Hausu (House) – A Crazy Film for Crazy Times

Hausu5My first post of the new year! We all know that 2020 was a whirlwind of chaos on so many fronts.  Then Dec 31 came and at midnight we all said, “Happy New Year!” and like magic, we reset our lives, wiped the slate clean and WHOOPIE – peace and sanity came knocking at our doors once again. NOT! The chaos continues.

I wanted to watch a movie that was fit for these times. By this I mean, I wanted to see a chaotic yet fun film. I know, 2020 was not fun. It was deadly for many. In film we can escape reality.  We can watch carnage erupt on our screens knowing that it’s all fantasy. I found a film that was capable of providing such an escape while reflecting the wackiness of recent times and its offbeat volatility.  It’s horror gone looney. Terror turned topsy-turvy. And best yet, it doesn’t take this “horror” and “terror” seriously.  Oh there is bloodshed and decapitations, and yet it’s fun, fun, fun. And funny! All this in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Japanese film Hausu. The English title is House.

Think about the past year. The Pandemic. Shelter-in-place. Lockdowns and the shutting down of public events. Some relief. Covid cases drop. Things reopen. Summer time! Uh oh, cases spiking again. Shutdowns. 

Then there was the social unrest. Protests. Riots.  Things ease. Ahh. Oh wait, here comes some more!  An election year in the United States. Much passion and anger on all sides. 2021 comes along and here comes more social unrest.

My point to all this is that these eleven months have been unpredictable to say the least. Up then down. Up. Down. Turn Around (Please don’t let me touch the ground, tonight I think I’ll walk alone, I’ll find my soul as I go home – sorry, got off track quoting New Order lyrics. But hey, that was “offbeat” of me, like the year.)  Well, Hausu is like that. A scene with a sweet, corny melody of young girls walking, followed by scenes of the bombing of Hiroshima, followed by comedic scenes of a goofball guy doing goofy things, followed by a human-eating piano.  Is that unpredictable enough for ya? Okay, those scenes don’t occur in the order I lay out, but I challenge you to watch the film only once and have a grasp of the order of things. You can’t. It’s not that kind of film.

All you really need to know about the plot is this: a girl invites several of her friends to her aunt’s house for summer vacation. The house is haunted and the aunt is creepy. After this, who cares? Just enjoy the amusement park ride filled with demonic cats, floating heads, severed fingers playing the piano, trippy 1970s-style animation, fountains of blood, dancing skeletons, and psychedelic montages.

It’s hard to describe the film. The Criterion Collection calls it “an episode of Scooby-Doo directed by Mario Bava.”  That’s good. Maybe throw in some Monty Python? Quentin Tarantino (way before his time, but…)? Ahh, here’s a way to relate this to Tarantino. Roger Ebert describes Tarantino in his review of Pulp Fiction as follows:

…he’s in love with every shot- intoxicated with the very act of making a movie.

…Here’s a director who’s been let loose inside the toy store, and wants to play all night.

I imagine Nobuhiko Obayashi used all kinds of film toys to create this film; he must have had a gigantic toy box. If he wasn’t intoxicated with making the movie, certainly his viewers were after watching it. I certainly was. Every technique available in 1977 seems to have found its way into the film. Sometimes these techniques hit all at once, and that can be unnerving to the eyes and ears. Oh well, these sensory devices attached to our bodies do recover and when they do, they will be ready for more!

If Hausu was a rock band, maybe it would be some kind of combination of Rush and King Crimson. Or have you ever heard of Mr. Bungle? Yeah that’s it, Hausu is Mr. Bungle!

I first heard of the existence of this film about a year and a half ago, during calmer, saner times. I’m glad I waited to see it, for insane times welcomes insane tastes. Is that a saying? I don’t know. But the film is “fun insanity.”  And THAT is what is needed. Good ol’ silly insanity over the crap that reality spewed on us over these past many months. Fuck reality. Bring on the surreal. Oh, and this film goes great with a big ol’ fat blunt. 

