Thursday, October 01, 2009

Schlocktober Begins: Hausu (1977)

Sweet jeebus, I went the entire month of September without making a single entry here? Dammit. It was a busy, stressful month, a time now relieved by the magic of...(drum roll)...Unemployment!

So here's the deal: I have no job to go to and it's October, so my goal for this month is to actually make a blog post every day. And the best way for me to do that is to set myself a goal: Review a horror movie every day (more or less). It'll be a grab bag of stuff I haven't seen before and stuff I've seen a hundred times before, just whatever I happen to be watching at any given time, so it'll be eclectic. For starters, the insane Japanese horror-fantasy that I saw at the American Cinematheque last week, Hausu (aka House).

The first thing you have to know about Hausu is that one of the credited screenwriters is the director's then-seven-year-old daughter. From that point, the brazenly Oedipal layers of the story make perfect, unironic sense: a teenage girl (named 'Gorgeous' in the version I saw. Other girls are named 'Mac', 'Prof', and oddly for a Japanese movie, 'Kung Fu') is planning to go on a vacation with her father, a trip ruined when the father suddenly introduces his new fiancee, amidst much wind blowing and scarf flapping, thus destroying their fragile and quasi-erotic father-daughter bond. Gorgeous cancels her plans and instead decides to go with her gang of schoolgirl friends to visit her lonely aunt, whom she hasn't seen in years. Once at the aunt's big, creepy house, things start to get strange...

Okay, that's what would happen in any other movie of this genre type, except that Hausu has been irremediably strange from its first frames, working as a heightened parody of teenage-girls-in-peril movies from the get-go, using every trick in the book: frames within frames, flashbacks, wacky sped-up Monkees-style comedy montages, you name it. Things are already strange and then get stranger.

The best way I can explain Hausu to someone who hasn't seen it is as a mash-up of Argento's Suspiria and Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris. And it should be noted that neither of those movies is exactly well-known by the mainstream. Hausu is definitely a fringe movie - specifically, it's the kind of movie that's so fringe, it's the kind of movie that people who have seen just about everything seek out in order to hit a new high of audio-visual bizarreness. Yeah, maybe you've seen Lucio Fulci destroy an eyeball or ten and maybe you've seen Herzog stage a little person cackling at a pooping camel, but have you seen a piano eat a girl? Or maybe a man turn into a heap of bananas, for no reason whatsoever? These are the treasures granted to the viewer by director Nobuhiko Obayashi in Hausu.

So it's not exactly a movie that integrates its wild imagery in the service of a coherent statement about what life is like for teenage girls, or within a fairly traditional patriarchal structure, or so on, like, say, Carrie or any good episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; rather, it's a deliberate, anything-goes, screwball fantasia. Even the 'scary' moments, like the below Youtube link, are more about reaching a heightened aesthetic experience than about actually communicating the horror of being electocuted by a killer lampshade. The director is clearly making an extended, fantastic gag of a movie, and your enjoyment of it will depend on your own willingness to follow a chain of surreal dream-logic and parodic weirdness as far as it can go. And within its own crazy worldview, there are nuggets of fairy-tale gold in this film.


(Next up: either Jennifer's Body or Goke, Bodysnatcher from Hell. Or maybe Firestarter or Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Don't pressure me!)

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