In 1977, following the release of Jaws, Toho — the studio behind Godzilla, which was a bit moribund at the time — hired Nobuhiko Ôbayashi to try to cash in on the success of Speilberg’s shark. Deciding that giant animals was already too much of a cliche, Ôbayashi instead asked his daughter, Chigumi what frightened her.
The mind of a Japanese schoolgirl is a strange and terrifying place.
House is the story of seven schoolgirls — Angel, Fantasy, Melody, Kung-Fu, Sweetie, Mac and Prof. From the names, it should be clear that these girls represent tropes rather than fully rounded characters, and this is reinforced throughout the dialogue. It’s an approach, however, that fits remarkably well with the mood of the film.
After the girls’ summer holiday plans suddenly fall through, Angel invites her friends to visit her aunt with her. Although Angel hasn’t been in touch with her aunt for many years, the older woman is both welcoming and friendly and the girls soon settle in.
And then things begin to get a bit weird.
House is essentially a haunted house film, but one that repeatedly switches from the horrific to slapstick in a manner that continually keeps you off-balance. And it’s this constant change of tone, more than anything, that makes the film such an unnervingly surreal experience.
It’s a strange, and strangely brilliant film with an oddly effective mix of genres. This collision of horror and absurdity makes for a film that is, by turns, endearing, funny and genuinely unnerving. The plot itself is reasonably straightforward, but the visual inventiveness makes for a film that really defies any attempt to draw comparisons to anything else.
I’m still haven’t fully parsed what it was that I have just watched, but it was a surreal experience and one that I will certainly subject myself to again.