Friday, June 29, 2012

Hausu (Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, 1977)

Ever wonder what might happen if Dario Argento (Suspiria, et al), Jess Franco (Succubus, et al), Shunya Ito (Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori), and Hanna-Barbera got together to make a horror movie? Well, you don't have to because Nobuhiko Ohbayashi did that wondering for you, and even threw a bit of Sid & Marty Krofft and '70s live-action Disney in for good measure. Now, I know what you are saying, "Darius Whiteplume, you have lost your damn mind!" I agree, that is a mind-numbing list of potential inspirations for Nobuhiko-San to draw upon, but he makes it work. Trust me.

Hausu is a horror movie that isn't a horror movie, much in the way The Groovie Ghoulies is a monster cartoon that is not a monster cartoon. It is creepy, and has all the necessary elements to make a horror movie, but at its heart it is a surrealist painting of a horror movie. The story is about a young girl, "Gorgeous", and her six friends (each with non-standard names) who are about to go to summer vacation. Gorgeous' father (a widower) brings home a new love from his trip to Italy. This infuriates Gorgeous and she refuses to go on the vacation they have planned. Her friends' plans have also been thwarted, so they have no where to go. But wait! Gorgeous finds a stray cat in her room, and suddenly remembers her mother's sister. She writes a letter begging her aunt to let her and her friends visit. The letter is replied to with an almost [ahem] magical quickness, declaring the old woman would love to have visitors. The seven pack their things and head off to the countryside, where they eventually find the house and begin to settle in. Obviously, the weirdness begins here.

I know we have a very spoiler-conscious culture, so I will end the descriptive part of the story off here, though to be honest there is nothing to spoil. Nobuhiko was a commercial director and made a film that was recognizable yet artsy. We know what the product is, and really, when was the last time someone was truly shocked by the end of a horror movie? The Sixth Sense perhaps? What we get is a shotgun-blast of cinematic styles and cinematographic tricks that somehow bleed nicely into each other. Sure, there are a few moments when I said "enough with the jitter-cam already!" but for the most part this is not some amateur toying with iMovie effects. The tropiness of the story is often delightful, and I swear on my Mego Dr. McCoy that when the smart girl lost her glasses and totally did a Velma Dinkley it did not make me smirk. There is no forced irony, in my mind. It is not trying to be clever, it is clever.

If you enjoy great visuals, this is a film for you. Remember, the story is not entirely important here. It is a visual film. Think of it as a piece of "found object" art, where the found object was the outline for a horror movie. That is not to say the plot/story is complete crap, but to return to the surrealist painting simile, the story is the canvas, not the paint.


Garnett Elliott said...

Saw this on TCM about 2 weeks ago. It has this weird feeling of a Banana Splits episode with over-the-top gore, but it was very entertaining.

The film's surrealism reminded me of Evil Dead, maybe moreso Evil Dead 2. Was Sam Raimi influenced by this movie?

mkhall said...

It is a found object, of sorts, given that the script is from a plot by the director's 13 year old daughter. Making it a slightly more adult Axe Cop, in a way.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I completely thought of Evil Dead 2, perhaps during the piano scene, or the fighting the firewood bit. I don't think a man like Raimi could avoid having seen this one.

Definite Banana Splits feel at times. :-)

Darius Whiteplume said...

Cool, I did not realize that. research is not really my bag ;-D The featurette about the film on the DVD has a director (forget who) talking about how childlike the vision is. Guess he is not a researcher either?

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