Friday, August 28, 2015

Hausu (House) (1977)

Directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi. You know what's weird? I mean other than "Hausu," director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's surreal 1977 masterpiece about seven girls trapped in a haunted mansion, which yes, is super weird. However, what's also weird is that the film feels like a sophisticated response to Sam Raimi's seminal 1981 U.S. horror classic, "The Evil Dead." But "Hausu" pre-dates Raimi's flick by almost four years, making "The Evil Dead" more like a dumbed-down, Americanized version of "Hausu."

And maybe that's not so weird. First, it's not like "Hausu" is without antecedent. It's pretty clear Ôbayashi had seen a bunch of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, et al. Also, it's not better in all ways than "The Evil Dead." The tremendous strength of "Hausu" is that surge of energy you always feel from something expressed in film that's so different, you've never seen anything like it before. But like a sugar rush, there can be a limit when you just want to lie down and close your eyes. "OK, I get it, everything's all weird and fucked up."

The young girls in this movie seem to represent the so-called seven deadly sins. Themes in the film include sexual maturity and female gender identity, and it may or may not be a cautionary tale about reconciling one's past relationships as the way to a happier present. This is all communicated through a wildly messed up series of tropes from horror, thrillers, comedy and melodrama. Motifs include fruit, water and shit blowing around the room. Colors are unpredictable.

In contrast, the characters, settings, and the scares in "The Evil Dead" have become so familiar as the basic beats and techniques of horror that to see that movie now is almost comforting -- like eating a big ol' bowl of macaroni and cheese. But just like eating a bucket of comfort food, there is that moment when you think, "OK, I've been here, I know what this is like. Enough."

"Hausu," recommended. As well as "The Evil Dead."

Killers Three (1968)

Directed by Bruce Kessler. If it's ever perplexed you whether Dick Clark ever starred in a movie, the answer is only one, and this is it. This is from 1968 and his role is as Roger, the alcoholic safecracker, which might have made a more marketable title than "Killers Three," even if that's just as truthful.

It's not a spoiler to reveal that Clark is one of the three killers (because I'd say you know Dick), alongside Diane Varsi and Robert Walker. It would spoil some to explain the killing, but let's just say like the vast majority of films made between 1965 to 1975, this one involves a guy looking to make a better life for himself by quitting a life runnin' 'shine away from the rev'nue.

The whole plan works about as well as you would expect, though if you're watching this late at night and your attention wanders, don't worry. Every few scenes, Merle Haggard sings a few more verses of a ballad that recaps the action. Was it this that got him the same gig on "The Dukes of Hazzard?" I'm not sure this country-music-as-Greek-chorus idea ever works, because it's never used in movies with plots sophisticated enough to demand it. "East Bound and Down" is a catchy li'l number but theatergoers probably could have understood "Smokey and the Bandit" without it.

Two important points. First, Clark's performance is dead-on prescient of a boilerplate William H. Macy. Second, he's surprisingly OK at this. Unfortunately, he ruins any cred he could have generated here through this ridiculous choice he made as the film's producer: in every place that his name appears in the opening titles and end credits, a custom logo is used that is distinctly different from all other names. This is done even in the cast list, where he is third-billed. What a jerk.

Norman Alden (as Guthrie) is an all-time favorite character actor whose voice you will likely recognize if you're not aware of his face, and Maureen Arthur (as Elvira Sweeney) provides a whole Daisy Mae-type thing that if it's not in this kind of flick, you feel ripped off.

If you're an Amazon Prime person, you've already paid to see this, so do so. Recommended!