Halloween Every Day (for a month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 2: Hausu (House) (1977).
Hausu is a Japanese horror film that tells the relatively pedestrian tale of seven teen girls spending their vacation in a creepy old house; however, there’s probably never been a haunted house movie quite like this. This is an outrageous, hyper-stylized, unpredictable little horror gem that viewers will either love or hate. There is no middle ground.
Sometimes the film’s style can be overwhelming: animation, stop-motion animation, black-and-white photography, sepia-tones, pink tones (yes, pink), lap dissolves, matte paintings, etc … Every single frame of this film seems to be screaming YOU ARE WATCHING A MOVIE! The constant visual fireworks are complemented (if you can call it that) by an intrusive musical score that almost never stops. But if you can see through the film’s overbearingly cartoony style, Hausu delivers on a rather audacious conceit, in that the film works as both a horror film and a commentary on horror tropes and clichés (and it does this decades before films like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods would mine similar thematic territory). For example, all of the principal characters are literally named after character types, as if their behavior has been genetically predestined. I’m not kidding. The attractive girl is named Gorgeous. The girl with an overactive imagination is named Fantasy. The studious, bespectacled girl is named Prof. The hearty girl who likes to eat is named Mac. The music-lover/pianist is named Melody. The ridiculously companionable, eager-to-please girl is named Sweet. And, my personal favorite, the martial arts enthusiast is named Kung Fu. Subtlety is clearly not this film’s forte. Nonetheless, Hausu is a movie experience that really feels like an experience. This is a movie that, once seen, must be talked about with anyone who will listen.
Much has been made of the film’s impact on future filmmakers, specifically Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead films, so I won’t bother to stir that pot again. Nor will I bother to comment on certain sexist aspects of the movie that have confounded and angered so many viewers over the years. It should be remembered that this movie, like any movie, is a product of its time and place. It is what it is and nothing more. (Although, to modern sensibilities, it is pretty sexist.)