Hausu (1977)

MARCH 13, 2010


You might wonder why I would knock on something like The Box for being a bunch of nonsense, and yet praise Hausu (House) for being a bunch of nonsense. Well, the answer is simple: as someone who prefers story to anything else, I felt annoyed by Richard Kelly turning the intriguing and unique concept of The Box into yet another baffling Kelly-ish narrative about vessels and mathematics and whatever the fuck else was going on. But in Hausu’s case, I’ve seen the basic plot (teens visiting an isolated house that turns out to be haunted) a million times, so the batshit, incomprehensible-by-design nature of it allowed me to be entertained by the story all over again.

If I had to “pitch” the movie to someone, I would probably say it was David Lynch’s version of Evil Dead 2, or maybe The Grudge as written by James Joyce. Blending animation, splatter, outright nonsense (a dancing skeleton, for example), typical haunted house motifs, and screwball comedy antics into a single film, Nobuhiko Obayashi has created a stream-of-conscious horror comedy that simply must be seen to be believed, and even then you’ll probably figure you were dreaming part of it up. “Did I really just see a piano eat a girl?” you might ask yourself after the film has concluded. Yes. Yes you did.

The film’s structure sort of defies reviewing, or even my usual sort of “reactionary” type posting. It’s all so rambunctious and free-flowing, I’m hard-pressed to even bring up a specific scene. Images certainly stick out, such as a cracked mirror flowing with blood (very cool), or the kung-fu expert character (named Kung Fu) taking on a phone that explodes, but I can no longer recall their context. I could probably watch the movie a dozen times and still not have any better understanding of it, but I know for sure that a single viewing is simply not enough to PROCESS everything. The editing is rapid-fire, the girls never really pause in between their lines, and it’s got a pretty crowded cast (about a dozen main characters) despite only being 87 minutes long.

Some of the stylistic flourishes are a bit annoying though. At one point, the film appears to have been shot at maybe 12 frames per second, which would be fine for a quick “scare” shot, but it’s used for a lengthy tracking shot consisting of the girls trying to exit the house and make a phone call, while talking. It gave me a bit of a headache, honestly. Perhaps it was an error that they couldn’t afford or didn’t have the time/cast to reshoot, but it’s a blight all the same. Many of the flashes are a delight though, such as the odd super-impositions, frequent closing irises (I muttered “The...end...” several times), and blending of live action with animated/rotoscoped characters/objects. Both Brian De Palma and Michael Bay would probably find Obayashi’s whims to be excessive. Needless to say, if you’re one of the types of people who think Armageddon’s editing or De Palma’s split-screen effects are the bane of cinema, you shouldn’t even look at the poster for Hausu.

Everyone else though, by all means, go see the film. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can check it out at the New Bev until March 17th (two shows a night!), and I’m pretty sure other cities will be playing it as well, as Janus has struck a new print for it. There’s a UK DVD with some nice extras, including lengthy interviews with Obayashi; hopefully it will be ported to the US soon (the UK one is linked below for you Region 2 capable folks). I think seeing it with an equally bewildered crowd is part of the fun, but even if you have to settle for seeing it on a 13 inch TV in your kitchen, your life will still be the better for having seen it.

What say you?

P.S. If you have seen the film, you know that the theme song is both wonderful and haunting. And if you have seen the film AND are one of those techie geniuses, please make it into a ringtone for me (preferably the “Cat’s Meow” variant). Thanks.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Oh man. I caught the beginning of this on IFC over the summer and was absolutely blown away.

    According to the Criterion site, supposedly the Brattle Theater here in Boston is getting their grubby paws on that Janus' print for a May 1st screening. The official Brattle site has yet to confirm this, though.

    [i'm also hoping for a proper Criterion release of this following the revival run]

  2. This is playing in New York at the IFC Theater. I have yet to check it out, but now I have to.

  3. Holy crap this was kind of amazing. For the first half of the film I couldn't decide if the director was a master of the form or someone who had NO IDEA AT ALL what he was doing. In the end, he's clearly a master of the form with the most tasteless showiness (the very definition of "gaudy") this side of John Waters. It's like 90 minutes of the Ash-freaking-out-alone scene in EVIL DEAD 2. So glad I saw this.

    P.S. What was the optical budget of this movie? More than STAR WARS? It had to be. There is hardly a shot in the movie that doesn't have a fake sky or a picture-in-picture or a wipe and hardly any of them needed those effects. It's a pretty revolutionary movie, and it works for me in the strangest way.

  4. if this is at the brattle ill be there with butts on

  5. I loved this movie SO much - it was the perfect amount of absurdity; not so much that it was unwatchable, and not so little that I couldn't tell if they were serious or not.

    You're right - lynch's Evil Dead II is the perfect American analogue.

  6. David Lynch's Evil Dead...great way to describe this. I was surprised to find out this actually predated Raimi's movie, as I assumed it was inspired by ED; and I find it highly unlikely Raimi would have had a chance to see it. So, I guess we just got lucky.

    While I saw it on a TV screen (granted, a very big plasma one), I was with a group of people who, other than the host, hadn't seen or even heard of this movie. And yes, that is the perfect way to see it, so you can enjoy each other's reactions to the nuttiness. It was truly an experience that we loved.

    We also yelled "BANANAS!!" at each other for a few days.


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