Classics: The Old Nurse’s Story -A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night

The season of the ghost story is upon us again. Cold nights. Early darkness. So bundle up. Wrap a blanket around your body. Sip some hot tea. Add a little Brandy to it.  Light a fire.  Silence your surroundings, but if there happens to be a strong wind outside your window, open your ears to its calling howl.

Let us now call out to the past then listen to its reply. Forgotten traditions awaken and the spirits of the Christmas season are summonsed when the telling begins. Arriving with frightful countenances formed by a willing imagination, they exist right outside our current norms. But they are there. Can’t you hear them knocking at your door? Let them in. It’s cold outside and your warmth is comfy buy lonely.  Open the book. Turn the page. Or listen to a voice and refine the audio settings.  Partake in the gift of the Victorian Christmas ghost story.  Welcome this tradition and let it haunt you.

It’s been a while. A whole year has passed since my last edition of “Classics: A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night.”  Thus, a refresher of the theme of this series is appropriate: 

It is my intention not so much to review these stories as it is to walk through them much like a fearful visitor might walk through a haunted house. Hopefully I can capture the atmosphere without giving too much away. But while on the walk, there will be time for analysis here and there and room for stray thoughts that creep about like watchful specters

(Two other “Chilling” Articles: The Beckoning Fair One and Horror: A True Tale)

EGaskellThe story featured in this article is meant to be read or listened to during the Christmas season. Elizabeth Gaskell’s  “The Old Nurse’s Story” was first published in 1852 in the Christmas edition of Charles Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It features a haunted house. Now, did I ever have anything to say about a “Christmas Haunted House?”  I did. I said something like this:

I believe that winter’s effect on our imaginations is enhanced when its harmful elements are still near us. Imagine reading a scary book or hearing a ghost story while the dark night can be seen just outside the window, or the howling winds are to be heard underneath the crackle of the fire. Nature’s brutal elements are right there on the other side of the house’s walls.  – From Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses

During ghost story-telling sessions on chilly nights, we are “warmly vulnerable.”  We celebrate with colorful lights and gaudy gift-wrapping and perhaps a gentle buzz, all the while “the weather outside is frightful”. We invite the doom in when we share the ghost story.  The ghost story is all the more pertinent to this situation when the plot involves eerie outside elements that want in and succeed in their attempts to do so. Outside the house. Then in. Such a house, my friends, represents to me a prototypical Christmas haunted house.

Furnivall Manor is such a house. Most of the events of “The Old Nurse’s Story” take place there. Old Nurse Hesther is the storyteller. To her current charges, presumably young, she relays this tale. She has been with the family for a long time and knows the details concerning the upbringing of their very own mother, for Hesther had raised her too! She knows of the extended family branches, the uncles and cousins and great aunts, and knows of the manor to which their mother, little Miss Rosamond, was sent to live after she was orphaned. For Nurse Hesther had accompanied the poor, grieving girl to her new home at the grand Furnivall Manor, home to aging distant relatives and servants.

Miss Furnival, lady of the manor, not quite eighty, sits most of her days in the company of a companion, the old Mrs. Stark, her lifelong maid.  They lived many years. Within the long trail of life behind you lurks the past, never fleeting, always encroaching, reminding one of past transgressions.

The house has the grandiose trappings found in many tales of haunted house lore; countless rooms, long hallways connecting the sections, several fireplaces, a gallery of portraits, a bronze chandelier, and a grand organ that was unfortunately broken on the inside.  Would it surprise you, dear reader, if I was to tell you that its internal damage prevented not the music from being played by some phantom musician? And does it cause you wonder that the east wing of the manor is sealed off from the rest of the Hall, to enter is forbidden? Outside on the grounds, along the fells, is where Miss Rosamond loves to play. Will you be shocked to know that danger lurks out there?  The danger wants in.

“Oh let her in! Please!” Miss Rosamond cries on several occasions.  The “danger” is a “she”, and where “she” enchants the young Rosamond she frightens the old Miss Furnival. Hesther too shares her Mistress’s concern, for the strange little girl from the outside has, on one occasion, unintentionally led Miss Rosamond to a dreary place where a strange lady put her into a troubling, feverish, almost frozen sleep. But Hesther could never the-old-nurses-story-snowfear the girl in the same was as Miss Furnival feared her.  To fear her in such a way, one would have to have been there, at the beginning, and taken part in the evil doings that once doomed a mother and her child to the cold, winter elements without shelter. And Miss Furnival took part!

