Doctor in the House?

Cause the piano just ate someone ...

Calling a 30-some-year-old movie a “new release” feels strange, although we may all have to agree to redefine the word “strange” after seeing the ultra-bizarre 1977 flick House, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. The film’s lain in state for quite a while; but like any good zombie, reanimated just in time for our Halloween party, to drink too much jungle juice and do the “Monster Mash” with a lampshade on its head. Ladies and gentlemen, say konichiwa to your new favorite Halloween cult classic. Telling someone about House is like telling someone about the time you snorted magic space dust and bungee jumped into the middle of a supernova — they must take the plunge and see it for themselves. The film features a group of Japanese schoolgirls as its heroines, each with their “7 Dwarves” characterization: There is Gorgeous, the main character, who is attractive; Professor, who wears glasses (hint: she’s smart); Kung Fu, the House version of Sporty Spice; Fantasy, who lets her imagination run away; Mac, the eater; Sweet, the sweetie; and Melody, who plays the piano. Gorgeous decides to bring her friends to visit her auntie, who lives in a giant mansion in the middle of the woods somewhere. Auntie isn’t quite like Gorgeous remembered. People get eaten. (Sample dialog: “Mac, you sure look tasty, being round and all.”) Obayashi throws his entire arsenal of late ’70s film effects at this project, using picture-in-picture, freeze frames, split screens, wipes and anything else he could get his knob-twisting hands on. The result feels like the acid-tripping scene in Easy Rider but makes less sense. What starts as unusual turns weird before going full-on Japanese “Romper Room” on drugs (with decapitations and flying taxidermy). Interestingly, Obayashi credits the movie’s original story to his then-12-year-old daughter Chigumi, whose background should be fully investigated until we determine that she’s not storing murdered transients in her basement. In a movie that screams at you to sit back and enjoy the ride, its most obvious flaw is its slow first act. When all hell finally breaks loose, House doesn’t disappoint as the weirdness builds to its mind-melting climax. In the meantime, all you can do is enjoy the non-stop cinematic chicanery of mid ’70s filmmaking. With its bizarre color schemes and weird, canned synth music, some of the movie looks really awful — but all of it is entertaining. House falls somewhere between Bedknobs and Broomsticks (the 1971 movie starring Angela Lansbury and an army of animated bones defending England) and Evil Dead 2 (the 1987 Sam Raimi cult classic) on the continuum of horror. It is certainly a novelty, but it’s a great Halloween film in that it urges you to try something new and not take it (or yourself) too seriously. For the casual cinemagoer, it’s great fun. But if you’re a true horror fan or a Japanese schoolgirl fetishist, your life will not be complete until you see this film. GRADE: B+

posted at 08:34 pm
on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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