Despite the gruesome creatures, flying limbs and buckets of blood, horror as a genre can feel pretty stale. For every excellent film there is a dozen forgettable or terrible ones. And there are so many that it takes a lot of wading through the rubbish to get to the interesting stuff. For each day in October I’m going to recommend a different horror film or film about horror. For the most part they won’t be the accepted classics. My selections range from the genuinely excellent to the delightfully strange with a few that are more fascinating than they are great. Hopefully there will be something for everyone and you’ll find something new to give you a scare or maybe a laugh. This is my 31 days of Horror and today I’m talking about: Hausu.
In 1977 there were a few films released by studios trying to capitalise on the immense success of Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws. One was Orca starring Richard Harris and another was John Huston’s Tentacles. Both of them threw a male protagonist at an aquatic threat in a slightly different scenario than in Jaws. Neither of them made much of an impression and have been somewhat forgotten for the most part. There was also a Japanese film by Nobuhiko Obayashi that had been written two years prior, right after Jaws blew up the box office. It was his answer to Spielberg’s classic horror film but unlike the other two pretenders that year, Obayashi’s film differed quite a bit. His film Hausu (House) was a colourful and surreal haunted house movie about a house that tries to consume a group of young girls. How he saw it as an answer to Jaws is beyond me but it’s a highly entertaining, wildly inventive and utterly baffling film regardless.
A young girl waits to go on holiday with her father but when he returns from a business trip he returns with a new stepmother. Out of anger and annoyance she decides to go to her Aunt’s house with some of her friends. So Gorgeous (the prettiest one), Prof (the smart one), Melody (the musical one), Kung Fu (the ass-kicking one), Sweet (the sweet one), Fantasy (the daydreaming one, I guess) and Mac (the fat one) head off to the Aunt’s home. When they arrive things quickly go south. In a number of increasingly ludicrous ways the house tries to destroy the young girls. Their fight for survival starts with a flying ass-biting head and only gets crazier from there.
There isn’t a great deal going on intellectually in Hausu. While there are references to Hiroshima and its lasting effects on Japan, for the most part it’s dudes turning into piles of bananas and household items trying to eat folk. The film is more than just the madness though. Obayashi gives it a really stylish pop-art look. He wrote the film using ideas of his daughter’s. All of the scares are a child’s freely imaginative idea of what is scary and he presents it as such. There is a very loose logic to it and it almost feels like the kind of story a kid would make up as they go along. It gives the film a unique energy and delightful freeness. The effects reflect the idea that it’s from the mind of a child. Some of them are pretty creepy but then there are others that are just hilarious. A lightness permeates throughout the film despite the fact that young girls are dying all over the place. Genuine fun and unrelenting style is what’s to be expected when you watch Hausu.
It’s another film with not a great deal to talk about because the main thrust of the enjoyment comes from the surprising insanity that it’s full of. Imagine you walked round a corner and saw a naked man standing atop a painted elephant playing the accordion. You soon realise that his thick head of hair is actually a cat wearing a tiny bowler hat. Now if you saw that and a friend was nearby you’d much rather just show them what you saw than tell them, because it’s so unbelievable. That’s what Hausu is like. I could tell you about the particularities of its specific brand of craziness but that would rob it of the wonderful surprises.
Hausu probably isn’t for everyone. Those who need logic or a semblance of seriousness would probably find it pretty frustrating. But for those who want to see things they’ve never seen before then this is the film for you. Film should be able to tell any and all kinds of stories. Sometimes you want to watch a great literary adaptation and sometimes you want a glimpse into the mind of a kid who’s really into psychedelics. Joyful is not a word you associate with ghouls and killings but it definitely applies here. Obayashi tells this story with a surreal beauty and it is genuinely distinct in regards to its visual sensibilities. He makes choices that I doubt many would and that contributes to how special it is. One of its failings could be that it’s not very scary but then again a washing machine full of lit fireworks isn’t scary but you better believe I’d watch that ’til the end.
James M Macleod