An old nurse knows many things. She knows things your own mother would never tell you. Maybe “Miss” Rosamond had forgotten such things and repressed all the misfortune of her childhood. But there is always someone around who recalls it all. Someone who has heard the family stories and has learned through word of mouth the dreadful acts that would reenact upon the manor and cause a haunting. All this, she would confide to her charges, the children of “Miss” Rosamond. How they would react to such stories, the reader will never know.

The Old Nurse’s Story is available for free in several print formats. Open your search engine and seek and you shall find. Or, listen to it as it is narrated by a woman that goes by the name Dancing Dove, and watch the accompanying video, where an artist brings the house and its landscape to life, drawing into being as the story unfolds. I have attached the YouTube video for your listening and viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Review of This House is Haunted

“Well ain’t that the Dickens?”

My answer – Uh, I dunno. This was an expression from the days of yore. Did it have anything to do with the famous English author Charles Dickens? Again I must say, “Uh, I dunno.”  But the book that is up for review, John Boyle’s This House is Haunted, is said to be written in “Dickensian prose”. Google Books and other sources make this claim.

The novel takes place during Dickensian times, that is for certain.  It is London circa 1867. Two of the main characters trudge out in the cold to attend a reading by the great author himself. So obviously, it is the author’s conscious attempt to establish a connection to this renowned author. Alas, I am not all that familiar with the writing style of Mr. Dickens, certainly not in a way that I can read a few lines of some latter author’s work and then declare, “AHA! I see the ghost of Charles haunting this prose!” No such ghost beckons me because I haven’t yet tasted the life of his characters and settings. No life, no ghosts. 

But I tell you this! (Interruptous Buttinski: No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn?) (Me: No, that is NOT what I was going to follow with. That is a line of Jim Morrison poetry that admittedly does follow “I tell you this”, but please, no reward will forgive YOU for wasting precious space on this page). I am familiar with the nineteenth century classic ghost story, and Google books draws this comparison to Boyle’s piece as well. I have delved into the works of Victorian era ghost story writers such as M.R James, Henry James and Sheridan Le Fanu and have found much to love about them. So I find myself quite pleased when modern writers such as Boyle recreate the style and settings in their tales of haunted houses of yore! Only a few reviews ago, I shared my experience reading Sarah Walter’s 2009 haunted house novel The Little Stranger, which takes place in England in the earlier part in of the twentieth century (Great book!) and I relished Susan Hill’s 1983 novel The Woman in Black, which takes place, uh, well, no specific time period is given, but they travel via horse and carriage, so, well, you know! Anyway, what is noteworthy is that these three authors capture not only the settings of these long-ago times but also the storytelling style. More so than these here modern days, the classic style thrills and chills with descriptive atmosphere that practically creates the ghosts that haunt the novel , confounds by purposely omitting a one-sided explanation for any ghostly phenomenon, beguiles with the stuff of psychological horror that we can all relate to, and elucidates with metaphorical allegories.

Now, I’m not sure Boyle’s This House is Haunted fulfills all of the characteristics of the classical style that I have mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph, but it is a page-turner that makes me feel right at home in another time, place and style. The story flows smoothly. It is a simple story. Eliza Caine, is a young, unfortunate woman who leaves her home in London after the death of her father, her only close companion, and takes on a job as a governess for a young girl and boy in a house called Gaudlin Hall  in Norfolk. She learns too late that she is the fifth person to occupy that position in a relatively short time period. Three former governesses perished and one fled from Gaudlin Hall in fear for her life. Oh my, what ever is going on? Well, like the title of the book says, the house is haunted.

