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Owen’s Oldies - ‘House’


Text saying "Owen's Oldies" formatted to the shape of a movie projector
Ben Hurney / THE GATEPOST


Blue cat hissing with word "House" in black on bottom
David Abe / THE GATEPOST

By Owen Glancy

Asst. Arts & Features Editor 


It’s an undeniable truth that the 1970s were a phenomenal time for horror cinema. From American independent horror films - like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Last House on the Left” to Italian Giallo films like “Suspiria” and “Blood and Black Lace” - the ’70s were truly one of, if not the best, decades for horror cinema. 


Japan is certainly not to be left out, as Nobuhiko Obayashi directed one of the greatest films of the entire decade, “House.”


With such an unassuming title, it’s completely understandable that most audiences would overlook it. Its generic appearance also isn’t helped by the campy-looking poster and the fact that it’s a 48-year-old Japanese film. It definitely isn’t the most immediately enticing film for the modern movie-going audience, and that’s a shame because this is one of the most insane films of all time. 


“House” takes the simple premise of a young girl and her friends vacationing at her aunt’s house in the country, only for strange things to start happening, and goes absolutely insane with it. Never before and never since have a creative team had so much fun with the making of a horror film. It feels like every decision was approved and somehow worked into the film. 


This chaotic style can be disorienting at times, but it only adds to the film’s atmosphere and makes moments that would be boring in any other movie extremely entertaining. In one conversation, there will be 20 different camera angles, two different filters, and two or three extremely cheesy and over-the-top performances at the center of it all, but it never feels out of control. 


Every element is precisely controlled so that the chaos presented on screen is never too much during the calmer scenes and never too little during the death scenes. And these death scenes are some of the best and most memorable in film history, some of which I don’t believe have been topped since. 


Not since this film has a haunted house flick ever been so creative and playful with the art of filmmaking itself, and I honestly doubt a movie will ever come along that can rival “House” in this aspect. 


Obayashi’s distinct directorial flairs are on full display here, with plenty of blue screen, bright colors, and a dream-like atmosphere throughout. It’s incredibly impressive that he was able to find success in a film so unique and so “himself.” 


It’s not just Obayashi that makes this such an insane film though - it’s the entire cast and crew working together to make this the most wild film they possibly could. Whether it be Chiho Katsura writing the script, Nobuo Ogawa editing the film, or even Shinji Kojima doing the lighting, everyone here is giving 110% effort and it shows.


Is “House” a particularly scary film? Absolutely not. However, when every single person working on the film is having this much fun, does it even matter? The filmmaker’s infectious creative energy is more than enough to captivate the hardest horror movie veterans and casual film fans alike. 


Since its 1977 release, no film that has come before or after “House” has truly been able to capture its unique vibe, and for this I’m extremely grateful. Remakes are a trend that has plagued horror films since the ’90s and thankfully “House” has not even been attempted, as I can’t even imagine one would be anywhere near as energetic and fun as this film is. 


“House” is proof that art-house horror cinema can be easily enjoyed by anyone. For this reason, I would say that it might even be the perfect gateway into art-house cinema itself, and its popularity has slowly been rising over the years because of just how accessible it is. This, and films like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” are proof that once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to profound works of art that might just change your life. 


[Editor’s Note: See “Owen’s Oldies - ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’” in the Feb. 9 issue of The Gatepost.] 


Whether or not it is your gateway into art-house, you should definitely experience “House.” The easiest way to see the film is streaming on Max or The Criterion Channel. 

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