Yes, that house has a tongue. The 1977 Japanese horror film Hausu (House), which plays at the Northwest Film Forum tonight through Sunday, is really the Damndest Thing: a gleefully chaotic DayGlo haunted house movie (Sam Raimi has to have seen this) that suggests the Sid and Marty Krofft universe gone mental. Ok, mental-er.
Director Nobuhiko Obayashi, reportedly inspired from an idea by his 7-year-old daughter, follows a group of giggling schoolgirls (all sporting handily representative names like Gorgeous, Prof, and Kung Fu) as they spend the summer at a remote mansion owned by a creepy aunt with a mysteriously locked refrigerator. Plot-wise, that’s all I'm saying, partially because I don’t want to spoil anything, but mainly because … well, I don’t know how to adequately describe it without melting down Word’s grammar checker. (Can I get away with saying that there’s a cat with laser beam eyes that turns into a blood-spewing painting? There’s a cat with laser beam eyes that turns into a blood-spewing painting.)
Even on repeat viewing, though, it’s almost impossible to be prepared for Obayashi ‘s handling of his already loopy material, which includes such tricks as playing multiple soundtracks simultaneously, flooding the frame with dancing see-the-string body parts during otherwise tender moments, and occasionally even scribbling directly on the negative whenever things really go loco. Whatever the filmmaker’s reasons and/or levels of chemical inspiration, his hysterically random flailings form a gestalt that’s even more of a blast than its individual WTF parts. While the majority of genre films require you to turn your brain off in order to enjoy them, this is one of the few that somehow actually does it for you. Further words fail, really.