I'd been wanting to see House ever since reading about it in Patrick Macias' Tokyoscope some ten years ago. He raved about it then, and critics have echoed his praise more recently as the film has enjoyed a revival on the festival circuit. So when I learned that it had been released on a region 2 Masters of Cinema disk (England's answer to the Criterion Collection), I snapped it up.
It's about seven high school girls who go for a stay in the country in the eponymous building. It's the residence of the aunt of one of the girls, a weird old spinster. The girls have fanciful names like Fantasy, Angel, Kung-fu and such, each corresponding to a theme (Melody plays music, Fantasy is imaginative, Kung-fu kicks ass, etc.). Are they up to the supernatural forces that await them in auntie's sinister dwelling?
Perhaps it's the result of a decade of self-hype, but I have to say I was disappointed. The film has a heady, giddy surreality to it, and it periodically pops with outrageous horror gags, but for the most part it just drags. The first half hour is particularly trying, a protracted wait state in which we spend an inordinate amount of time with the not-very-interesting lead character. The candy-colored imagery and non-stop 70s cheeseball music go from charming to annoying in short order, and it isn't until the arrival of a flying decapitated head (around the 35 minute mark) that things begin to pick up. And then they go right back down again. Tension invariably mounts (sort of) but at that point I was so disengaged that I couldn't really get back into it.
Director Nobuhiko Obayashi was a beginner, coming from advertising, and it shows. House is like an extended version of one of those crazy Japanese commercials (if you've been to Japan or seen them on YouTube, you know what I mean). That kind of thing works in 30 second chunks, but 88 minutes of it? Maybe I'm just jaded; I've seen a lot of Japanese movies. I can see how someone unfamiliar with Japanese cinema might find this film more of a hoot. And I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a fantasy/horror romp. The current critical reception certainly proves that my opinion is in the minority. But I gotta call 'em like I see 'em, and this flick just didn't do it for me.
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