"House" (1977) Review
So, there's this movie about seven girls that go to a house in the countryside.
These girls go to the house because one of them has an aunt that's invited them all out there for their summer vacation. It's an odd place, but it's fun. At first. Until the girls begin to seemingly disappear one by one and it becomes clear that the aunt and her house are not what they seem.
That's a pretty easy to follow synopsis, right? The thing about a movie like House is that while the initial framework is incredibly simple, it's conceived in the weirdest way possible.
There's a lot to talk about with House, way beyond the actual film itself. The production history of House deserves its own article, but that would mostly consist of quoting a featurette on a Blu-Ray called "Constructing a 'House'" that you can find on the only home release in the United States for House. And that home release in the United States only happened in 2009, despite the film being a massive commercial hit in Japan. Some unofficial screenings in grindhouse theaters during the late 70s would rarely show House, and the fact is that most people who saw it probably figured they just imagined the whole thing.
So, with the popularity of cheap theaters in the 70s and how often Japanese films would be cheaply dubbed and shipped overseas, it's worth asking: Why did it take so long for House to see an official release in the U.S.? The long answer involves talking about how the film was declared the death of cinema by Japanese film critics who were mortified by the fact that the film was wildly popular with teenagers and also taking into consideration that the studio that produced it (the legendary Toho) were pissed at the director for delivering such an incomprehensible film.
The short answer is just saying that House is by far one of the strangest films I've ever watched. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that I've seen House about a dozen times and I still don't understand some of it. Again, the plot is pretty simple on paper, but there's just so much going on in every other scene that the madness keeps piling up. It's one thing to see some girls try to survive a haunted house, it's another to cut away to a scene where a man who could potentially rescue the girls has stopped by a noodle bar to eat and one of the noodle bar's patrons is a taxidermied bear and literally no one acknowledges it.
Nothing I write about House can do it justice. I'll straight up tell you that a piano eats one of the girls. I'd say that's a spoiler except that any way that you might be picturing the phrase "girl gets eaten by a piano" is definitely not the way the film visualizes that idea. One of the girls literally fights a bunch of flying logs with kung-fu moves, but that's actually not as weird as the fact that the girl is literally named Kung-Fu. In fact, all of the girls are named after their archetypes: Gorgeous, Fantasy, Sweet, Prof (short for "professor"), Melody, Mac (this might not sound like an archetype, but "Mac" more or less translates to "stomach" in Japanese when Romanized), and the already mentioned Kung-Fu.
And again, that's not even the strangest part of the movie. The director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, was an experimental director of commercials in Japan that became wildly popular in the Japanese college circuit. Through incredible circumstances, he was given access to massive soundstages at Toho and allowed to direct this movie pretty much however he pleased. The end result is a mish-mash of editing techniques, blue-screen effects, half dissolves, reduced shutter speeds, and all sorts of other tricks. It's no exaggeration to say that House might be one of the highest budgeted experimental projects to come out any major studio system in the world.
So, the question does remain though: Should you watch House?
Honestly, it depends on how much weirdness you can handle. I love pulling this movie out for large groups of people because it gets all kinds of responses. I'd probably do unholy things to watch the film in a packed theater of people who hadn't seen it just to hear audible gasps and laughter at what happens throughout the film. I do not recommend watching House by yourself the first time you see it, the film is a bit much to handle the first time you see it and again, it's a great film with a crowd.
As Halloween approaches and you get friends together to watch some horror films, consider throwing the curveball that is House right at them. Just to see what happens.