Instead of Charles Dickens, I am reminded of Henry James and his novel The Turn of the Screw. In that story, a woman takes on responsibility for the care of young Miles and Flora, two precocious children who appear to be haunted by the ghosts of a man and a woman, respectively. Guess what? The same thing happens here. It seems as if a female apparition is haunting young Isabella and a male ghost communicates with young Eustance.  Whatever is going on here could be deadly for poor Eliza. I must say there isn’t a whole lot of mystery in terms of the identity of these spirits, nor is there much doubt that there truly is a ghostly phenomenon. But at the book’s end, a couple of surprising things happen that cause the reader to reevaluate the nature of the spirits specifically and the overall haunting in general.

What I found most intriguing was Eliza Caine herself. Her demeanor, her backstory, her self-deprecating style that contradicts her strength of character and soft optimism. A well-written character I must say.

John Boyle may best be known for his novel The Boy in Striped Pajamas, later made into a movie. I have not read the book nor seen the movie. Maybe I should, now that I have read one of his “other” works as opposed to his “major” one.  Ya gotta do the major after the minor, isn’t that what they say? Or maybe I just made that quip up? Guess what – I did. Well it sounds cool, doesn’t it?  Anyway, This House is Haunted – an above average haunted house novel. Give it a try!

October 31- Doctor Sleep – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Stephen King’s long-awaited novel – the sequel to The Shining. In a twist, the movie is not a sequel to the book. It is a sequel to the movie “The Shining”.  See, the book and the movie (The Shining) have different endings. The book ends in a way that the Overlook Hotel cannot be a part of the sequel. The movie does not have this limitation, thus the Overlook returns!

I’m sorry Mr. King, but I thought your book was a bit hokey. A travelling band of senior-citizen psychic vampires in Winnebago’s with straw hats and tanks of “psychic energy” drained from victims resembling oxygen tanks?  In the film, the tanks are there, but at least the roaming band of psychic vampires appear more threatening. They almost resemble a motorcycle gang in appearance.  And in the film, we get to visit The Overlook Hotel again and watch in suspense as all of its ghosts reawaken.  It was cool! For a more detailed comparison, read my article:

Doctor Sleep

Oh and the film is done my that Michael Flanagan guy, the guy behind the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor.

Winner: FILM

October 30 – The Woman in Black – Book Vs. Film – Which Film Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

“Modern Gothic at its Best.” This was my tagline for the article I wrote about Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black.  Written in 1983 yet capturing the writing style of a piece that might have been written one hundred years prior, Hill’s novel is a such a treat in an era that had seemed to have long forsaken the literary “ways of the Goth”.  Sadly, the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe strays considerably from the tone that Hill gifted us readers. Yes, the film has the old mansion surrounded by marshes, a staple of Gothic horror. It is a visually stimulating film.  But Mr. Soundman is too eager and he can’t resist sliding the volume lever on the music whenever the film is going for something suspenseful. Funny, because it’s the sounds as described in the book that chill the reader. These would be the sounds of an unseen horse and carriage that struggles in the foggy marshes, not some hyped up musical score. The film barely touches on this. What the film does show, over and over, are one second flashes of a woman in black. Jumps scares. Meh. And the film’s story is considerable different than the book, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the story as conveyed by Hill is much better. Read my review of the book:  The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best

October 29 – Stir of Echoes – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

A 1999 horror movie starring Kevin Bacon.  A 1958 sci-fi horror novel written by Richard Matheson (the third time that author makes this list.)  I really liked the film. Did I love it. Um…no. But it was an interesting ghost story. Mr. Bacon gets hypnotized and suddenly a wall in his psyche breaks down and he now has certain psychic abilities. The ability the film focus’s in on the most involves the ghost of a girl who communicates with him in fragmented visions. The scope of his abilities is wider in the book and it details them more carefully.  Therefore, I favor the book.

For a more detailed comparison, read my article:

Stir of Echoes Vs. A Stir of Echoes

Winner: BOOK

October 28 – Pet Sematary – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

The film I am referring to is the 1989 version, not the most recent adaption of Stephen King’s novel, which came out I believe in 2019. I didn’t see the newest version and after I read the reviews I didn’t bother to try. The movie from the 80’s didn’t fare much better. Not having read King’s book, I rented it back in the VCR days and I didn’t care too much for it either. I remember Herman Munster was in it without his Frankenstein’s monster makeup.  Honestly, I don’t remember what faults I had with the film, other than I wanted the makeup back on Herman.

