Monday, August 5, 2013

Criteritron #2

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #2: House / Hausu
Japan, 1977
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

What Is It?: A campy, tripped-out, surreal teenage horror fantasy, described on Criterion's website as "[a]n episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava." When teenager Gorgeous's (Kimiko Ikegami) summer holiday plans are thwarted by her father's unexpected elopement, she and her friends decide to visit her elderly aunt in her large, remote house. But almost immediately, they become aware that something very disturbing is afoot. Slowly, the house begins to kill, trap, consume, or possess them all, with all of the exaggerated gore, shoddy special effects, and demon cats you could possibly desire. Despite influences as wide ranging as Japanese folklore, animation, and 60's psychedelia, House is truly one-of-a-kind.

Why Watch it? House is shot as though its director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, had never before seen, let alone made, a film, but figured he could just pick it up as he went along. In truth, Obayashi was a successful commercial director and experimental filmmaker, so all of his bizarre choices (superimposed close-ups rather than the more standard shot/reverse shot, random interludes with music, humor, and stop motion, cartoonish violence) were deliberate. Chiho Katsura's script was based on ideas Obayashi gleaned from his young daughter's dreams and fears, and this sense of childhood naievete—characters named things like Kung Fu, Sweet, and Fantasy—and juvenile fear (such as Gorgeous's immediate rejection of her father's pleasant-seeming new wife, or the house's many malicious inanimate objects) permeates the film. And while House is alternately amusing, exhilarating, and scary, its main pleasure comes from its audacious weirdness, which leaves the audience simultaneously laughing at AND with it. While definitely best experienced with shell-shocked strangers in a crowded theater, House also makes a perfect choice for your next movie night with friends.

House is available on DVD or Blu Ray from Netflix, but can also be streamed via HuluPlus on any compatible device or through the embedded player below the cut.

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