Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) is hard to explain in words. On its surface it appears to be a horror film, but at its heart it’s a slapstick comedy, a coming-of-age story, a tale about the bitterness of war, and an experimental avant-garde art film, all rolled into one.
House has been one of my all-time favorite films since I saw it during my senior year of high school, watching it in a dark basement with a friend, neither of us having any idea what we were getting into. That is probably the best way to experience House: in a dark corner of your home, knowing as little about what you’re getting into as possible, with someone there with you. Each of these is an important factor. The first keeps you isolated, so you can totally immerse yourself in the movie. The second preserves the many surprises that the film has in store. And the third, the most necessary, is so you have someone to turn to make sure you really did see what you think you saw.
A group of schoolgirls, Gorgeous, Fantasy, Prof, Melody, Kung Fu, Mac, and Sweet, take a trip to visit Gorgeous’ aunt for their summer vacation. But Gorgeous has an ulterior motive for suggesting the trip: her widower father is newly engaged and Gorgeous isn’t very happy about it. Things take a strange turn that even Gorgeous didn’t expect, however, as strange supernatural events start to take place, and her aunt’s home changes from a dream vacation to a haunted nightmare.
House is a film that refuses to let itself be restricted by traditional cinematic techniques, whether in framing, editing or sound design. It doesn’t try to act like it has some obligation to be realistic when it is already a fantastical story of ghosts and “witch cats”. And there isn’t an ounce of irony or self-mockery to be found. House is absolutely earnest about being totally crazy and that level of dedication and heart makes me love it more than any elaborate plot or incredible performance could. This is a movie that eschews doing things a specific way just because that’s how it’s traditionally done and instead tries as many new and different things as possible, creating something truly original and new. To quote Chuck Stephen’s essay on the film, it is “eye-poppingly demented, jaw-droppingly inventive”, a film “that must be seen to be believed, and then seen again to believe that you really did see what you think you saw.” Compared to anything of its time, or even of today, House is an utterly unique experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a good time.