Don't be alarmed if the opening reels of this obscure but recently buzzed-about 1977 Japanese cult item inspire you to sigh and silently wonder what you've gotten yourself into. While there are kitsch smirks to be had as teenage schoolgirl Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and her BFF Fantasy (Kumiko Ohba) giggle and squeal and plan their summer holidays amid a baffling mix of bizarro shots and weird painted backdrops, it doesn't get off to a promising start. Just wait. By the time House and director Nobuhiko Obayashi have hit their stride, you'll be wondering, What the hell have I gotten myself into?
After Gorgeous pitches an Electra fit over her father's new girlfriend, she and Fantasy make their own summer plans with five giggly classmates--the "fat" one, the tough one, the smart one, etc.--and decide to start their vacation by visiting Gorgeous' long-lost aunt (Yôko Minamida) at her remote hilltop mansion. They are greeted by a stately white-haired woman in a wheelchair, but as Gorgeous' friends start disappearing, the aunt gets more spry and younger-looking and things get weirder and weirder and weirder. Like a flying disembodied head that bites people on the ass. Like a carnivorous piano played by stand-alone severed fingers. Like a rising tide of glowing supernatural house-cat blood.
Obayashi was reportedly inspired by the imaginings of his own pre-teen daughter and set out to do them surreal justice. There's no shortage of cheap '70s-vintage special effects here--crude blue-screen, stop-motion animation, the occasional fake bird swinging by on a string, you name it--but House's head-exploding visual zing and uncanny oddness weren't added in post. Obayashi's camera is not only unmoored, it's unhinged, and then filtered through a crazy-quilt of wipes, dissolves, and irises to boot. As the girls dwindle and the aunt and the house reveal their true sinister natures, the editing builds to a complementary frenzy. And while House is too slapstick berserk to not be funny, an image of blood cascading down the front of a white garment, say, or an eyeball shot to rival "Un Chien Andalou" for indelible ickiness provoke genuine shivers. Crazier still, the standard-issue horror plot holds together, even as the film abandons its dreamlike logic for pure mania. House remains a minor pleasure, but if you've been searching for an unheralded missing link between Suspiria and The Evil Dead, look no further.