Friday, 3 October 2014
October Challenge: Frequently Asked Questions: House.
Q: What the fuck did I just watch?
A: The strangest film Jaws ever inspired.
Q: Wait, what?
A: Yep, believe it or not, this film was commissioned because the Japanese production company Toho wanted to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. You can imagine the faces of the board members when this was the film delivered back to them...
Q: What is going on with this movie? I mean, seriously. It's insane.
A: I know, and that's why I love it. I mean, I'm glad that not every movie looks like this one, but all the same, I think it's an exhilarating film. I just love how balls to the wall mental it is - there's not a single shot in this movie that doesn't throw something at you, whether that something is a bizarre editing trick, or the strangest special effect work imaginable.
House creates a sense of heightened reality - nothing in this film even vaguely resembles the real world, and as a result, it enters the realm of the surreal, where emotions must be heightened in order to be addressed.
Q: Wait, you mean the worst special effect work imaginable. Some of it is laughable, even for the time...
A: Yep, and it's meant to be. This film was inspired by some of the ideas the director's daughter came up with, and the movie is deliberately very childlike. It's basically like a children's picture book on crack - it takes the fears of pre-teens and distorts them to become larger than life. It's essentially a movie about discovering that what is meant to be the happiest, most idyllic time of your life - that period where you don't worry about money, or your job - is actually one of the most disturbing, and anxiety producing years you'll struggle through.
That's why the central horror based images of the film are based around the very commonplace and ordinary - the mirror, the piano, etc. These are the things that are more commonly accepted as just being part of the mundane and ordinary life of pre-teens: a lot of us out there have had to sit through the dreariness of piano lessons, just like a lot of us have spent time preening ourselves in front of the mirror.
Like all good horror films, House takes the things from our regular life and injects them with true terror, meaning they stop being just elements of our existence, and become imbued with the emotions and nightmares we give them.
Q: You're sounding oddly intellectual for someone who is discussing a film where a man turns into a pile of bananas...
A: And that's the other great thing about House - it never takes itself seriously. It knows its silly, and it runs with that. That way, it manages to have its cake and eat it too: it can be deadly serious at one moment, reflecting the fear and panic that pre-teens feel when they are faced with the idea that some day they must grow up and enter the real world, but at the same time, it can present us with a scene where...well, where a man turns into a pile of bananas.
Q: So you're saying this is a movie about growing up? I thought you were saying it was a film about innocence...
A: It's a film about both - the central characters are on the cusp of entering adolescence. They're in that weird stage where they are both children, and yet not children. It's a traumatising time in our lives: on the one hand, we still have innocent preoccupations, but on the other, we are just starting to come to terms with our sexuality. It's why we become obsessed with our own reflection, and it's why the mirror in House is both an object of indulgence, and of dark promise. That's why Gorgeous sees her face falling apart into flames - she is becoming aware that she is a creature of sin and lust, but also that said skin will one day fall apart, and she will become like the ghost that sits as the antagonist of the film.
Q: Is that why the ghost is the bad guy? Cause she's old?
A: Yep. She has ties to Japan's past - her love story is one made tragic by war. She represents the past and everything that must grow old and die. The pre-teen heroes reject her, because she is what they will all become - a dead creature, forgotten and ancient.
Q: What about her evil cat? What's up with that?
A: That's just an evil cat. Don't think too much about it.
Q: Wait, you're doing that thing again...
Q: Reading too much into parts of the film, and then not reading at all into other parts...
A: Well, again, that's the charm of this movie. It has all of these concerns racing in the subtext, but it's also quite happy to just be a dumb movie.
Q: That's your final word?
A: No way. We haven't even got onto how this is a deeply feminist film yet...
A: Yep, House is a film with feminist concerns. Horror movies commonly feature female protagonists, but often only so the filmmaker has an excuse to slip in some nudity and some good old fashioned 'women-getting-hurt' cruelty. House is different in that way. For a start, the pre-teen heroes aren't just a babble of screeching victims. Sure, some of them are, but then you have a character like Kung-Fu who feels like she has been transported in from a completely different movie. She refuses to be a victim - when things get weird, she reacts in a way that usually only men in horror movies are allowed to respond. That is, she kicks ass. She doesn't run around screaming - she has a practical response to the danger.
Indeed, even though the rest of the characters in the film wait to be saved by their teacher, the 'knight in shining armour' (in a deeply ironic fantasy, he is even depicted as such, riding a horse and all), he is ultimately revealed to be a waste of space. He's meant to be coming to rescue the girls - instead, he sits in a noodle bar, and yes, in the film's conclusion, gets turned into a pile of bananas.
Even though the film might end with the girls being defeated, they are repeatedly shown as being more intelligent and capable than the film's males. Not only is the teacher a failure, Gorgeous' father is depicted as being totally removed from reality. That's why the scenes he shares with his daughter are filmed against an obviously fake background - he represents a false, artificial element of her life, not part of the drama and importance of her real world.
Q: I dunno, man...You're saying all this, and I keep thinking...Yeah, but someone gets turned into bananas...
Q: Well, at least the film made an impression on you, right? At the very least, even if you think everything I have said is total bullshit, this is a film that is unlike any other you might have seen. And to my mind, that makes it worth every second of its screen time.