“Fanta, you’re fantasizing!”

House’s plot is about as cookie-cutter as a horror plot gets. Most actions seem like excuses to get a group of seven dwarves  girls into a house in order to kill them off. The plot begins with Gorgeous (yes, that’s actually her name) discovering that her father, a film composer, is getting remarried. Gorgeous is upset because she sees this as a replacement for her dead mother. With summer approaching and nothing to do, she decides to go into the countryside and visit her ill aunt in order to reconnect with her mothers past. Her six other friends just happen to have their plans cancelled and they are all free. Gorgeous decides to invite them all with her. The girls all have a kitschy name matching their flat characters. There is Gorgeous (because she’s gorgeous), Kung-Fu (the tough one), Fantasy (the dreamer), Sweet (the cutesy one), Melody (the musician), and Mac (like stomach, she eats a lot). Once at the house the girls naïvely run the household for the Aunt as people go missing. Mac dies first and traumatizes Fantasy. No one believes her because she’s the dreamer (ba-dum-tschh). It takes Gorgeous’s possession by a cat demon for them to realize there are three people missing. The house tries to consume all of the girls to feed the aunt who has become a teenage girl-eating witch. Clearly the film isn’t praised for its plot.

Director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, before directing House, was known as mainly a director for strange and cute commercials. It comes to no surprise that he started as an experimental filmmaker. House was made on the premise of marketing off the success of Jaws. Cerebral films from directors like Kurosawa and Ozu dominated Japan’s mainstream cinema. Their main goal was to affect the viewer psychologically rather than stimulate or entertain with mindless fun. In the late 1970s Japan had not caught on to the trend of marketing films towards teenagers. Ohbayashi was one of the first to realize the potential in this genre.

House may resemble films like Evil Dead that parody themselves, but in essence House is closer to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Like ‘Pilgrim’, House is a film that realizes that their audience is too smart to pretend the film is reality. The film embraces that it’s a film and emphasizes that humor in that. The effects are bad and the sets are obvious. Painted backdrops, campy editing, and rear projection are good examples. This unreality creates an atmosphere that the youth generation had not seen before.

While ‘Pilgrim’ parodies and references video games and anime to get certain points across, House does the same with television. In ‘Pilgrim’, Scott would find an archetypal enemy, his girlfriend’s ex. In order to get the point across that they are enemies, the film shows them in a fight with health bars and sound effects like a video game. In house Ohbayashi uses a similar technique. When the girls are introduced in the opening credits, the montage is as staged and comical as the opening to a sit-com. Also, rather than give away the characters traits and interests through plot, he names them after the interests. This concept gives the viewers a short cut to understanding concepts in the film because they speak that language. The pop culture references also act as ways of alienating people no “in the know” which helped the film to become popular with the teens of Japan. They loved it and it was a love not shared with the audience that once abandoned them. This was a film all their own.

The film’s loose plot and absurd logic can be credited to Ohbayashi’s eleven year-old daughter, who came up with most of the strange scenes and concepts. She told her father her fears and he then translated them into the script. She hated when the piano would slam on you fingers while playing which inspired the monstrous piano that killed Melody. She also came up with the idea of the mirror attacking the viewer.

House was one of the first horror comedies of its time. The humor was simultaneously disturbing and funny. There is a scene where the aunt dances with a skeleton to a plinking piano tune and later dines on human hand. Strange enough the scene is approached so whimsically that the viewer doesn’t know weather to laugh or cry. It’s only until its over that you realize this film is truly twisted.

Dark comedy and whimsical horror have been prominent themes in numerous cult films. Their twisted logic and juxtaposed morals make us question and realize our own. Directors like Sam Raimi and the Coen brothers , with their own styles with less vibrancy, may not have been directly influenced by Ohbayashi and his surreal vision, but there is no doubt that this piece of pop art’s effects has been felt through the years.

The wacky trailer: 

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