Monday, 22 October 2012

Three Houses of Horror

You would think that with a generic name like "House", one could make essentially any kind of movie one can imagine. But then you'd think wrong, because the title "House" has only ever been used to make horror films. Because they are about very specific houses... of evil! Oh, and I guess you could make a doctor show or something with that title, but you'd have to throw in "Dr." or "M.D." to not confuse viewers. But let's take a tour of cinematic houses and see if they are really horrific at all or just misunderstood pieces of real estate. 

House (Hausu, Japan 1977)
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

Easily the best film called House, this Japanese classic is a rare arthouse / avant garde horror film. More than from the thrills, most people who have seen it remember it for the WTF -scenes and very odd visuals. When considering this one's country of origin, it's actually not that odd. Like vampires and werewolves in the western countries, this just utilizes monsters and terrors from the depths of old Japanese mythology. But it has to be said that it does so in a wholly unique way.


Seven Japanese schoolgirls visit the countryside house of the aunt of the one called Gorgeous. Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) herself has ventured on the summer vacation trip since she couldn't stomach her father having another woman after her mother's death. Her friends all have some signature feature after which they are named. Fanta (Kumiko Ohba) is a daydreamer and likes to take pictures, Kung Fuu (Miki Jinbo) is athletic and has cat-like reflexes, Prof (Ai Matsubara) is smart but geeky, Melody (Eriko Tanaka) is musical and eager to play, Sweet (Masayo Miyako) is very friendly and eager to please, and Mac (Mieko Sato) is always hungry and loves to eat.

Too many characters!

The gang soon learns that the house is actually haunted and that Gorgeous's aunt is actually an undead witch. Like in any Scooby-Doo episode, they get separated and spooked out, each according to their own personal gimmicks. Mac is the first to get killed due to her greed, and her severed head flies around haunting the others and causing mischief and bite marks. The girls must solve the mystery of the Aunt's house before each of them gets killed and turned into the witch's servants.

And the villain of course says her evil plans aloud to one of her minions.
This is the sort of film with a very functional set, as many objects and features are ones that come to service the story later on. In addition there are some weird and wonderful things such as a living skeleton, a piano that eats people and a cat that can grow into a grotesque giant. The theme of the film is the clash between the adult world and the world of pre-pubescent girls. This is also why the film has a sort of mundane, almost theatrical setting at first, but as the film progresses, it leaves any sort of convention behind. One can easily believe anything can happen at any time. Various animated techniques are used among the film to create truly strange transformational effects.

On the verge of womanhood, much like in, for instance, Suspiria.

For a post-war Japanese film, it also deals with several of the ideas of loss and bitterness so often displayed in post-WWII Japanese movies. The openness of young girls, to whom world has no limits and the laws of physics can be bent are attacked by a soul that's lonely and grieving and has no way of connecting with the world any more. Thus, the film can also be included in the canon of tragic monster movies. The film is a bit uneven and a tad too long, but as stated, they very rarely come up with something so inventive and original within the genre.


House (1986)
Director: Steve Miner

Back in the 80's, Stephen King was so popular in horror fiction that even the few horror films not based on his books tended to copy his signature style. While therein could be a good mine for a merciless parody, mocking the conventional formula King based most of his books to, the 80's House had the unfortune of being the kind of horror-comedy that works in neither of the genres.

Horror writer Roger Cobb (William Katt) is suffering from a nervous breakdown due to the vanishing of his young son. He settles for his late aunt's house in a suburban neighborhood to get some writing done. But he is fed up with made-up horrors and plans to write about his traumatic experiences at Vietnam, which still haunt his dreams. His cheerful but nosy new neighbor (George Wendt) tries to keep his sunny side up, but Cobb's past isn't the only thing haunting in his house.

Cobb is a man looking for closure, but the uncharismatic Katt in the lead role torpedoes any sense of likability. It's not much of a spoiler to tell that the ghosts have captured his son and attempt to get him by using him as bait. However, the child actor is such an annoying and fugly case, audience figures Cobb would be better off just letting them have him and moving to some place where there isn't so much paranormal activity. There isn't much frightfully funny or twistedly horrifying in the film, save for a few neato rubber monsters towards the end.

The poster is better than the movie, and rest assured there are actually no severed hands going around crank calling people's doorbells. That would be the kind of novel idea the film's writer (Sean S. Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame) couldn't do. Somehow, this was still popular enough to warrant no fewer than 3 sequels. I'm actually a little curious of them, because this would have some ingredients for an interesting film, even if it uses them too sloppily to develop anything of much interest from them.

★ 1/2

House (2008)
Director: Robby Hensen

For a lesson in how generic and bland one can make a horror film, one should not look any further. Figures that a film with such unimaginative title would be as bad. This shamelessly plunders from films miles better than this is, such as The Shining, Don't Look Now, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and... Rocky Horror Picture Show? Albeit with no sense of irony or any fun at all.

A quarreling couple (Reynando Rosales and Heidi Dippold) is off to see a marriage counselor in rural Alabama. They get pulled over by a cop (Michael Madsen) that acts strangely and a bit threatening. After the couple takes off, they soon have trouble with the car, which may have been caused by the police. They take shelter from the rain at a nearby mansion and find another couple, and a strange man and his mother who claim to own the house. But it soon dawns on them that the owners are hostile and in cahoots with "The Tin Man", a demon which had previously taken the form of the weird cop. The two couples have to kill one among themselves to survive the night and at the same time come into terms of their past failures and horrors.

There isn't much to note here, the film's as generic as they come, right down to a little girl haunting the premises, a promise of occult religious services being done in the house (as in Satanism), war flashbacks (I'm not sure whether it's meant to be Vietnam) and an awkward dinner scene. The characters are so boring it's hard to remember anything about them a day after watching the film, and that even includes the bad guys. Madsen growls his way into another paycheck and uses his demonic powers to point a shotgun at a lot of people. The color scheme is greenish brown all the time, and not even trippy flashback scenes manage to arise any interest in this whatsoever. I'd tell you to avoid this, but you've probably already forgotten as much about this as I have. Which is probably for the best.

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