October 21, 2010

Blu-ray Review: House (1977)

Wow. I am not even sure where to begin with this thing. This debut feature from Nobuhiko Obayashi is quite simply one of the strangest films I have seen in some time. I mean that in the best way possible. House is one of those movie that deserves a cult status. It is a movie that draws you in and holds your attention, even if you are just trying to figure out what it is. House is a stream of consciousness nightmare journey into fantasy where nothing is explained so much as just happens. Yes, there is an explanation in the narrative, but by that point I was too taken with the wild imagery that was being thrown up on the screen.

House is the film that would result from the union of Robert Weine, Dario Argento, Takashi Miike, and Sam Raimi. It i a movie that is wildly inventive, endlessly surprising, and just flat out bizarre. Watching this for the first time, alone and in a darkened room is an experience that must be similar to going on an acid trip. It is the sort of thing that is enjoy while it is happening but you have no idea what the long lasting effects may turn out to be.

Our heroic group is made up of seven teenage girls who are named for their most notable traits. The main star is named Gorgeous (the pretty one), then you have Melody (who plays music), Prof (the smart one), Mac (the chubby one, short for "stomach"), Kung Fu (the athletic one), Fantasy (always dreaming), Sweetie (the quiet one). They are all friends and that is pretty much all you really need to know about them. I would not say this film is about the character development. It is much more concerned with getting the girls into position where all hell is to break loose.


As the story begins the girls are all in school and summer vacation is approaching and Gorgeous is excited to be going away with her father. Those dreams are shattered when her father reveals he has met someone and is planning to remarry. This does not sit well with Gorgeous as she sees it as someone trying to replace her mother and her father moving away from her. In an act of rebellion she cancels the summer plans, grabs her six friends and together they head off to visit her aunt (on her mother's side), now an old spinster who was left at the altar when her beloved failed to return from the war.

Well, it turns out that her aunt is some sort of demon who feeds on virgins to rejuvenate herself. Helping her out are a demonic cat and some carnivorous furniture. Sounds pretty standard right? In the hands of a modern day Hollywood hack this could get turned around in a short period of time where it would make a few bucks on the big screen and be forgotten. In other words it would be formulaic pablum. Instead we get a phantasmagorical concoction of visual stimuli that will sear your brain and ensure that you never forget it.

The story can be explained, but in the case of House that is only half the story. This is filmmaking that is not meant to be consumed on the page, it is meant for your eyeballs, moreso than a lot of movies that get made these days. For as many films that I watch and that I enjoy, very few of them are visually inventive and I blame this on the increasingly money driven side of the industry. I do not blame them for it, after all, they do want to make money. However, while watching House, I cannot believe that money was a driving factor in its creation.

Nobuhiko Obayashi has created a visual feast that cannot be denied, of course, he takes an everything but the kitchen sink approach. He borrows from all genres and eras of film. The film uses animation, still photography, slow motion, iris in and out, wipe transitions, and other techniques in the service of his fantastical vision of the haunted house movie. Blood pours out of a cat picture, a piano chews a girl into bloody chunks, a severed head bites an unsuspecting bottom, giant lips appear from nothingness, and other strange happenings await within.


House is an uncompromisingly dark, humorous, freaky, and flat out bizarre fairy tale in the Grimm tradition. The story was cut together by ideas and nightmares had by Obayashi's 7-year-old daughter. I can only imagine what her therapy must have been like! Taken together in this movie it defies explanation, has to be seen to be believed, and will etc itself onto your gray matter never to be removed.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it looks pretty good. You can tell it is an older film and it has an overall soft look that I really like. Criterion always does a great job of presenting films in the best possible manner, even if that isn't up to modern standards, sometimes that just isn't possible. The colors are bright and colorful, it has a Technicolor sort of look to it with the plentiful shades and how everything just pops. Criterion created this new digital transfer from a Spirit Datacine from a low-contrast 35mm print struck from an original negative and then cleaned of dirt and scratches. The work shows.

Audio is the original mono track and is very good. It is not nearly as immersive as a 5.1 track can be, but it does a fine job of delivering dialogue and the odd collection of sound effects, not to mention the repeating theme heard all the way through. I cannot complain about it as it fits perfectly with the crazy images being displayed.

  • A booklet is included in the case which contains information on the transfer and an interesting article on Nobuhiko Obayashi. 
  • Nobuhiko Obayashi's first short film, Emotion, is also included. It is a 40-minute experimental piece that I sampled and will need to go back to digest. 
  • Constructing a House features new interviews recorded in 2010 with Nobuhiko Obayashi and his daughter about the creation and development of the story and film.
  • Filmmaker Ti West (House of the Devil) offers a brief video appreciation where he discusses his love for the film and all of the things the bizarre film has accomplished.
  • Rounding out the extra material is the original film trailer.
Bottomline. I think I can say I love this movie. I have watched it a few times and each viewing brings new things to see it. House is a movie that keeps on giving. It is a visually inventive mind trip that defies explanation. Once you see it, you will never forget it and want to watch it again.

Highly Recommended.

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