Over the weekend, the Denver Film Society hosted a Japanese film retrospective with the opportunity to watch movies and drink free Soporro beer. It was like a miniature film festival, and I only wish I took advantage of Seven Samurai in 35mm. Instead, I went to see House. It was a showing for The Watching Hour which is the time slot for more obscure, “fun” movies. People piled in for it, too. The guy who programmed it was wearing a House t-shirt you could buy at the reception area. It isn’t available on DVD yet (not until autumn supposedly) and it was made in 1977. So why is it getting this sudden resurgence in theaters now?
It turns out there is some historical justification behind it. I always like when movies come out of a fog of obscurity. But House is a wreck of a movie. It is a total disaster. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. What makes this disaster arguably special is that it apparently created a shift in what kinds of movies would later be made in Japan. Pre-House you had the Ozus and the Kurosawas (not sure why I’m pluralizing them) which were interested in modernist, classic stories. Then you had the Obayashis and Ishiis who come out with movies like Tetsuo: The Iron Man (late 80’s cyberpunk) and are the equivalent to your Roger Cormans or Lloyd Kaufmans. It appears that after House, Japan never looked back and started making crazier stuff.
It’s the story of a group of bubbly schoolgirls (‘jailbait’ is often used to describe them) who stay at a haunted house in a mountainous, isolated town. They go by the names Melody, Gorgeous, Prof, Sweet, Kung Fu, Fantasy…as literal representations of their characters. So Kung Fu practices Kung Fu, Melody plays piano, Prof is the bookish nerd, etc. If this is sounding like something an 11-year old might come up with, I have news for you. The director’s daughter, 11 at the time, devised elements of this story and he created a movie out of them. I’m sure her plan all along was to create a cult classic that would shake the very foundation of Japan’s film industry.
I’m not a fan of campy movies. I don’t enjoy Evil Dead the way a lot of people do. They’re tricky to pull off especially if you want to combine horror and comedy. For those who like early Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson, House would be easier to digest. But I’m also not a fan of children’s cartoons. I don’t like abrasive, chaotic, ADD type of stuff that makes me want to check myself into a mental institution. It makes me feel unhinged. I think House combines the campy style of those Evil Dead movies with a lot of ideas from an 11 year old girl, and the result is a 1 and a half hour aesthetic torture device.