Fresh Eyes: House (1977)
Horror is a genre that I have only recently begun to explore. As I have mentioned a few times in previous Fresh Eyes, my parents never exposed me to anything with an R rating before I turned 17, so that precluded me seeing classics such as The Exorcist, Halloween, or Nightmare on Elm Street. By the time I was old enough to hunt these down on my own, I had watched the likes of Paranormal Activity, Final Destination, and Saw come and go. So in my mind, I just began to assume that all horror films, across the board, were nothing but gore filled, jump scare fests with little substance. I am well aware this was a stupid assumption to make, and I am working on expanding my horror knowledge. So for this installment of Fresh Eyes, I decided to turn my attention to the East, and have a look at a classic piece of Japanese horror, Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 masterpiece House (Hausu).
Hausu centers around a young girl, only referred to as "Gorgeous." Gorgeous abandons her summer plans with her father, after he returns home from Italy and introduces her to his new wife. Now having a free summer, Gorgeous and six of her school friends go out to the countryside to visit Gorgeous' aunt, conveniently referred to as Auntie, and her cat. While there, misfortune befalls all seven girls, each getting killed by the house in a way ironically related to their nicknames. The highlights being Melody getting eaten by a piano and Gorgeous being taken over by her Auntie's spirit via makeup and the mirror. It is eventually revealed Auntie's fiancé was sent to fight in World War II, and Auntie promised to wait for him to return. So, naturally, she has been consuming young girls in an attempt to remain in the realm of the living until he returns. The film ends with Gorgeous, having essentially become her aunt, setting her father's new wife on fire and burning her away to nothing. Fun times abound!
One of Hausu's greatest strengths is its ensemble cast, especially their chemistry and performances. The seven girls look like they are having a blast throughout the entire process, which gives the picture the feeling of a long form, more psychedelic episode of Scooby-Doo, but with actual terror instead of people in funny rubber masks. The girls' reactions to all supernatural proceedings are delightfully campy, but also sells the terror of the situation proficiently for what is going on.
The technical aspects of the film help build the sense of dread, specifically in regard to the editing and special effects. Hausu is edited in a choppy and awkward manner, which helps keep the viewer off guard and build tension and fear. The effects convey the terror of the film, but they are also extremely dated. In this case, I feel like the roughness of the effects help make everything more terrifying and surreal. They sit in the uncanny valley, where they’re not good enough to be convincing, but also not bad enough to be laughable. This makes just them bizarrely off-putting, which is exactly what the picture is going for, and this aspect is only going to get better as the years go on.
Hausu also seems to be fixated on the dangers of a broken family unit. Gorgeous and her fellow youths only go to Auntie's house because her father marries again, which she reads as an attempt to replace her mother - signifying the potential of fractured families to push people away if they haven't come to terms with each other. Furthermore, Auntie and the house only start killing people out of the furious desire to stay alive until her husband returns from the war, indicating that a broken family could actually hurt the people around them. The editing reinforces this read, as the previous shot leaves an echo of itself over the next shot, signifying that, even after a family breaks or a person dies, they leave an impression of themselves that fades away slowly, but is hard to leave behind entirely.
This was one of the most psychedelic film experiences I've had in a while, even more so than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I already know I'm going to force this film on all of my friends, as Hausu is something that must be seen to be believed. This film has also reinforced my distaste for cats, and I probably won't ever feel comfortable in a solitary rural house again. This is, without question, one of the best horror films I have ever seen, and singlehandedly invalidates my foolish childhood assumption that all horror films are jump-scare riddled gore fests. How naïve I was.