This is the opening film of this year's edition of the Japanese Film Festival, showcasing a total of 9 films from today until Sunday based upon the genres of Horror, Mystery and Supernatural. But whatever your experience with Japanese horror, nothing had prepared me for what I've seen in director Nobuhiko Obayashi's House, which is very unlike most, if not all of the horror films that I've seen come out from the land of the rising sun.
If I had not known that the story was by Obayashi's then 7 year old daughter, I would have wonder what magic mushrooms Obayashi could have consumed in order to dream up some of the craziest sequences ever for a horror movie. Scratch that. Make this a comedy instead, as you'd probably never hear anyone scream from the more “horrific” moments, perhaps only exclaim at how cliché this was, or how this film didn't outlast the test of time. Clearly for a film made in 1977, one couldn't expect the usual polished technical methods used to make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, and I really wonder how this film had been received back in its heyday.
The plot is extremely straightforward, but the journey to get to its first victim, comes complete with family melodrama complete with a Japanese-speaking Italian stepmother who probably spawned the Hindi movie staple of having wind blown everywhere on the heroine's body. It took a while for all its characters to be introduced, some throwaway of course, like the roadside watermelon seller. In fact, the introductory subplot about accepting a step-parent got shelved really early to make way for the Scooby-Doo-like adventures involving a haunted house, which of course is where all the juvenile fun was.
Visually, if you're unforgiving about the early beginnings of special effects, then you're likely to be finding fault with plenty. Otherwise, I suppose there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from on how effects have progressed over the last 30 years, and something like those shown, if made today, probably wouldn't get away with today's discerning audience. The soundtrack as well was a bit off, and I can't find a moment's silence where there wasn't a need for music drowning out the conversation, which was especially bad during the opening acts, and served as quite the distraction.
House served up an excuse to get a group of schoolgirls together on an excursion to one of their aunt's abode deep in some mountainous forest, and we learn about the aunt's unlucky love life through a flashback scene which I thought was pretty well done, in silent movie terms. Once the victims are trapped, then the craziness really began. With each of the characters given names like Fairy, Fantasy, Scholar, Kungfu, Sweet, Melody and Mac, they are nothing more than your band of caricatures who will live up to their namesakes. Fairy of course, if coming from a young girl, would be given to the heroine, while amongst the lot, Kungfu looked very much like the precursor to Street Fighter's Chun Li with her incredible short underpants, and butt-kicking moves, which don't look as threatening as they are laughable.
The horror elements get fused together with animation sometimes which sort of toned down the gory impact the film would have, from cannibalistic acts to psychological teasers. Then there are the unintentionally comedic elements, which involve camera tricks, repetition (some of which are truly ingenious though, I have to admit), and one couldn't get away with writing about the film, without making mention of that crazy white cat, which you would learn to keep your eyes peeled on for some of the craziest antics ever dreamt up for a cinematic feline.
Personally this has B written all over it. Liked it I did not, but enjoyed and appreciated the vast technical improvements in today's horror films I have. It's really different and it's not a horror film in the conventional sense, but if you're looking for inventiveness and ingenuity, then House should rank high up on the list of recommendations.