Hausu (1977)

AKA: House

Hausu1

This is yet another gem that I discovered thanks to late-night viewings of TCM. I sat down for something they classified as horror, and instead I was treated to something that was a bizarre mix of horror, comedy, and action all mixed together to form some psychedelic, epileptic-inducing explosion of Japanese cinema. And, dear god, did I love every minute of it.

Hausu is a bit difficult to describe, but I shall do my best to give you a summary. The story revolves around seven friends. One of the girls, nicknamed Gorgeous (I’ll get to the other girls in a minute), has been planning on going on summer vacation with her father. It’s obvious she’s been looking forward to this, but when her father comes home from his business trip he surprises his daughter by introducing her to her new stepmother, a very pretty Haruko Wanibuchi, who literally floats onto the scene in the most ethereal way possible.

Hausu2
Yes, her cloths literally float around her thanks
to an angelic breeze that affects only her and
no one else in the scene.

It’s obvious by the way she’s portrayed that this woman is probably the most perfect stepmother that anyone could ever hope for, but of course Gorgeous is still pissed. Her mother’s death some years prior still weighs heavily on her and she wants nothing to do with this new, strange woman. So, feeling nostalgic for her mother, instead of vacationing with her father, Gorgeous writes to her aunt, asking if she and her friends can spend their summer break with her. Of course the woman agrees and the seven girls take a psychedelic trip to Auntie’s house.

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A creepy old house in the country. Can’t see a
better way to start my vacation.

Once they’re there they meet the kindly old woman and shortly after… start to drop like flies.

Let me start off by saying that, other than that quick summary, it’s very hard to describe Hausu. It is an experience that is far easier to feel for one’s own self than can be articulated to by another. Any movie that has a girl finding a severed head…

hausu4_1
Hmm, watermelon. I love waterme- Aaaaaahh! Holy S*&$!

…and then has the girl try to get away, only to have the said head fly around and bite her on the ass…

Hausu5
It’s either from a horror movie or from a bizarre Japanese
porn fetish site.

…defiantly should get brownie points for originality, but after you get finished explaining that one scene people are going to start looking at you strangely (the same way I’m sure some of you are looking at your monitors right now.)

So I’m not going to lie: This movie is bizarre. It’ll probably make you scratch your head more than once. But this is a film more about aesthetics than plot.

Admittedly though, the visuals are another element that’ll most likely distract many a viewer. Throughout the entire film no opportunity is missed to break up the scenes with old-school camera tricks, silent movie tinting,…

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…matte paintings, overlays,…

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Argh! Stay away, hastily cut lip overlay! Stay away!

…clip art, hand drawn cels…

Hausu8
Nothing has been Photoshoped. These are all actual screenshots. Do not be alarmed.

You name a camera trick and they probably tried to shove it in this movie. Now, none of these tricks really help to drive the plot forward, but for visual enthusiasts this movie is a dream. Along with the creative trickery, all of the country backdrops are painted scenes, so the movie’s earlier country scenes often feel surreal thanks to all the over-saturation.

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Soak it in, folks. This is the least scary the house is ever going to look.

Once the girls actually get inside the house the scenes consist of more earthier shades, but even with all the pretty backdrops it’s still should be pretty obvious that most of the movie was filmed in studio. That isn’t to say that the film makers were trying their darndest to trick you into thinking otherwise. In fact, they make it obvious early on what they’re doing.

Hausu10
A backdrop within a backdrop after getting off the magic bus? I approve!

They just want you to know they put the extra effort into making the backdrops pretty and want you to appreciate it, damn it.

As for the characters, well, lets just say they’re all pretty one dimensional. Each girl is essentially a personified personality trait. And in case anyone should somehow get confused about which personality trait they’re personifying, all the girls have helpfully descriptive nicknames (Or maybe it’s just their names. I don’t think they’re referred to anything other than their nicknames.) Other than Gorgeous, you have Melody (A musician), Mac (As in sto”mac”h), Prof (The smart one), Fantasy (A daydreamer), Sweetie (Really nice and helpful), and Kung Fu (I’m not explaining that one. You should know what it means.)

That’s not to say, however, that the characters are unlikable. Far from it. Each girl knows her role and embraces it to the hilt. If Prof is going to be a poindexter, then by god, she’s going to be the best poindexter she can be. Each girl’s enthusiasm shows and thank god, because if you got the inclination that they weren’t having any fun than the movie wouldn’t be as entertaining. I’m not saying they’re all great actresses, but their enthusiasm makes up for their faults. The enthusiasm also carries over to the secondary characters…

Hausu11
I think he’s supposed to be the japanese equivalent of a
hillbilly, as his grammar was atrocious, but that might have
been the subtitlers fault. 

…giving you the impression that a good time was had by all.

Hausu12
And no one had a better time than the skeleton,
who’s joy, you can see, was infectious.

By now (if you haven’t already stopped reading, that is) I’ve probably given you the impression that this movie is a farce of horror and nothing more than a constant giggle-fest. But do not be fooled. Hausu does have some genuinely disturbing imagery.

Hausu13
Eye’m so happy you’re here I could just Eat. You. Up.

It’s just that most of those truly disturbing moments happen to be followed up with comic relief, either purposefully, or, as in the case of the ass-munching disembodied head, in a ‘it’s so bad/bizarre it’s hysterical’ kind of way. But looking at the rest of the movie it’s hard to believe that those moments weren’t intentional to begin with.

Suffice it to say that by the time the movie is half way over your head scratching will turn into exclamations of “WTF!” as the movie racks up the wacky and surreal factors. The deaths get more bizarre, crap starts flying everywhere and, if you’re anything like me, you will laugh hysterically as Kung Fu goes all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon while she tries to singlehandedly kick the house’s ass.

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Rowr! I have conquered possessed lumber! Feel my wrath, wood!
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Wait… where’d my skirt go?
Hausu16
Ah! There it is.

Yes. Hausu is a japanese ghost story. But Hausu is not a japanese ghost story that takes itself seriously.

Nope.

Not in the slightest.

Ringu and Ju-on, this ain’t. So if you’re looking for something similar, look elsewhere as this will not quench your thirst. If however, you’re looking for something more along the lines of Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness then welcome my friend, as this will probably be right up your ally. But I warn you now, this movie will leave you feeling like this

Hausu17
….the hell did I just watch?

For those who are curious, here’s the original trailer (with English subtitles):


It may actually be more coherent than the movie, but not by much.

Hausu is currently available for streaming via Amazon.

It has also received an excellent Blu-ray treatment, thanks to the fine folks at Criterion.

Michi

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