After touring the country for a series of special one-off screenings, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s eye-popping, totally bonkers 1977 cult classic “House” (“Hausu”), is at long last getting a U.S. theatrical run starting this Friday at New York’s IFC Center, courtesy of Janus Films. The film is then scheduled to play in cities across the country.
“The feat of ‘House,’ a schizoid 1977 Japanese fantasy-horror film finally seeing U.S. theatrical release, is really quite extraordinary: here is a film packed to the rafters with cheesy handmade effects—hilariously embellished matte sunsets, topsy-turvy collages and animations, and so on—that manages to be both a fantastically amusing self-reflexive trifle (characters’ names, among them Gorgeous, Fantasy, and Kung Fu, telegraph their traits) and a genuinely unsettling bloodbath, flowing as well with latent post-war anxieties,” writes Benjamin Mercer in The L Magazine. “‘It’s like cotton candy!’ is how one girl describes an image of a mushroom cloud, summing up rather well the film’s boiling cauldron of the sickly sweet and the totally alarming.”
The Village Voice’s Michael Atkinson: “An uncanny prophecy of Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead 2’ a decade later, this exhumed freaker conjoins New Agey schoolgirl farce and the cheesiest then-there-were-none haunted-house dynamic imaginable, while the painted backdrop skies suggest Teletubbies and the special effects run from solarized-video-absurd to cardboard-hilarious. The rum-stumble cast and crew obey no rules—the movie often seems to have two or three conflicting scores running simultaneously, and inappropriate freeze frames and pointless fades to black are the norm. The story isn’t a story at all: A gaggle of sailor-uniformed schoolgirls (with names like Gorgeous, Prof, and Fantasy) head to a weird aunt’s cheap-set house for spring break, and start getting minced up, one by one, into crude superimpositions, perambulating body parts, and rivers of blood that look like cherry Hi-C.”
“‘House,’ despite the claims, isn’t really a horror movie; it’s a dark cartoon of unfettered play, an attempt to directly channel budding teens’ stream of consciousness with its neediness, triumph, exhilaration, confusion (the deaths aren’t meant to be taken seriously, as the children seem to be empowered by their pretend demises),” observes Chuck Brown in Slant Magazine. “‘House’ is successful in that aim, which means it’s about equal parts brilliant, baffling, ridiculous, and unwatchable.
“The lure of ‘House’ isn’t any cultish extremity, but rather, its unusually sporting commitment to wide-eyed kookiness,” concludes Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf, while according to David Edelstein, “The best thing in this wild assemblage of collage and cartoon and fairy tale is that the girls, when they’re eaten, scream with glee as their cut-out body parts spin around the frame. It’s cannibalism as the ultimate kiddie ride.”