Haunted House for Halloween

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By Matt Brunson

HOUSE (1977)

***

DIRECTED BY Nobuhiko Obayashi

STARS Kumiko Ohba, Miki Jinbo

Barely making a ripple when it debuted stateside in 1977, Japan's House (Hausu) required an NYC re-release earlier this year to finally start building momentum for the wide cult following it will eventually enjoy.

A gonzo horror flick that surely must have influenced Sam Raimi as he prepped The Evil Dead, this dizzying extravaganza — just released on DVD by Criterion — centers on seven school girls (with such character-appropriate names as Gorgeous, Fantasy and Melody) who elect to vacation at a remote residence inhabited by a malevolent matriarch. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi establishes his schizophrenic style from the start, employing everything from speeded-up slapstick sequences to matte shots to bleeding color schemes, but it takes a full half-hour for the house to unleash its horrors. And what a delirious ride it proves to be, with the mansion throwing a demonic cat, a carnivorous piano and much more at our plucky heroines. The seven teens are an ingratiating bunch, though my favorite is the one named Kung Fu — energetic and courageous, she's like the missing Spice Girl.

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Despite the ceaseless visual assault, the picture does have its slow spots, but any film savvy enough to include a visual shout-out to Denis Gifford's superb book A Pictorial History of Horror Movies gets a hearty recommendation from me.

DVD extras include interviews with Obayashi, Obayashi's daughter Chigumi Obayashi (who as a child provided her pop with many of the film's scenarios), and screenwriter Chiho Katsura; Emotion, Obayashi's 40-minute experimental film from 1966; and a 4-minute discussion with The House of the Devil director (and House fan) Ti West.

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(For more new DVD releases suitable for Halloween viewing, see this week’s upcoming View From The Couch column in print and on this website.)

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