Sunday 22 May 2011

Hausu (1977)

HAUSU is a Japanese horror / comedy / teen movie that was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi in 1977.  It is known in the west as HOUSE (not to be confused with the 1986 US Steve Miner / William Katt horror movie of the same name).  It's about a bunch of teenage schoolgirls - Oshare, Fanta, Melody, Kung Fu, Sweet, Mac and Gari - who spend their summer vacation at a house in the countryside, owned by Oshare's aunt.  The aunt and her house turn out to be less welcoming than the girls imagined.

Our heroines
A simple enough summary you might think.  Maybe even a bit ordinary.  But HAUSU is one of the most bizarre films I have seen: it's not only the things that happen but also the array of visual techniques used to present them.  There are musical sequences, animation, shonky special effects, very good special effects, split screen, breaking of the fourth wall and all manner of editing tricks. The Japanese love of popular culture is reflected in the imagery and style, which encompasses at least four or five different genres.  The tone lurches from playful to sentimental to cynical to brutal at the drop of a hat.

This sequence is a good indication of the playful nature of the film: 1) bus drops off girls in front of obviously fake background ...

2) Bus drives off to reveal even more obviously fake background ...

3) Which they are then shown standing in front of!

All of which leaves the viewer dazzled, confused, annoyed and at times thoroughly entertained.  But its enormous verve and imagination is also its weakness because the film never settles down which ultimately becomes rather wearing.  It's a bit like watching THE BANANA SPLITS or THE MONKEES for an hour and a half, which given that those shows only ran for 30 minutes, is asking too much of this viewer.

Mac's disembodied head bites her friend on the arse

Aunty dances with a skeleton

Melody's fingers are bitten off by the carnivorous piano

Don't ask me what's going on here
I should own up to having a real problem with horror-comedy films.  They're never funny enough and they're never horrifying enough; and unless they get it absolutely spot on each element undercuts the other.  In the whole history of cinema the only film I can think of that made me laugh out loud and frightened the wits out of me is John Landis' AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).  Over a hundred years of movies and only once has the horror-comedy been done right.  That's how hard it is.

Oh and don't give me SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  That's a comedy which happens to be about zombies.

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