When I saw Janus Films’ theatrical release of Hausu back in January (review), I was absolutely floored by the macabre beauty that director Nobuhiko Obayashi put on display in his horror tale. The story of the seven girl posse who are basically eaten alive by a haunted house is one of the most surreal films I’ve ever seen, cramming in every single in-camera special effect conceivable in 1977, and relishing in its childlike approach to storytelling. Little did I know, at the time, that Obayashi consulted his then 10-year-old daughter, Chigumi, for many of the film’s scenarios!
My initial interest in the film began only a week or two before I bore witness to its spectacle. While conversing with a friend and colleague, the film was brought up as a comparison to The Evil Dead, accompanied with a comment along the lines of, “If Sam Raimi ever said he had never seen Hausu before making Evil Dead, I’d call him a liar to his face.” Instantly intrigued, I began scouring YouTube for clips, found out it was playing near me mere days later, and the rest is history.
Up until now, the only legitimate English-subbed release of Hausu was a region 2 Masters Of Cinema DVD, leaving many curious stateside film aficionados no choice but to seek out third-generation bootlegs. Luckily, Criterion snagged the rights and has, once again, pulled out all the stops with their release, making it a must-own for every self-respecting horror buff.
Using a digitally restored transfer that played on IFC a few years back, Criterion is the first – to my knowledge – to use the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, trumping the unsubbed Toho and Masters Of Cinema releases, which both used 1.55:1. The MPEG-4 AVC Blu-Ray transfer is as glorious as they come, providing a crisp, clear picture. The film uses oversaturated colors – a la Mario Bava and Dario Argento flicks – and they are prominently on display here in all their eye-popping splendor, providing the best video quality on any Hausu release yet. The primitive nature of the effects gave me cause for alarm, as they have proven to stand out like a sore thumb more than anything else in other releases, and while some of them are as dated looking as expected, many of them continue to impress and are not hindered by the high-definition presentation. The uncompressed 24-bit Japanese mono audio track is as well remastered as the video, clearing up crackles and other age-related deteriorations that have plagued other releases in the past. Criterion has also provided a brand new subtitle track, which is a subject that caused some accuracy-based speculation in relation to the Masters Of Cinema release. The extras seem few in number when compared to other Criterion releases, but they nonetheless provide the viewer with a bounty of information about the film, specifically in the context and reflection departments.
It should come to nobody’s surprise that Criterion’s latest supernatural-centric release is as good as expected; maybe even a little more so in the presentation department. Hausu shines as a perfect example of art-house horror that gets better with each subsequent viewing, and is quickly working its way onto my list of all-time favorite horror films. Obayashi refused to settle for cookie-cutter cinema, and the world is better for it.
Emotion (39:15) – Nobuhiko Obayashi’s non-linear experimental horror short appears to be a calling card for the psychedelic tone of Hausu, incorporating almost all of the special effects seen in the feature-length. Vampires, brides wandering around in the woods, shoes walking by themselves; you name it, this short has got it. Most of the dialogue is narrative prose (presented in both English and Japanese), making the short’s visuals even more effective. If David Lynch made a flick in 1960’s Japan, it would be Emotion.
Constructing A House (45:56) – Director Nobuhiko Obayashi reminisces about the genesis of the film, the climate of the Japanese film industry while he was making it (the man loves Ozu and Kurasawa; can’t go wrong with that), productions aspects ranging from casting to scoring, and how it was received initially in Japan (it was double-billed with an adolescent romantic-drama, Pure Hearts In Mud!). Other participants include his daughter, Chigumi, who, at 10-years-old, gave him ideas for many of the film’s now iconic sequences, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura, who sounds off about writing a film which Toho originally intended as a Japanese Jaws, in the sense that it was supposed to be the start of the summer blockbuster culture in their country.
House Appraisal (3:47) – Horror director Ti West (House Of The Devil) talks about his appreciation for the film, and how much it influenced him. I think it’s very, well, cool of Criterion to have an up-and-coming director speak his mind about an important, underappreciated film, but I can’t help but wish there was more film criticism touched upon in the featurette. It’s not touched upon enough in the booklet (which features a lone – but good – essay by Chuck Stephens) and the rest of the extras, but, if anything, it proves that there is much more to be said about the more than 30-year-old film, and that definitely isn’t a bad thing.
Trailer (1:34) – Self-explanatory.