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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - January, 2011

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"House" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-january-2011-house

Synopsis

How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie HOUSE (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi through a series of mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equal parts absurd and nightmarish, HOUSE might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years.

Specifications

  • Criterion Collection
  • 2010, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • 1080p
  • Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese with English subtitles
  • Starring:Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Yoko Minamida
  • Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: No

Commentary

Criterion is a great company -- arguably, the best remastering and releasing company in the world. In their Blu-ray transfers and special features they are prized for their consistent high quality of the films they release. Most of the films Criterion release are already well-established "classic" films. However, it's always nice to see a somewhat more "obscure" film get the Criterion treatment. Obayashi utilizes all sorts of deliberately cheap special effects, like obvious rear projection and stilted animation but mixes it with sophisticated effects and interesting cinematography to create a heightened sense of the universe. Throw in unpredictable segues to other scenes that have an abrupt, unsettling effect and you have a very unique film. Decapitation, drowning and being turned into a pile of bananas are just a few ways you can meet your demise in this film. If you haven't given in to House by the time one of the girls is ingested by a piano then this is probably not the film for you. This is what Scooby-Doo would be…on acid! Perhaps you'll notice some of Raimi's Evil Dead humor here and there. More of an experience than a movie. Those who are not into avant-garde, need not apply.

Technical

Picture quality is generally very sharp with good contrasts and color retention for a movie of this age. A few long shots are a bit soft, but the overall picture is light years better than the DVD or VHS versions that are floating about. Overall picture is remarkable for a Japanese film from the 1970's. Criterion has done an excellent retoration from the original prints. Sound is in stereo with little use of bass. Subtitles are sharp and easy to follow, though the plot may not be upon first viewing. The strange music theme will leave you humming the tune long after the show is over.

Extras

Constructing a House: a new video piece with director Nobuhiko Obayashi. Emotion: a 1966 experimental film by Obayashi. New video appreciation by director Ti West (House of the Devil), and a theatrical trailer.