In the “Hausu”

Pub date April 13, 2010
WriterMatt Sussman

P>CULT FILM Words fail Hausu, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 goofy and deranged horror flick. Hausu is the sort of film that makes a writer want, to borrow the site of one of the film’s zanier set pieces, to draw deep from the tainted wells of cliché and hyperbole — to laud it as a trippy, must-be-seen-be-believed, insane, "like [blank] on acid," avalanche of WTF — precisely because such descriptions actually come close to doing it justice. The cult favorite, which has been leaving a whole new generation of fans gobsmacked in its wake thanks to a restored and newly subtitled touring print (its first U.S. run) from Janus Films, finally arrives at the Castro Theatre for a one-night-only engagement that should be the top priority on anyone’s bucket list.

More Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride than Last House on the Left (1972), Hausu starts from a familiar enough premise. A troupe of giggly teenage girls (each fancifully named in accordance with their personalities: Sweet, Melody, Fantasy, Prof, Mac, Kung Fu) lead by de facto leader Gorgeous head off to the countryside to spend the summer in the crumbling villa belonging to Gorgeous’ wheelchair-bound aunt. From there, Hausu enters a class of weird all by itself that leads to many belly laughs and much head scratching: Auntie’s white cat Blanche (Blanche!?) shoots green sparks from its eyes; a piano devours Melody, leaving behind only her fingers, still picking out notes; Gorgeous’ step-mother is inexplicably accompanied by an off-camera wind machine. I could go on.

Of course, we know it’s only a matter of time before spooky goings-on ensue and the bodies start piling up, but the journey is the destination on this very strange trip thanks to Obayashi’s seemingly limitless arsenal of special effects and love for all manner of cinematic flash, his stylistic flights-of-fancy, random plot detours (look out for the ramen bear), and a Monty Python-esque approach to violence and gore. As singular a debut feature as one could hope for, Hausu and its everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach become less random once you know a little of Obayashi’s background: one of Japan’s leading 8mm and 16mm experimental filmmakers of the 1960s, Obayashi was able to channel his surreal aesthetic into a highly successful career as a TV commercial director in the following decade. In many respects, Hausu represents the perfect synthesis of the avant-garde and the commercial. But don’t take my word for it.


Sat/17, 7:30 and 9:45 p.m., $7.50–$10


429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120