What a wonderfully horrifying trip. It always seems like the freakiest films in existence—horror or otherwise—have the most innocuous titles imaginable. Film titles like Blue Velvet, The Thing, and even The Shining are not nearly as punchy as say The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but nevertheless are stamped upon the most bizarre films ever made. With this mind, House represents the most illogical extreme of this practice. House is a Japanese ghost story that plays like an acid fueled remix of The House on Haunted Hill, Suspiria, and The Monkees TV show starring a bunch of cheerleaders. This film is a low budget monstrosity of kitschy surreal horror that will bewilder and shock anyone with its pure madness.
The plot (excuse, really) revolves around a Japanese schoolgirl name Gorgeous and her six girlfriends as they visit the country home of her elderly aunt. Life is dandy at first, but once the aunt’s cat starts twinkling its eyes things escalate quickly into a bizarre nightmare. The horrors of House are unique in that the filmmakers—especially the special effects artists and actresses—push themselves into ridiculous and comical extremes. This is a film where a flying decapitated head biting a schoolgirl in the butt is the least crazy moment in the plot. However, the plot hardly maintains a consistent mood so much as it switches between funny and bleak whenever it pleases, which surprisingly works because it makes House completely unpredictable.
House has this hyper stylized visual design that is seemingly made to screw with people’s heads. Every other outdoor scene is clearly a studio lot with painted backgrounds, flashbacks within the story look like silent films strips, and the violence is so exaggerated that one would think this was a cartoon. Even the mundane moments of House are visually zany. The first act alone seems to shift from a psychedelic slapstick comedy to a Powell and Pressburger-style melodrama whenever it pleases. There are cheap techniques used in House that are so cheesy and weird, not even Roger Corman would dare to use them, but they lead to such an overwhelming crescendo that they have to be deliberate, and if so, it is very effective.
House, in its own nutty way, is a fantastic horror film. This is a film that does not give a damn about logic, realism, or any of those pesky formulas that genre filmmaking has to follow, and it is all the better for it. House is a mad carnival ride that needs to be experience with a group, if only to hear the plights of “What did I just see?” It is certainly a film that takes pride with its audacity.
(House is available on DVD and Blu-ray via Criterion Collection and for rent through Amazon.com)