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How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi's indescribable 1977 movie HOUSE (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt's creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via a series of mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equal parts absurd and nightmarish, HOUSE might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it's one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years.
Infamous Japanese whatsit House is the ultimate 1970s artifact. The animated opening recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show, while former ad man Nobuhiko Obayashi extends the anything-goes impression through freeze frames, painted backdrops, and old-timey flashbacks. He starts by introducing schoolgirls Fantasy (Kumiko Ohba) and Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) to groovy H.R. Pufnstuf-style music. Then Gorgeous's widowed father presents his new bride, Ryôko (Haruko Wanibuchi), who enters like Joan Crawford in a flowing white gown. Afterward, Gorgeous invites Fantasy, Melody, Kung Fu, Prof, Sweet, and Mac to her aunt's house for the summer. Little does she know that Ryôko plans to crash the party.
While they gather at the train station, the film slips into slapstick Monkees territory: a shoemaker croons as Fantasy's crush object, Mr. Tôgô (Kiyohiko Ozaki), trips over Gorgeous's green-eyed cat, Blanche. The girls make it to the country without incident, but the moment they arrive at the cobweb-covered estate, freaky things start happening: Auntie (Yôko Minamida) and Blanche, for instance, have met before. The ladies delight in the weirdness, enjoying a meal and exploring the grounds, but then Mac disappears. Auntie and Blanche, meanwhile, find novel ways to entertain themselves. Soon, mirrors are cracking, mattresses are flying, blood is flowing, and a piano goes berserk. There's only so much the girls can do, so they pin their hopes on Tôgô--and his sideburns--to set things right.
House arrives for the first time in the United States with a testimonial from House of the Devil director Ti West, who declares it "one of the most original films I've ever seen"; Emotion, an experimental short; and a featurette in which Obayashi credits his daughter, Chigumi, for several plot points. Fans of Carrie, Suspiria, The Evil Dead, and Pee-Wee's Playhouse: meet your new cinematic obsession. --Kathleen C. Fennessy