House (Hausu) (The Criterion Collection)

Director - Nobuhiko Obayashi

Cast - Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba

Country of Origin - Japan

Discs - 1

MSRP - $39.95

Distributor - Criterion

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

The Film (5/5)

  As a child one of my favorite cartoon shows was Scooby Doo, Where Are you? As a teenager and adult one of my favorite filmmakers is the Godfather of Italian horror Mario Bava. I am not normally a reviewer who takes much stock in press releases, however, when a film is described as " an episode of Scooby Doo directed by Mario Bava." I am going to take immediate notice. When that films turns out to be as good as House (Hausu) it immediately becomes a favorite.

      House is a 33 year old Japanese horror film, and somehow it had fallen under my radar until last May, when I begin hearing about it from various friends. My curiosity was peaked, and I knew I had to see the film. However, when I began hunting it down I found out that Criterion was going to release the film just in time for Halloween. Rather then get a DVD release of unknown quality, I decided to hold off. If Criterion is putting out a movie, it pretty much means it's going to be the best this film has ever looked on home video. Having no other releases to compare to, I can still say with almost absolute certainty that this is the best
looking release this film has ever been given.

     House is the debut feature film of former commercial director, and experimental filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi. For his debut he was tasked with creation the Japanese version of Jaws, a commercial horror venture that would scare audiences into the seats, and create epic box office numbers.  To assist in the creation of this film Obayashi turned to his 11 year old daughter Chigumi, to come up with ideas that she would deem scary, or would like to see in the film. These ideas were then turned over to screenwriter Chiho Katsura.

     House is a film hard to describe, but a thrill to experience.  The direction from Obayshi is absolutely chaotic, taking queues from a variety of genres from teen comedies, kung fu flicks, to splatter movies, and throws them together in a blender with the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento to create one of the must absurd and surreal horror experiences I have ever seen in all my decades of horror film
viewer ship.  

     The films pacing may initially throw some people off as it not a smooth film, and while the film does conform to a typical 3 act structure, this is pushed to the absolute limits.   The film starts out as a brightly colored piece of bubble gum film making, and throws in elements of commercial moviemaking, animation sequences, and even a dance number courtesy of a skeleton. The cast of the film are not the best actors to ever grace the screen, but they definitely fit into
their respective roles.

      House is a film that simply defines the haunted house genre of horror
film making.  I would not say this is a matter of location, as it is of
pacing. The way the film plays out is so disjointed and bizarre that
it feels more like a series of bizarre commercial vignettes that have
come together for the sole purpose of creating fun scares. This is especially apparent in the films third act where all logic goes out the door. These sequences remind me of a much more bizarre version of the final acts of Dario Argentoís Suspiria and Inferno.

     The story begins one week before summer vacation six friends are set to go to a training camp over summer vacation, while one of their other friends, Gorgeous plans on taking a trip with her film composer Father, who has just returned from a business trip.  However, upon arriving home Gorgeous is disappointed to discover that her Father has brought home his new fiancee, and intends to take her with them on the trip.  She decides at this point not to go, at the same time her six fireinds discover that the training camp trip is off. They decide to go together to Gorgeous Mother's hometown, and stay at the home of her Aunt whom she has not seen in many years.   Unfortunately, for the girls the Aunt's house is haunted, and begins to kill off the girls one by one in equally violent and absurd ways.  As each dies, they must band together if they are to survive the night.

Audio/Video (4.5/5)

    Criterion has done their usual brilliant job restoring House. They have presented the film in a 1080p 1:33:1 transfer with black bars on the left and right side of the screen. ¬ The transfer is amazing, the level of detail is high, black levels are deep, and the colors really come to life.  No edge enhancement can be seen, and only
a few instances of film like grain can be seen on the transfer.  The audio is presented in an HD remastered Monaural track, no distortion or background noise of any sort can be heard.  All dialogue, music, and effects are mixed nicely, and are audible perfectly throughout the
feature.

Extras (4/5)

     Criterion has put together a nice set of extras for their special edition of House.  The disc kicks off with Nobuhiko Obayash's early short film Emotion (40 Min.) Emotion is a horror short that is about a vampire and the girl who falls in love with him. It utilizes many of the same techniques that would be employed in House.  It is in Japanese with English Subtitles.  

   This is followed up by a 46 minute featurette called Constructing a House, that interviews director Obayashi, his daughter Chigumi, and screenwriter Chino Katsura. They talk about various aspects of the production of House, and are in Japanese with
English subtitles.  Following that is a short piece called House Appraisal which is a 4 minutes long.  It features director Ti West (of the highly underrated House of the Devil) talking about his appreciation of House. Finally, there is the films original theatrical trailer and 28 page booket of liner notes.

Overall

     House is likely to be the most bizarre horror film you will ever see.  This is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. The A/V work from Criterion is absolutely fantastic.  The transfer is near
perfect, and the audio work is phenomenal. They have also included a nice set of extras that are both informative and entertaining.  House is a strange and surreal horror masterpiece. This Blu-ray comes highly recommended.