Like the finest works of David Lynch, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s horror comedy House wears an infectious sort of bizarreness; it's freakish in an almost-virulent way. Even labeling it a horror comedy seems too confining to do it justice. Imagine a Japanese soap that slowly but surely reveals itself to be a collection of outlandish special effects, death scenes, and cartoonish ramifications, all set inside a haunted mansion less The Haunting and more grisly Disneyland ride that can only end in supernatural defeat.
House tells the story of the aptly named Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), a Japanese schoolgirl who hastily decides to spend the summer at her estranged aunt’s (Yōko Minamida) country mansion after her father unexpectedly remarries. With six friends in tow (bearing silly names such as Kung Fu, Sweet, and Fantasy), it seems like a holiday worth remembering in the making, all giggles and no responsibility. But things quickly decline when it becomes clear that something about the “auntie” Gorgeous knew a decade earlier is a little more peculiar than she remembered, and that the country mansion of her dreams may actually have a mind of its own.
Don't don’t go about House carrying the notion that it'll be a standard haunted house movie with clever quips to turn it into a horror comedy, though. The comedy isn’t all-knowing, and the scares aren’t really scares; it's all more eccentricity paired with bloody surrealism, and the two stylistic components duet and go hand-in-hand. he deaths are presented in a slapstick manner: look at the way one of Gorgeous’s friends is devoured by a grand piano with the special effects of a ‘90s-era MTV program, or how another is attacked by a set of bedding. And don’t even get me started on that godforsaken wandering Persian cat with magically homicidal powers, whom I quickly (and unpredictably) recognized as a feline Tumblr loves to utilize in reaction gifs.
Only vaguely can I say that Ôbayashi is a great filmmaker — House is a sort of one-hit-wonder for the director — but I’m not sure how many other artists could pull off such hallucinatory insanity and get us to take such an immense liking to it. The absurdity is seductive, and if you’re open-minded enough, House has curb appeal. B