A Review of Hausu (House)

When I think of Halloween, I think of Hausu. This horror import, which was not released in the U.S. until thirty years after its theatrical bow in Japan, is one of the most unusual horror films ever crafted.

Actually, that phrase does not do the film justice. Let me put it another way. Hausu is the sort of horror film a ten year old sugar addict would right after being forced to watch an all day Dario Argento marathon. It is so unique that it almost beyond criticism. Would you be able to review, say, a unicorn? Or a chimera? Most would just marvel at the fact one exists at all. Such is the glory of Hausu.

The film is about a young Japanese woman, nicknamed Gorgeous, who travels to see her aunt in the countryside. She is joined by her friends Kung Fu, Melody, Mac Professor, Fantasy, and Sweet. But during their visit, the women start disappearing or becoming mutilated in increasingly bizarre ways.

And that’s the only way I can describe what happens. Ask me again and I might tell you about the disembodied head biting a girl’s buttocks, or a person being devoured by a piano. Such scenes almost require the invention of a new language to describe them.

I guess the only way anyone can approach Hausu is by asking “what does it mean?” Any conventional approach about performances, effects, and any human connection found in the material will not suffice. These elements are all bad – the main characters are interchangeable with each other, the effects are deliberately bad (as can be seen in the picture below), and…well, if you can relate to a scene of a cat painting spewing blood then I know several psychiatrists who would be all to happy to take the case.

I believe that director Nobuhiko Obayashi was attempting to make an Ozu film. You know Ozu – the Japanese master who directed Tokyo Story and managed to capture the post war ennui in Japan. Hausu explores many of the same themes. Discussions of generational differences, the forgotten elderly, and the emotional destruction caused by the bombing of Hiroshima all make some sort of an appearance during the film’s run time.

The distinction is that while Ozu was slow and meditative, Hausu never slows down. It is entirely possible to miss these points on first viewing. But they are present in every moment of the film. What are ghosts, after all, if not the forgotten ancestors trying to remind the modern society that they matter? And the total hopelessness of the characters as they are destroyed in manners they cannot understand is not something that takes a genius to figure out.

Of course, most audiences will not watch Hausu for a revealing portrait of Japanese life any more than they watch The Evil Dead for a subtle examination of burgeoning maturity. Don’t worry, Hausu works as a horror film. Its amateur style and effects make the film feel like an urban legend. The initial grains of the story just grew larger and larger until the entire thing became so implausible that it actually makes the film unsettling again. I’ve always thought that all ghost stories feel that way. It is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Most people would suggest subtlety, but I guess Hausu demonstrates such conventions are overrated.

It is Hausu’s naivety and urban legend style story that have made it the daffy cult film that it is today. But there is actually a lot of depth to it – at least, as much depth as there can be in a film like this. And isn’t that among the best things a film (or any work of art) can do? Lure you in with a false sense of security and give you something that will actually make you think rather than creating a basic emotional response?

Well, if you don’t want to watch Hausu for that reason, the at least see it for the scene in which a piano eats a person. Certainly that means something.

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