House, the 1977 film debut of Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, defies every possible expectation. It spits in the face of rational thought and eschews easy categorization. It left my friends and I (who had attended a screening of the film at the Starz FilmCenter) in a stupor, and probably changed our lives forever.
The plot of the movie is simple enough-- a group of high-school girls and their professor visit a house in the countryside, which happens to be haunted/possessed by a ghostly aunt and the Cat From Hell.
Thing is, from the first scene of this movie on, you know Obayashi is using a different playbook. The cadre of girls have names like "Gorgeous," "Fantasy," "Kung Fu," (she knows kung fu) "Mac," (she's fat) and "Professor" (yup). The absurdly up-beat soundtrack-- by the legendary GODIEGO-- drowns out the character dialogue. Gorgeous slams a door to the sound of a nuclear explosion. Screen wipes I've never seen before. Cartoonish, pastel backgrounds. Sudden shifts to stop-motion. And this eventually becomes a horror film!
Maybe. Again, different playbook. Things just keep escalating. You think your mind can't be blown any more, and then the next scene hits. By the end, I was practically desensitized, numbed to the sheer madness on the screen. House is hilarious, yes. But it's also filled with bizarre, nightmarish imagery that you can't unsee. The tonal shift between the first two thirds and the last can only be fully internalized afterwards. Actually, probably not. Did they put tabs of acid on the ticket stubs? Am I going to just wake up the next day and say "Nahhh, that movie didn't happen"? Why was there that bear in the fucking truck with the ramen? All questions we found ourselves asking each other long after leaving the theater.
House has long been unavailable in the West in an easily-obtainable form, but it's getting a DVD release from Criterion sometime next year. I am buying this shit, and you owe it to yourself to at least check it out from Netflix or something. Show it to your friends. They'll thank you for it. Or write something like this, I dunno. Either way.
The arguably unrepresentative trailer:
Something I keep forgetting to mention that the trailer reminded me of is that Obayashi was mostly a director of TV commercials prior to making House. What kind of commercials? Shit like this:
Yes, I think that should just about do it.