"House" is an insanely entertaining haunted-house comedy from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi.
It’s taken 32 years for “House” to reach our shores, but it’s an insanely entertaining case of better late than never. Released in Japan in 1977, this colorfully cartoonish haunted-house tale marked the audacious debut of director Nobuhiko Obayashi.
“Star Wars” mania was spreading when Obayashi unleashed this low-budget extravaganza, but what “House” lacks in technical wizardry it more than makes up for in playful ingenuity, injecting cheesy effects into outrageously stylized set pieces that now serve (in the clarity of hindsight) as prescient sources of Japanese pop-cultural influence. Just about everything from “Hello Kitty” to “The Grudge” can trace its origins to this gonzo exercise in funny frights and goofy gore.
Inspired by an idea from his 7-year-old daughter, Obayashi (with screenwriter Chiho Katsura) concocted this fantasy that opens with teenage pals Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Ohba) changing plans for summer vacation. Eight years after her mother’s death, Gorgeous dreads vacation with her father and his new fiancée, so she recruits Fantasy and five other schoolgirls to visit the seemingly cozy home of her elderly aunt (Yoko Minamida), whose infirmities mysteriously vanish when the girls start disappearing.
Dear ol’ auntie is not what she seems, and “House” turns into a horror-fantasy comedy that grows increasingly absurd as the body-count rises, provoking more laughs than fear with over-the-top scenes involving severed limbs, a ravenous piano, attacking mattresses and a cat with telekinetic powers.
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For connoisseurs of the bizarre, “House’s” revival is long overdue.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org