Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: House (1977)

Ah, Japan, how I adore you. You never cease to give me things to be both entertained and disturbed by. Whether it's your delicious cuisine, beautiful animation, questionable bath houses, or used panty vending machines, you are a fountain of conversation and potential bus rape.

"Sorry, ma'am, I seem to have misplaced my hand in your butt."
But, do you know what else Japan is great about? Releasing some great horror films involving ghosts. Well, some of them are great and some them are basically rip-offs of the great ones. And then there's 1977's House. I am not sure what one can say about this movie to describe it to the uninitiated. Basically, try to imagine that you've wandered into Junji Ito's acid trip and you can't seem to find your way out of it. You can try to get out of it, but if you do a piano will probably eat you. Or a shark with legs.

Yes, I'm sure it will just go away and totally not murder you.

Our story centers on a young girl called Gorgeous and her circle of friends. Yes, you read that right. Gorgeous. Her friends are: Kung Fu, Prof, Sweet, Melody, Fantasy, and Mac. In the first 10 minutes you basically have to assume that either the characters in this film have the worst parents ever or they constantly refer to themselves by their nicknames. As such, you can generally guess what they're all about based on said nicknames. Kung Fu is tough, Prof is smart, Sweet is sweet, Melody plays the piano, Fantasy fantasizes constantly, and Mac....eats constantly? Yeah, that last one doesn't make a lot of sense to me, honestly. maybe she inhales macaroni and cheese, as Japanese girls do.

Warning: may not contain actual cheese or be an actual Japanese girl.
As such, Mac is clearly a huge piggy fat-ass, right? I mean, the characters do call her fat numerous times but...she's about as fat a tube sock. Japanese girls must have pretty high standards, yes? But, she does go on about food constantly, which is the whole joke with her. Ironically I think she's probably one of the most attractive of the girls. Definitely more attractive than Gorgeous, who seems to get that name because she's always applying make-up and behaving like a spoiled princess. Back to the story, Gorgeous and her friends are supposed to be going on a trip but she's bailing so she can go on a trip with her father instead. This disappoints the other girls, but they don't have to wait too long before their favourite bumbling pedorific teacher who disappoints them even more by telling them their trip has been cancelled.

Don't worry, girls, you've still got another kind of trip ahead of you.
Gorgeous heads home to greet her father who has just returned from his work with an Italian director he calls Leone. Wait, Sergio Leone? Her dad works for the man who arguably the greatest director of westerns ever? That's a weird little reference that never seems to get talked about. Anyway, she happily greets her father but he has a surprise for her. He went and got engaged while away to a lady who is so pretty that her scarf constantly blows dramatically. I wish I were that pretty. Suffice it to say, Lil G isn't very happy to have to share her father. She storms off to her room and wistfully crosses her father's face out of photos where he was being a loving attentive father, because that's how teenage girls behave, right? Actually, teenage girls really aren't known for behaving with logic, are they? Hmmm... Also, I am a little creeped out at how attached she is to her father. She acts like a spurned lover essentially.

But then, who can help themselves with such a manly specimen?
While trying to drive away incestuous thoughts as only a confused Japanese teenage girl can, she finds he parents' wedding photos and remembers her aunt. Perhaps her aunt would understand her soul-crushing pain of having to share her father with a woman whose beauty spits directly into the eye of science? She writes to her aunt, asking how she's doing and asking if she could possibly visit with her friends because of contrived plot-driven motivations. The next day she gets a letter back...and a very fluffy white cat that she calls Blanche. Apparently, cats are like those owls from Harry Potter and can deliver the mail. I wonder what else the cat can do?

Huh, well that seems a teensy bit foreboding...
And so, they venture off via train to her aunt's house that totally isn't haunted. On the way to the train, their teacher (who is also going, I guess) gets tripped by the cat and stop-motion falls down the stairs and into a bucket. He never gets to the train because the bucket likes his butt more than teenage girls do though, so the young ladies end up arriving at the house without adult supervision. On the way, Gorgeous tells the story of how her aunt lost her one true love in the war and is still waiting for him. After a quick bus ride from the train station, they talk to a watermelon salesman who seems to be the creepiest thing in this movie thus far and he points the way, but not before telling them how long it's been since any young girls have visited the mansion. I wonder if that's important? Well, they don't seem to think so, instead focusing on calling Mac fat yet again as she takes a watermelon with them. Upon arriving at the house, we meet her lovely aunt who seems to have the hair of an 80 year old women on the head of a woman who can't possibly be older than 40. And believe you me, Asian lady 40 is pretty damn nice. I sure wouldn't turn her down if she asked me to give her a sponge bath.

