dear lord, i don't even know where to start with this thing.
janus films is currently touring a print of nobuhiko obayashi's hausu (1977) to select theaters around the country in advance of a rumoured dvd release on criterion in early september. we are lucky enough to have it this week in austin at the alamo drafthouse. there's really nothing i can say to accurately describe this film to you. just forget everything you know about how a movie should be made and give in to the mad logic that exists nowhere else except the 88 minutes captured within.
it starts off simply enough. a group of schoolgirls, after a disappointing change in plans, decide to go to one of the girls' aunt's house for summer vacation to have an idyllic getaway in the countryside. now, when i say simply enough, you have to understand that by this point i have already accepted the conditions obayashi has laid out for us. for, in this seemingly simple introduction, he has already thrown every visual trick in the cinematic book at us - stop motion, all manner of dissolves, fades and wipes, inexplicable slow motion, iris in/out - not to mention aborted musical numbers and a stepmother who apparently takes a wind machine everywhere she goes. take all that and cram it into an early 80's sitcom, a la the facts of life and you're beginning to get a general idea.
then it gets weird.
unfortunately, this bunch's mrs g. isn't nearly as nice. turns out the girl's aunt is the ghost of cannibal witch. yeah, i said it. as soon as the girls arrive it doesn't take long for the fat one to disappear. but don't worry. she shows up again.
and, wouldn't you know it, she's still hungry.
the girls each begin to suffer increasingly bizarre fates at the hands of this demonic house, all seemingly instigated by blanche, the aunt's supernaturally gifted cat - possessions, made into clocks, eaten by lamps. poor melody suffers the most ironic punishment, though. the piano decides to make a snack of her as she plays the lilting theme music of the film.
apparently, having a murderous steinway chomp off most of your fingers is only mildly interesting. at worst, it is just confusing. you don't really worry about it until it takes one off at the wrist.
goodbye, carnegie hall! toss in a tidal wave of cat's blood and a scene with their would-be rescuer, mr. togo, that is simply bananas and you're in the home stretch. a little denouement with stepmom and her wind machine and all is in its proper place.
in a nutshell, you simply have to see it to believe it. you'll certainly never see anything else like it, i am certain of that. it is a genre of one. most folks will have to wait until the dvd release in september, but if you are lucky enough to live in one of the cities where it will be playing over the next couple of months, i recommend you catch it in the theater. this much lunacy is a bargain at any price, much less the cost of one movie ticket. it will be an experience unlike any other you've had. take a friend!