When the conversation shifts to mind-bending, logic defying, grindhouse classics, House (1977) is the first film I think of. It is a fever dream combined with an acid trip and I love every moment of it. Unfortunately, it has never really realized the level of recognition it deserves in the US. Upon the initial release of the film, it was part of a grindhouse double bill and then it wasn’t released to home video in the states for over 30 years. It wasn’t until 2009 that the picture was picked up and lovingly restored by Criterion. The Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release is everything I could have hoped for and more. It’s full of special features, including a video interview with director Nobuhiko Obayashi, a featurette with Ti West expressing his appreciation for the film, an informative booklet/insert, and more.
It’s easy to see that the lack of a home video release contributed to the film’s status as largely overlooked for so long but it is hard to say why it hasn’t found a larger audience since being made widely available to US consumers. It is a real hidden gem and it has the potential to appeal to a large audience within the genre film community. House is so very unique and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Moreover, it’s probably unlike anything I’ll ever see again.
Part of what makes House so special is that it is an amazing film that doesn’t neatly fit into just one category or sub-genre. It defies common sense and laughs in the face of logic shows the world through a child-like lens – that is due in no small part to the fact that Obayashi took much of his creative input from his young daughter at the time he was making the film. The finished product is inimitable and totally off the rails.
The situations the young leads find themselves in are so truly outlandish and the ways in which they die are nothing short of exceptional. I would never in a million years have thought to have a character eaten by a piano but it works beautifully and after seeing it, I found it to be totally brilliant. Nor would I ever have thought to turn a character into a giant bunch of bananas but again, it works perfectly. The film is so out there that it could have totally failed to work on any level but Obayashi has injected the picture with just the right amount of craziness that it works on each and every level.
The film uses a splendid array of colors and makes great use of lighting. The color scheme is the perfect mixture of light and dark. It complements the action perfectly without overpowering it.
The cartoon-like effects and the caricatures that are the film’s leads function something like a comic book come to life. In a splendid grindhouse tradition, each of the lead actors is named for her trademark: One is named Gorgeous, another is named Kung Fu, etc… This gives the audience the impression that they don’t even need real names because the film isn’t about getting to know them, it’s about watching each of them killed off in the most delightfully bizarre ways imaginable. They are literally eaten by the house and each death is more unusual and more fascinating than the last.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of taking in this grindhouse classic, seek it out and give it a look. This film is well worth your time and money. It has inspired generations of filmmakers in the years since its release and it stands as a mostly unsung classic.