House (1977)

The story of love must be told many times.

--The Ghost

I am posting this for Halloween, though it is, like all of the films discussed here, one that you will want to make sure the kids are in bed before enjoying. This film is almost impossible to categorize. Imagine if Alan Moore was asked to write and manga story that was then adopted for screen by Sid and Marty Krofft. It has that Saturday morning feel of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, only instead of being guided by some benevolent hand, you are in the thrall of nitrous oxide fueled David Lynch hallucination. Do not watch this film on acid unless you have skilled guide. The editing, staging, and special effects mask an agitating signal within a cinematic language that misrepresents itself. Nope. This reality is not a happy place.

The plot revolves around summer vacation at a girl’s academy. Gorgeous plans to spend the vacation with her composer father, but finds that he is ready to move on from the death of Gorgeous’ mother years earlier. Yes, there is a new woman in the house. Rather than stay with them, Gorgeous goes to the countryside to stay with her mysterious aunt. There she is joined by her six friends: Prof, Melody, Fantasy, Kung Fu, Mac and Sweet. If they sound like the seven dwarves, they kind of are. Each girl has a special power. This gives the film almost a superhero feel as these companions, each with their special gift, journey to the countryside to meet the mysterious aunt who lives in a haunted house. Soon the girls and the house are locked in psychedelic combat that is at once playful and disturbing.

The film was written and directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi for Toho. Evidently the studio was in a slump and willing to try something experimental. Well, they got it. This thing is all over the place with such stylized pathos it traps the viewer, much like the house attempts to trap the protagonists. “I’m just one of those goofy, cartoonish anime films,” it tells the audience with its campy dialogue and saccharine vision of girlhood relationships. Right when you get to the thinking this way, the film has you. Then you go from the Goonies to a maze of panic and dismemberment, wondering what the hell just happened.

For most of the films in this review section I try to provide some degree of cultural context, locating the films in some cultural psychosis. This one has reference to the atomic bomb and World War II, and to the concepts of loss and grief. But as to what it is saying about these issues, any guess is as good as mine. It seems to deal with the idea of cross-generational trauma, the way it reaches through the gene pool. It also reminds me of Homer’s lesson about the afterlife, an insight often obscured by the zombie films of our modern era. The dead have one main reason for plaguing the living. They are jealous—plain and simple. The old wounds reach out to drain your essence, sucking your blood into its dead flesh so that it may live again.

Rating: 3.5 Hits