) and The Little Girl Who Conquered Time. Overall, House is a positively amazing piece of filmmaking and a highly entertaining little horror film that I would highly recommend the more adventurous Toho or Japanese film fan check out.