I have absolutely no idea how to start this review. It’s not often that you’ll see a movie and be speechless at what you’ve just experienced, realizing that you’ve seen something that is so bugfuck crazy as to not only deny categorization but also give it a restraining order, but Hausu does exactly that. It might be the most ridiculous film you ever watch, and easily one of the most fun.

Hausu (simply translated as House) is the first feature from prolific Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, based on an idea from his 7-year old daughter, whom he hopefully locked up in a sanitarium soon afterwards.

It tells the story of seven schoolgirl friends that are all named based on their character traits. You’ve got the glamorous Gorgeous, the studious Prof, musician Melody, naive and scared Sweet, Fantasy with her overactive imagination, the ass-kicking Kung Fu, and the fattie Mac (who is considered such because at about 70 pounds she’s twice the size of the other girls.) When their plans for a vacation are ruined they decide to tag along with Gorgeous to her aunt’s house. Gorgeous hasn’t seen her in years and is looking forward to connecting with the old lady, who has lived alone in her home ever since her husband-to-be was killed during WWII.

The group arrives and finds the old lady sickly and wheelchair bound, but she seems to regain her strength around the same time as the girls start mysteriously disappearing one by one. It turns out that the lady’s a vampire of sorts, a monster who feeds on virgins to regain her strength with the help of her psychokinetic cat, dancing skeleton, and bloodthirsty furniture. Fantasy is the only one to realize what’s happening and in true haunted house fashion no one wants to believe in the worst till it’s nearly too late. While the other girls help at various points (Kung Fu in particular is a lot of help in fighting off the self-mobile objects in the house) Gorgeous is the only one who can really tackle the problem and hopefully get them out alive.

That’s the story for the film but how does one describe what it’s like to watch it? It’s such a glorious mashup of styles and genres that it doesn’t easily fit in any category. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Japanese haunted house flick, visual tricks from every era of cinema, vivid colors ripped straight from an Argento film, the blood-spurting humor from splatstick, fights from 70s Kung Fu flicks, and the cuteness (and cartoon sequences!) of a children’s movie. It uses slow motion, iris in/out effects stolen straight from silent films, wipes, freeze frames, musical numbers, blatantly fake backdrops, and it’s all tied together with a haunting theme that’s repeated ad nauseam throughout the film. As you’d expect, nothing makes any bit of sense, yet it’s utterly charming and truly hysterical. It’s completely self-aware and that only makes things that much more funny- the thought that someone actually meant to make a film this weird is almost too much to take. Just wait till you see a picture of a cat spewing blood from its mouth and flooding an entire room or a decapitated head biting a girl on the ass.

I don’t know if Sam Raimi saw this before creating Evil Dead 2, but I’m not sure how he couldn’t have. Blood spraying out of walls, people fighting dismembered pieces of bodies, giant faces appearing in doorways- the sheer weirdness and madcap humor that we know and love from the splatstick genre permeates every single second of the film.

While the film is at times incredibly violent it’s all done with a very sweet and cutesy Japanese sensibility, and seems geared towards younger audiences. The film might be considered a children’s fantasy film, but only in the same way that Pan’s Labyrinth might be considered such. While it’s nowhere near as gory or as disturbing as that film, Hausu clearly takes the lead in sheer bizarreness. The characters aren’t too perturbed at all the death happening all around (and sometimes to) them or more than tickled by the countless upskirt shots the camera tries to grab, no, they take it all in stride as only characters in Asian horror films can. There are only the flimsiest of morals to be gleaned from this experience- most viewers will just come away in awe of what they’ve seen, trying to pinpoint the tons of film references.
Hausu is destined to be the next great cult film sensation and it’s just amazing that it’s taken 33 years for it to finally get to these shores. See this one in a packed theater if you can- just know that you have absolutely no idea what you’re in for.

Hausu is playing right now at the IFC Center in NYC and will soon expand around the country. Check the Janus Films website for dates! If you don’t get a chance to see it in theaters, Criterion (yes, that Criterion) is preparing a dvd for release later this year.