I was reluctant to read King’s book on account of my disliking of the movie. Eventually I did and it turned out to be one of my favorites of his. (In his top 10 somewhere). The “sematary” was creepier, and the hike to the “sematary” was creepier as well. In the film I don’t even remember that there was a woodsy trek to the graveyard. On the trek in the book, there were a lot of spooky noises.

Winner: BOOK

October 27 – The Ruins – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

By Author Scott Smith who also wrote The Simple Plan, later made into a movie starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda. Oh and directed by Sam Raimi – The Evid Dead dude. I both read and saw the film The Simple Plan.  Oops I’m supposed to be writing about The Ruins. Let me redirect.

Anyway, with The Ruins, Smith writes a suspenseful, gory book about young American tourists trapped on the ruins of a Mayan temple in Mexico.  Local Mayas will shoot them dead if they try to leave, and eventually, the vines that grow all along the pyramid-like structure will kill them. They are nasty things, these vines. They pry into the skin, strangle the neck, and their flowers are like mouths and they mimic the screams of its victims and replay personal conversations to pit the survivors against each other.

The book and the film (directed by Carter Smith) pretty much tell the same story with some variations. What happens to certain characters in the book happens instead to other characters in the movie, etc. The endings are different. The book goes for a hopeless conclusion while the film has an inkling of hope.

Book or movie? Hmm. When working out my decision, I kept alternating between “a tie” or “the book as the winner”.  But since I reserved one option for the book as the sole winner and no option for the film as a standalone victor, then I have to go for the book.

Winner: BOOK

October 26 – Friday the 13th Part 3 (in 3D) – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Yes I actually read the novelization of this film. I remember reading and then exclaiming “Wow, this character, his head got “severe + d.””  That’s how I pronounced it; severe with a “d”.  My sister didn’t know what “severe + d’ meant, so she looked at he word. “Danny, that’s severed!” she said.  (But it was a severe act, you have to admit.)

What do you think I thought of this book? Well, I got some Jason backstory I didn’t get elsewhere. But overall, it’s more fun to see teenagers get sliced to death that to read about such a phenomenon. Plus, the words didn’t jump out at me in 3D like the eyeballs did in the movie theater. Jason put some guy’s head in a vice (or was it a vice-like grip with his own two hands? I can’t remember), all that pressure and boing! His eyeball shot out and almost landed in my box of popcorn.  That’s better than the book, doncha’ think?

Winner: FILM

October 25 – The Funhouse – Book Vs. Movie – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Remember this movie? It’s somewhat obscure, I guess. Came out in 1981. Directed by Tobe Hooper; he’s not so obscure! (Salem’s Lot director). My Daddy took me to see this in the theater at his suggestion. It was the first time I saw teenagers hacked to death on the big screen.

It’s the story of a shady carnival. Four teenagers spend the night in The Funhouse. They witness a carnival barker’s deformed son kill the carnival’s fortune teller. As witnesses to this crime they must be destroyed. Let the “fun” of “funhouse” begin!

The book is a bit different. It’s the novelization of the film, based on the screenplay. It was written by Owen West, but that’s not the author’s real name. His real name is Dean Koontz. You might have heard of him. Anyway, the entirety of the “trapped inside the funhouse” plot of the film is just one mere chapter in the book – the final chapter. Most of the book is backstory concerning the Conrad the Carnival Barker, his deformed son, and a different story regarding the teenagers. In the book, one of the teenager’s is a daughter or an ex-wife of Conrad and he purposely lures her and her friends into the funhouse so that he may kill them, extracting revenge on his ex-wife for something he did.

The book really does have an interesting backstory. But the film is more thrilling and interesting. It focuses solely on the carnival and funhouse, but details very well the depravity and overall freakiness of this traveling band of misfits. The animatronic attractions in the funhouse are pretty awewome.

Winner: FILM