By the time we get to the possessed, contorting, murderous house of the title in Hausu, we’re almost unfazed by it. At this point, director Nobuhiko Obayashi has already established such a hallucinatory visual style, even in the most innocuous of scenes, that we’re prepared for anything to happen – narratively, formally, often both at once.
An assault of expressionistic techniques, Hausu is comprised of superimposed imagery, fisheye lenses, freeze frames, fade outs, matte paintings and animated effects. Sometimes two or more of these elements are working on the screen at the same time. The movie purports to be about a group of vacationing school girls staying at the creepy home of an older aunt, but it’s more like a 1980s MTV music video that has developed its own consciousness – and a bizarre one at that.
The movie strikes its own demented chord.
Perhaps some concrete examples will help paint a better picture. A possessed cat prowls the home, green flashes of animated light emitting from its eyes. A decapitated head floats through the air and takes a bite out of one of the girls. Later, a piano literally eats another victim, her chomped parts poking out of the instrument like pieces of a bloody paper doll. This is never really scary, but it isn’t quite funny either. The movie strikes its own demented chord.
There is an undercurrent of emotional distress driving all of this insanity. Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), whose aunt owns the home, has brought her friends there to get away from her father, who has told her he’s going to remarry 10 years after her mother’s death. The aunt (Yoko Minamida), who has never married after her fiancé died in World War II, seems oddly pleased that her guests are unmarried as well. So there is a lot of anxiety at play here – about female identity and sexuality in particular. I guess a movie in which a girl is attacked by mattresses is one way of working it out.