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“House”: The Ultimate Midnight Movie?

“House”: The Ultimate Midnight Movie? (photo)

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It took 33 years for Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film “House” to make its way to U.S. theaters, which is just as well.

This movie was ahead of its time in 1977, it’s ahead of its time now, and will continue to be ahead of its time until some point in the future when humans communicate telepathically and sleep in nutrient-rich fluid baths. I would call it a new contender for the title of ultimate midnight movie, but midnight feels about three hours too early for something as deranged as “House.” This phantasmagoric head-trip has to be one of the strangest and most surreal movies ever made.

It concerns the sometimes horrific, sometimes comedic, always psychedelic misadventures of a group of Japanese teenage girls. The gang is kind of an all-girl version of The Goonies: each is less a character than a type with her own gimmick and easily distinguishable physical features. There’s Prof (Ai Matsubara) the brainy one with glasses; Melody (Eriko Tanaka) the musical one; Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo) who’s got impressive martial arts moves, and so on. They all follow Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) to her aunt’s house for a summer vacation. Gorgeous’ Aunt (Yoko Minamida) is happy to have the guests, even if they invited themselves for the visit, because she’s actually an undead spirit who feasts on the souls of young unmarried females.

01142010_house2.jpgSoon after the girls arrive at the Aunt’s house, they come under attack from supernatural assailants — cats, pianos, posters, kimonos, and all kinds of ghosts — all trying to eat them, and all operating purely on the level of dream logic. Trying to describe what happens next is genuinely like trying to describe an intense dream to someone else: it never comes out sounding as profound as it was in your head.

Mostly, it’s just gibberish (“And then the light fixture ate her! Well, it ate half of her and then just her legs flew and kicked the evil cat poster! And then the poster ripped and it started spewing blood!”). While transcribing my notes from the section of the movie that does indeed involve killer light fixtures and dismembered legs attacking cat posters, I found this line: “This shit is bananas.”

And indeed it is. The degree of trippiness shames every Corman and American International drug movie of the 1960s. The practical special effects that turn household objects into toothy demons look like something out mid-period Cronenberg. The wild spurts of gore pouring from cracks in walls suggest Sam Raimi might have found a dusty copy during his formative years and gotten inspired to make “The Evil Dead” and especially “Evil Dead II.” But really, you can’t explain what this movie is like, you simply have to experience it yourself.

01142010_house4.jpgThe credit for this wackadoo experience belongs to Obayashi, a noted director of experimental shorts and television commercials who made the transition to feature films with “House.” As a filmmaker, the man is either incapable or unwilling to allow even a single shot to pass without it containing something of visual interest. He couldn’t let an early scene between Gorgeous and her father exist as a simple exchange of dialogue, so he staged the entire thing on a balcony and shot it through a wall of latticed glass in order to have the actors fracture and fragment as they talk and move, a nice warm-up for the later scenes that truly warp perception and reality.

At times near the end of the film, there’s almost too much going on for the eye to register. For certain, there’s animation, stop-motion effects, and things scratched or drawn directly onto the celluloid. As the girls face ever-mounting threats, the film builds to a visual crescendo that’s both disorienting and exhilarating. At this point, Prof remarks: “I don’t believe it! Can such things happen in this world?”

Anyone watching can share her incredulity. Movies don’t normally work this way. But this one somehow does.

“House” opens in New York on January 15th and will tour the country through July. A full schedule can be found here.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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