April 21 2010 12:00 AM

Bringing down the Hausu


There are many strange and puzzling films you may encounter over the course of your lifetime. But I feel reasonably safe in saying that no matter where you may travel in this world, you will never find anything quite so flamboyantly bizarre as the 1977 Japanese horror-comedy-musical-psychodrama “Hausu (House),” a movie that exists in its own stratosphere of wackiness.

More than 30 years after its release in Asia, “Hausu” began turning up at American film festivals, and it will undoubtedly get a much bigger audience when it comes to DVD later this year as part of the celebrated Criterion Collection. Prior to that, it’s being shown at special screenings around the country: Showings are scheduled next weekend in Ann Arbor and later on in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Don’t wait to watch it at home: “Hausu” demands to be seen with a crowd. What begins as a semi-arty but mostly comprehensible story about a group of schoolgirls who mistakenly pay a visit to a country home owned by a motherly maniac slowly turns into a whirlpool of psychedelic visuals, laughably tacky special effects and gruesome attacks that are liberally laced with sick humor.

Oh, yeah — there’s also a sort of music video thrown in for good measure, set to an English-language song titled “Cherries Are Meant For Eating.” And yes, most of the victims who perish in the hausu of horrors are virgins, consumed by a cannibalistic witch. Let’s not pursue that metaphor any further.

Exactly what message director Nobuhiko Obayashi was hoping to convey is anybody’s guess. In American slasher films, the teens who wind up dead are usually the ones who have been partying or having sex: This is one of the unwritten rules of the genre, that you’re far more likely to get decapitated by Jason Voorhees’ machete or Freddy Kruger’s razor-sharp claws if you’ve been “bad.” The worst sins committed by the girls of “Hausu,” however, are giggling, fooling around with other people’s makeup and having a slumber party in the wrong place.


Curiosity may have killed the cat. But in “Hausu” it’s a cat that’s doing most of the killing: A lovely but lethal Persian/Angora kitty stalks the careless cuties, and when those feline eyes flash neon-green, brace yourself for a crazy scene. A musically inclined young miss is eaten (and coughed up) by a possessed piano; another is devoured by a hanging lamp; a girl who just wants to get a good night’s rest is sent straight to The Big Sleep when futons spring to life and suffocate her.

The mistress of the hausu is supposed to be the long unseen aunt of Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), the leader of the schoolgirls. As played by Yoko Minamida, Auntie is a hoot of a hostess, cavorting in a sea-green silk gown and a blonde flapper wig that makes her look like she just wrapped up her run in the Nagoya Dinner Theatre’s production of “Chicago.” Instead of hunky chorus boys, Auntie
does all her dancing with a laughing skeleton, at least when she’s not
performing gold medal-worthy gymnastic stunts. Upon the completion of one such flip through the air, Minamida actually breaks the fourth wall, leering directly into the camera, as if asking the audience, “How do you like me now?”

It’s next to impossible to defend “Hausu” as a “good” movie in the traditional sense, but it’s also hard not to be astonished by the imagination, daring and flat-out nuttiness of Obayashi’s vision. Whether it provokes screams of terror, shrieks of laughter or gasps of astonishment, this is a movie guaranteed to bring down the hausu.

Hausu (House)’

shows on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24, State Theatre, Ann

Also playing May 21-23 at the Burton Theatre in Detroit and June
25 at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids

For reviews see Cole Smitheys Movie Week at www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies