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HOUSE is a bad trip caught on film

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The 70′s…yeah, what else needs to be said? A decade filled with outstanding art, music, cinema and most importantly Horror. The Exorcist, Halloween, The Omen and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre carved an indelible mark into the psyche of the youngin’s brave enough to watch and some adults too. But during this Renaissance there was something far more sinister and down right trippy occurring in other parts of the world. A film, equally as dynamic and perhaps a little insane, nobuhiko-obayashi-vagabond-of-timewas destroying the screens in Japan and disturbing a lot of young minds.

House directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and produced by TOHO, is a simple story about a girl and her friends, who visit’s her ailing aunt in the remote countryside of Japan, only to discover her aunt is a witch that allows her home to devour the girls one by one.

Seems simple enough, until you watch it.

The film’s pace and look is spastic and often times incoherent, but it makes for some good viewing…you will not be bored. Nobuhiko Obayashi incorporates techniques that were used by famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. Fake skies, A B rolls, confusing soundtracks and crazy edits, gets served up every second in this film. House_115.psdKind of like  a cartoon, all the character’s are larger than life, with names that are as silly as some of the scenes. The lead girl’s name is Gorgeous  (the pretty one), which is probably just a translation issue. She’s followed by Prof (the smart one), Kung Fu (the bad ass), Mac (The fat one, but she isn’t fat at all), Melody (the piano player), Fantasy (Whatever) and Sweet (….). These seemingly naive girls, accompany Gorgeous to her aunts house for a summer getaway, but things get crazy when Mac suddenly disappears. How we find out what happened to Mac is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on film. One of the girls goes looking for her and decides to check the well…she begins pulling the rope expecting to see a watermelon, they had tethered to it earlier to keep it cool, since the house lacks a fridge, she instead finds Mac’s “still moving head”. The head, now an eerie blue color and clearly green screened, flies out of the girls hand and bites her on the ass. From that moment on, I knew I must watch this whole film. Thinking that that might be it for the “craziness”, I was met with an onslaught of images throughout the film that had me thinking that if I was on acid while watching this, this wouldn’t be good, but I was able to distance myself from the “not so disturbing as much as it was psychotic” story.

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Half way through the film it became a test of endurance. My mind struggled to figure out what was Nobuhiko Obayashi inspiration for some of these scenes. What did they mean? Were they metaphors or was he just trying to be as crazy as possible? If I had read this script, I probably would’ve ran from it, given the confusing pace. But for all my misgivings, it’s a thought out picture and although Obayashi never used a storyboard and there was apart of me that thought he could be making this shit up as he went along, it was perfect in it’s execution, but not everybody shared the same sentiment about Nobuhiko Obayashi vision including Obayashi.

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(via. Wiki)

Obayashi described the attitude on the set as very upbeat as he often skipped, sang and played quiz games with the younger actresses on the set. Despite having fun on the set, members of the Toho crew felt the film was nonsense.Obayashi found the acting of the seven girls to be poor while trying to direct them verbally. He began playing the film’s soundtrack on set, which changed the way the girls were acting in the film as they got into the spirit of the music.

In the end, the rawness and amateur nature of the film works to it’s benefit. You use what you have to create magic, and Obayashi used his skills in commercials to litter this film with intentionally cheesy effects to give the horror a child-like feel. Whether inspired or completely original, there’s no denying HOUSE’S creativity and ability to engage and to think we may not have ever seen it unless Janus Films decided to buy the rights to the film and redistribute it in 2010. Since then, HOUSE is popular amongst a whole new audience of crazies looking for a something from the heart.

(Via. Criterion.com)

How did Janus Films begin the process of bringing House to U.S. theaters for the first time?

House was originally brought into the Janus library as a possible Eclipse title, when Eclipse was conceived of as a possible subsidiary label for cult films. That changed, of course, and the film remained in limbo until we began to get a few screening requests from genre-savvy venues. It can be tough to convince theaters to book a repertory title that doesnt have an established critical reputation, so we hadnt originally thought of House as a theatrical release. It has developed a fair-size reputation on the gray market, where its been a staple for some time, but its such a blast to see with an audience that we did a small digital microtour in order to spread word of mouth. These screenings were successful beyond our expectations; we had two raucous, sold-out shows at the New York Asian Film Festival, and the film seems to have developed a cult-within-a-cult in every city it’s played.

You can purchase house now on DVD or Blu-Ray  through the Criterion Collection

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The Amityville Horror – Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story

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“I just wish that … all those people hadn’t died here.  I mean … ugh!  A guy kills his whole family.  Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Well, sure, but … houses don’t have memories.”

The Amityville Horror (1979) caused quite a stir at the box office in the US the year it was released.  People flocked to see the film adaptation of an apparently true story of a supernatural event that rocked a family to their very core by a house full of demons.

The film tells the story of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder), recently married and deeply in love, who decide to shell out $80,000 for a house on Long Island for their instant family of 5 (Kathy has three children from a previous marriage).  The house in question was the site of a grisly mass murder years before, 112 Ocean Avenue.  Regardless of the house’s disturbing history, the Lutz family decide to buy it.

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After the sale is final, the Lutz family spends the next several weeks attempting to move in.  Only, the house doesn’t really want them there.  Disembodied voices tell them to “get out!” and seemingly unexplainable events begin to occur at every turn.  A chair rocks itself.  Windows slam closed with no apparent cause.  The house never feels warm to George, who falls ill.  Doors close on their own volition and cannot be opened despite the fact they have no locks.

Kathy, who is a devout Catholic, begs her friend, a priest named Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) to bless the house, to help her rid it of its bad vibes.  Even the girlfriend of George’s business partner, Carolyn (the ever dishy Helen Shaver), feels the bad energy rolling off the house.  Though Carolyn initially refuses to go near the place, she eventually leads George to the discovery of the point of origin in the house.  An area in the basement where the spirits/demons come and go.  Come on.  We all know you don’t go in the basement!  That’s where the bad sh*t always goes down.  Always.

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Things continue to escalate and degrade until one night, during a horrible storm, the Lutz family flees for their lives, never to return or reclaim their possessions.

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“The truth never stands in the way of a good story.”

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The crux of The Amityville Horror lies in whether you are a believer.  A believer in God, in Christ, and therefore in the Devil, in spirits and demons.  As a child, my parents hauled me to Sunday school, religiously (pun intended).  I first saw the film in the 80s when it, no doubt, showed up on one of the local television networks, probably completely edited down and devoid of the bleeding walls that I went “nice!” to this viewing.

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But, 80s version of me, the child version, that is, the one that had been going to Sunday school and learning about good and evil, was terrified of that empty, rocking chair in Amy’s (Natasha Ryan) bedroom.  The 80s me was terrified at the idea of voices coming from no particular person, dispossessed.  Indeed, the 80s version of me was pretty friggin’ terrified of The Amityville Horror in total.

I think it’s true what they say, about not being able to go home again.  Additionally, I think that sentiment, that belief can really be applied to more than just the ideology of “home”.  In fact, it can certainly be applied to films that terrified us, films that we loved, or films that were just so amazing or original or fascinating to younger versions of ourselves.  Films with which, upon revisiting, we occasionally find ourselves disappointed, maybe even a little sad.  Of course, there are many factors at play here, including the fact that we are viewing the film through a new lens, one that has more experience.

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It’s not your fault.  It’s me.”

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Whatever the cause, The Amityville Horror definitely falls into this category for me.  Instead of fear, I found myself preoccupied with the religious angle of the film, of the role it plays in the fear and experiences of the Lutz family.  Instead of being terrified of the little rocking chair, I kept thinking how dishy Margot Kidder (and James Brolin, for that matter, damn!) was in 1979.

No.  The shine is definitely off the horror here, and not just because I’m older and don’t put as much stock in religiously slanted horror films anymore.  Like some of you I imagine, I found myself doubting the validity of any movie with the words (or some combination of the words) “based on a true story” associated with them.  I think it started with Fargo and it never relented, this doubt and mistrust.  Thanks, Coen Brothers.

You see, in order for this film to be of any worth in terms of scaring its audience, that audience has got to believe it.  The audience has to buy it.  They have to give a damn.  And (sorry) I just don’t.  I think The Amityville Horror is still a solid film, and it will scare the hell out of people into the supernatural/religious horror genre.  James Brolin and Margot Kidder are terrific.  Brolin freaks me out if for no other reason than his unbelievable fixation on the ax he wields throughout much of the film.  And Kidder, well, she’s the perfect eye candy for a horror film, even if her character is a somewhat unsubstantial.

Bottom line?  After 30+ years, the effects in the film are still decent and the story of the Lutz family continues to attract people to the “original” home where the events supposedly took place (*see link below).

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*The REAL story behind The Amityville Horror (spoiler: is it really based on a true story?)

Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” will always be a classic horror film

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Funny story…my wife and I both believed we had seen Suspiria before, but both of us had different memories of the film. So we rented it recently and none of us remembered anything we were seeing. It was strange, like seeing something for the first time, but we both knew we saw it together awhile back, but on a positive note, this movie “Suspiria” was way more entertaining than the film I remembered, so that was a plus.

In the seventies everybody was making horror films, what used to be an underground and somewhat subversive genre, was seeing it’s hay day with films like The Exorcist, The OMEN, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hollywood was realizing what a cash cow horror was, but it wasn’t until 1977 when Italian director Dario Argento released Suspiria, that Hollywood and horror fans alike, realized that horror could be visually stunning as well as bloody and disturbing.

Quick note: We also rented PHENOMENA, another one of Argento’s film’s starring a very young Jennifer Connelly and it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but in Dario’s defense we unknowingly watched SUSPIRIA out of chronological order. There were two other films after SUSPIRIA that were meant to be viewed together. They were lovingly referred to as “The Three Mother’s” by Dario Argento. They were SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980, which turned out to be the film we mistook for Suspiria) and THE MOTHER OF TEARS (2007).

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SUSPIRIA SYNOPSIS: The film follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Harper) who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany, only to discover that it is controlled by a coven of witches.

The world Dario set out to create with SUSPIRIA was one of feminine power, both good and bad. His films usually involved a hero be it male or female, usually female, that has been displaced, an American in Europe or vice-versa. Take for instance our hero in SUSPIRIA, Susie Bannion played by Jessica Harper, she’s a dancer whose just arrived in Germany and is instantly greeted by a disgruntled cab driver at the airport and then when she get’s to the dance school she’s told she can’t come in. Mind you, it’s been pouring rain since she arrived. Part of me would like to believe that this is a text book horror set up, but he does it again in PHENOMENA. Whether politically driven or not, one can’t deny his need to seemingly torture American’s, but he does it with style. Dario is a master of getting the viewer to empathize with the protagonist.

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A series of unfortunate event’s leads Susie down a technicolor rabbit hole where she slowly learns that the dance school is a front for a witches coven that’s being controlled by an ancient evil. There’s a host of colorful character’s that poke their heads into the storyline, but none more daunting than the schools head mistress Madame Blanc played by Joan Bennett. Despite the bad dubbed English there are a few whose talent shines through the muddy ADR, which for all intents in purposes also adds to that strange vibe.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing how this story could very well be a mad man’s version of The Wizard of Oz. I haven’t quite figured out who’s the Lion or the Tin Man, but Susie is certainly Dorothy and Madame Blanc is definitely The Wicked Witch of the West. If I figure out the rest…I’ll let you know.

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You can’t mention SUSPIRIA without commenting on the look. If Dario Argento had been born in the early 1900′s, he would’ve been French and sipping Le Absinthe in some cafe filled with artists, poets and musicians. He masterfully blends elements of French Art Nouveau with 30′s art deco and gives it all a rock concert look. There’s not a frame that doesn’t have some over the top lighting scheme, bold colored walls, high concept architecture or freaky stained glass. Never would I have imagined that these images would become the thing of macabre, but what it does is it transports you to a vivid nightmare in which the setting is terrifying despite the lack of a graveyards, pitch black forests or haunted houses. He fools you, like a drug does it’s user, tapping into those triggers that can turn a “trip” to Disney World into a terrifying experience.

Dario also has a healthy love for eerie soundtracks, but he uses well known rock bands to produce the sounds, giving his landscapes that pop, that many have taken a page from. In PHENOMENA he used Iron Maiden in the soundtrack, in Suspiria he hired Italian progressive rock band GOBLIN (formerly known as Cherry Five), a band inspired by the sounds of Genesis and King Crimson. Their sound was so awesome they went on to provide the soundtrack for another Argento project, the George Romero film Dawn of the Dead.

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The Suspiria theme is not unlike the theme from The Exorcist, but let’s be honest, directors were serving up that strange sound ever since the success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. This is just another one of those classics like The Halloween, that get’s down in you and won’t let go.

These are all the elements that make this film such a classic, A film that isn’t all about the horror, but is also about giving you much more. At some point, someone must say “it has to still be an art form” and this is why directors like Alejandro Jordorowsky, Dario Argento and Stanley Kubrick have created films that give you much more than what you expected. Movies that went beyond and buried themselves in your soul, never letting go. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen Suspiria…see it. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way there’s a bar in Tokyo’s Fashion District based on Suspiria called “Cambiare”. From the chairs to the walls and the ceiling’s…it’s flawless! You can check it out HERE.

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