House horror film DVD

Sunday, 24 January 2010 10:28

According to one of the interviews on this first-ever UK DVD release of “House”, the inspiration behind the film came from debutant director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s daughter, Chigumi (also the co-screenwriter). He was tasked with producing a Japanese answer to US horror sensation “Jaws”, but instead ran with his daughter’s suggestion of a haunted house movie. Taking a selection of Chigumi’s childhood experiences (both real and imagined) and warping them slightly to make them scarier, they formulated their spooky tale.

It is the school holidays; Angel (Mimko Ikegami) invites six of her classmates to join her at her aunt’s mansion in the country. Angel has not seen her aunt since she was six, roughly ten years ago, but is desperate to get away from her newly-introduced future stepmother. The girls travel by train, accompanied by a strange white can that recently befriended Angel. Their tutor, Mr Togo, is expected to join them a couple of days later. When they arrive at the decaying mansion, they are greeted by a grey haired, wheelchair-bound old lady whom Angel barely recognises as her aunt (Yoko Minamida). As they settle in, the girls’ playful and happy demeanour is gradually eroded as one by one they start to mysteriously disappear.

House from 1977 comes to DVDThose that remain realise that the fate of the entire group lies in them working together, each using their particular talents to figure out what is going on and put an end to it.

There is no shying away from it: “House” is one very bizarre movie. Tonally it is all over the place – part schoolgirl fantasy, part comedy, part psychedelic horror and entirely bonkers. The style of the film is easily the most prominent aspect of it. Director Obayashi throws every conceivable camera trick and technique at the viewer, making it feel like a comic book rolled in with an extended and sinister episode of “The Goodies”.

This scattergun approach ensures the film is visually incredibly rich and lively, but it also means it occasionally becomes overwhelming confusing and distracting. Amongst all the brash colour, epilepsy-inducing flashes and primitive special effects, monotone filters, stop motion, and last but by no means least, repeated and slow shutter sequences, an overall style does emerge, but it simply feels far too broad and busy. There is even a knowing, “Jaws”-style simultaneous move in/zoom out (or vice versa) shot.

On the plus side, there are many memorable images that stick with you beyond the end of the movie. Vivid, hand-painted skies and vistas play a prominent part; early on the sky is an idyllic bright blue with white fluffy clouds, then it progresses to darker tones with blood-red, jagged clouds acting as a portent of the horrors that are about to unfold.

Boundless, girly enthusiasm makes much of the film breathless and dizzying, though the girls each manage to carve out a niche for themselves. For example, Kung-Fu is a fearless and very agile young martial artist, Melody is a keen pianist and Fantasy is adept at drawing on her bottomless imagination to keep the rest of the girls entertained. The character of Auntie is delicately poised to ensure she remains enigmatic and at once friendly and ominous. And in nearly every frame, the fluffy white cat ‘Snowy’ slinks about, never far from the action...

In terms of madcap horror, there is plenty to feast your eyes on. “The Evil Dead” films are referenced in the publicity material, and the similarities are certainly plentiful. This is playful, macabre horror where nothing is taken seriously, and deaths and scares are conjured up in crazily imaginative ways. A floating severed head bites a girl’s bottom; a piano eats a girl and then spits her out in pieces, whereupon her newly severed fingers dance about on the keyboard carrying on the tune she had been playing moments earlier. Every-day, household furniture and fittings become deadly weapons in a house with an evil and very hungry spirit. You never know which perfectly innocent item might turn on a girl next, and that suspense and anticipation is part of the fun.

The film’s soundtrack deserves a mention in addition to the searing visuals. Half the film feels like a silent-era piece with whacky and sometimes anachronistic music overlaid to make up for the lack of dialogue – even though there is plenty of the latter; the over half has the same tune played over and over again. It is a key facet of the movie, as like many others featuring haunted houses, the theme represents a link back to the tragic events of the past. However, it also becomes quite annoying on the thousandth replay, and very nearly caused this viewer to consider grinding the DVD into the ground. And if I see one more horror film featuring a tinkly music box, my TV is going out of the window!

To summarise: if you are up for something very different and yet sometimes strangely familiar, “House” might well appeal to you. It is quirky, indulgent, imaginative and above all entertaining. Do not expect to be able to take it all in on the first viewing, but at very sensible 87 minutes running time, it will not deter repeat viewings.

The DVD package includes a very nicely produced 20-page colour booklet with an insightful essay of the movie and some great photos; the disk itself features 90 minutes’ worth of interviews, predominantly with the directory and his daughter/co-screenwriter. Whilst this footage is cheaply produced and is thus quite dry, it is informative and acts as a decent substitute for a commentary track. A trailer rounds off the extras.

“House” is released on 25 January by Eureka Entertainment as part of its “Masters of Cinema” series, certificate ‘15’, RRP £17.99, or less from


Movie Review: “House” (1977)



Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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