Although, she does have some strange dining habits.
 The aunt shows them around the house and no one seems to think it's weird at all that the cat that came with them seems to know the aunt or that there millions of pictures of said cat all over the place. At the very least you'd think that might be a tad bit off-putting, wouldn't you? I guess crazy cat ladies are less crazy in Japan. Mac wants to refrigerate the watermelon, but the aunt tells he the fridge is on the fritz. But not to worry! She's told that she can drop the melon down the well and that should keep it cool, so she runs off to do just that. A few hours pass, everyone is kinda doing their own thing. I wonder where Mac is though? Oh well, she's probably off being fat. The girls decide it's watermelon time and send Fantasy off to get the grub. So, as she pulls up the melon, Fantasy wonders where Mac has gotten of to. It's not like her to leave food alone like this. As the fruit reaches the surface, she reaches into the well and...well...

"Hey, how's it goin'?"
Yep, it seems Mac tied the wrong melon on the end of the rope. Seriously, look at that. Look at that and tell me the filmmaker was trying for a serious horror film here. I dare you to even approach that thought, because you know what? You'd be as insane as he would have to be to consider this serious. She then has a very brief conversation with her friend that ultimately results in my personal favourite scene of the film.

Mmm, this tastes so kawaii.
Yes, that is a dismembered Japanese girl's head biting another Japanese girl on the ass. My entire life has been leading up to this very moment. Everything else is completely unimportant compared to this. This one scene tells you everything you need to know about this entire film. This is a movie in which a dismembered Japanese girl's head bites another Japanese girl on the ass. I bet that was Nobuhiko Obayashi's entire pitch to the studio. "A girl's levitating head comes out of a well and bites another girl on the ass, then some other things happen that are similarly demented." I know I'd have greenlit it if I were a studio head. After that beautiful scene, Fantasy appropriately freaks right the fuck out and seeks out help. Everyone goes out to the well to check it out but all they find is a cold watermelon and assume Fantasy is simply living up to her nickname. After eating, everyone goes off to do different things. Kung Fu goes to look for Mac in a local potato field, Gorgeous takes a bath, Melody plays the piano, Auntie dances with a skeleton, Prof reads, Sweet dresses like she works in a maid cafe, and Fantasy tries desperately to forget...well, you know.

I bet that ass is so soft and supple.
But things take a turn for the worse as the bedding decides to attack Sweet. And poor Fantasy once more gets a front seat to trauma. She calls for help but by the time everyone gets there, all they can find is Sweet's fetish clothing and a naked doll. Not long after this, things descend into total madness. Gorgeous is possessed by her aunt, Kung Fu fights things, Fantasy loses even more of her tenuous grip on her sanity, and Melody gets eaten by the piano. No, really, the piano eats her. It's probably the second best scene of the film too because this happens.

Indeed, indeed.
She seems awfully happy about being eaten, yes? Granted, she's also a levitating head at this point and we've seen that all levitating heads are really happy. This surrealism continues for a few minutes as her various limbs thrash about in the piano and her bitten-off fingers play us a lovely song. More weirdness follows as we see the teacher meet the watermelon guy, who informs him that the girls will get eaten, then turns into a skeleton and the teacher dies somehow. I wasn't quite certain how he died, but he wasn't really important anyway. The girls keep getting terrible things launched at them, but finally realize the cat is the central theme here and Kung Fu decides to kill the large cat painting. But she gets eaten by the house before she can and seems to remain completely aware of the weird surreal world that must be the aunt/cat/house's ghost stomach, as she sees the heads and part of her other friends floating in the weird swirl of strange background murals.

"I probably should've stayed home."
But she doesn't let that stop her! She uses her awesome martial arts badassery to make her lower body come flying out of the void and kicks the shit out of the cat painting accomplishing...absolutely nothing as a result. Well, shit. Fantasy and Prof are then left in the now flooded-with-cat-painting-vomit-blood filled room but Prof loses her glasses and gets yanked under by a jar that really bites. Fantasy paddles desperately for the stairs as Gorgeous descends the stairs and the two hug before the now aunt-possessed girl dines on her final friend. But wait! What about the father's new bride and her extravagant beauty that causes gusts of wind that could knock of Al Roker? Well, it turns out she decided to go visit the house and try to work things out with Gorgeous. You know, like a good parent should do. She gets to the house, is welcomed in by her demon/ghost/house/cat/aunt possessed daughter-to-be and then gets burned away to nothing. Because, why not?

THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!
And that's House, possibly the single strangest film I have ever seen come out of Japan, or anywhere else, for that matter. It was trippy, weird, manic, goofy, surreal as all hell, and I loved every single second. I think everyone should watch this film at least once because it is truly an experience that can't possibly be done justice with mere words. I can only assume the director did acid, LSD, angel dust, and peyote all at once while filming this, because there is really no other explanation for it. The colours, the imagery, and everything were beautifully surreal and at times reminded me of Argento's work. The choice to use painted background for many shots was, while very odd, a great addition to the overall feel. It all just left me feeling like I had actually done drugs myself without having to worry about finding my pants or deducing the name of the strange woman in my bed. So, if you would like to take acid but can't afford it or simply don't want to face possible legal ramifications for possessing such materials, then go watch House. You won't be disappointed. Until next time, I am your humble pilot into lunacy, signing off.

See you next time, boils and ghouls.

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