Review: “Hausu” (1977)

Let me be the first to say that I am the last person on earth to see Hausu. Friends and relatives and strangers, in and out of the horror world, have told me about this movie for years. Tidbits about it have floated around the internet as .gifs, photos, videos, etc., etc., etc. Every encounter is at the same time hilarious, shocking, confusing, and just plain weird. Even though I have never had an acid trip, nor do I even know what acid looks like, watching scenes from this movie reminds me of what I imagine tripping on acid would be like.

Last night, after a trip to the treasure trove of Amoeba Records, I swallowed forty dollars and purchased the Criterion DVD as well as a four-dollar copy of a massive stinker called Oasis of the Zombies. I tried (twice!) to watch my zombie find – which intrigued me more – but eventually caved to the face of grimacing Blanche, the cat superstar of Hausu. Thus, I popped out Oasis of the Zombies and popped in Hausu. And, do not fret, y’all: there will be a review of Oasis of the Zombies soon enough!

Anygay, Hausu. There are plenty of movies that feature cats, decapitated heads, Lisa Frank-hued blood, Japanese school girls, and haunted houses, but very, very, very, very rarely can all of these elements be found in the same hour and a half. Such is a fantasy – but not Fantasy. Fantasy is actually a character in Hausu. This movie is so rich, so crazy, and so good that you would be remiss to not add this to your collection. That’s why I purchased it blindly to begin with!

From former commercial director turned film genius Nobuhiko Obayashi, the film is about a group of Japanese city teenage girls who have a change of summer plans. The girls, who are a bit of Sailor Moon and a bit of the Seven Dwarfs, have decided to all vacation in Gorgeous‘ aunt’s country villa. Gorgeous’ aunt is a single woman, living alone in light of her sister (Gorgeous’ mother) passing away. The girls arrive at the house, and soon start noticing some strange happenings (by way of Fantasy’s being attuned to the fantastic). The cat starts going crazy, the girls start disappearing, and we learn that Gorgeous’ aunt may not be exactly what or who we think she is.

But, ultimately, none of the plot really matters because this movie is bat shit insane. You have vomiting paintings, you have the murder of teenagers, you have all these girls with crazy ass metaphorical names, and crazy state-of-the-art-then special effects. I would venture to say that this isn’t a normal slice of horror pie, because it isn’t “scary,” per se. Not in the slightest. It’s just a fantastic, over the top, melodramatic, crazy great Japanese horror art film. It paved the way for a lot, a lot, a lottttt of modern horror. Watching this, as late as I did, you really catch how it has shaped the modern voice of horror and how it is projected.

The movie also transcends the haunted house trope by making the house itself more despicable. Despite its kookiness and camp humor it does attempt to make some household items scary, even if they don’t translate that way because of late seventies technology. Case in point: the killer lampshade scene. At the climax of the film, shit goes crazy as Kung Fu is murdered by a lampshade gone amuck. The girls fight for their lives, and some don’t make it. But how does the scene play out? With stop-motion, fast forwarding/rewinding footage, blue screen work, puppetry, painting, and an eventual blood bath – all set to pretty silly music and with the technology of 1977. Is this scary? Not really. Is it good? Yes.

Obayashi went soooo crazy with this film – he took the mold for film at the time and just pooped on it – neon-pooped on it, that is. It didn’t fare that well at the time but now, thanks to the Internet, numerous kudos from contemporary film-makers, and Criterion, the movie is going through a renaissance of sorts. It is being exposed to new audiences and is being recognized for being so greatly ridiculous. When watching, you see how Obyashi’s style and voice has impacted Quentin Tarantino, Ti West, Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, and – most obviously – Sam Raimi. Evil Dead II would not exist without Hausu.

One other thing I would like to point out after reviewing Criterion’s treatment of the film and supplements is that they crown young horror up-and-comer Ti West as the new God of horror. Criterion features West in a film essay where he weighs in on the film (adoring it) and also speaking to how it has influenced him. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but after speaking with Buzz about this, we are comfortable with his being the New Face of Horror after his assured House of the Devil and his inspired use of Sparks during the prom scene of Cabin Fever 2. Moreover, it  makes it clear that Criterion really does have ground to stand on in the horror world, a fact I would never have guessed considering its “scary movies” section is so limited (and devoid of some of the best horror classics).

All of this goes to say that, if you were like me – someone who kept hearing buzzes about Hausu for years and never did anything about it – for the love of J-Horror, BUY OR RENT THIS MOVIE ASAP! It is such a wonderful mindfucking hour and a half. To not watch this is to miss out on such a huge chunk of film and pop culture: do yourself a favor and watch this film.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Hausu should be Rated TV-MA for some teenage girl boobage, tons and tons and tons of multicolored blood, severed body parts that dance on and around you, and one scary pussy.


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About KYLERAYMOND

A gay military kid who lived up and down the east coast finally decided to venture out West--and hasn't returned. With a love for horror films, champagne, short shorts, and CAPS LOCK, he spends his time writing, doing comedy, and being an assistant (oy). He has a dog and collects magazines with Lady Gaga on the cover, too.