Spirit of Halloween for Dummies

Reviewer: Ben Champagne

Venue: The Home for Pesky Neighbors Theatre


The Spirit of Halloween superstore has moved into your neighbor’s house, we are 10 days out from Halloween and the frights and delights of the Earth and beyond are upon us. For many this is a favorite season. Some people love dressing up, some love the emotion of fear. It has been stated that people like the feeling of fear because it instigates in us a feeling of control. It takes our brains back to our more primitive selves in which we had to protect our fire from intruders. Now we only get this stimulation from gore on the screen as we safely navigate to and from the grocery store with enough flavorful snacks to annihilate our ancestors. 

I prefer comedy to horror. I consider myself a film guy. Low on the spectrum, but I do register. Not quite a buff. How bout, a weakling? No, somewhere in between. I like to laugh more than I like to be scared. The world is hard enough. And the fact is, most horror movies aren’t really scary. They may produce a jump scare, but I don’t believe in ghosts or supernatural stuff really at all, so they do nothing for me. And I detest shock films like Irreversible by Gaspar Noe. The general public got into softer versions, like Saw. Which is almost more detestable for dulling down the shock value but still trying to be such. 

Many fans cite Scream as a classic because of the irony at which it pokes at its own genre of film, the slasher. Nobody can doubt that The Shining is a masterpiece of cinema. I personally think it sits outside of the horror genre. The same way 2001 is horrifying, but isn’t truly a horror movie. I am no expert on these and as soon as I bring up these classics, I’m sure I will receive comments, so why don’t I move on to the film at hand. 

I recently learned of the 1977 Japanese cult classic film, House. Many of the reviews surrounding the movie say that it’s a horror movie “if a child wrote it.” This was fascinating to me. As a kid I remember being in love with the Goosebumps book series. It seemed like all of us kids were trying to out-do each other with tales of terror. Invented stories about ghosts we saw or grisly murders we witnessed. All lies. 

This film hinges on a few great backdrops. Literally. Every scene in the film uses a very beautiful, semi-comical, very fake – backdrop. Even in the terror scenes by the well, the beautiful sunset backdrop is used. The effect is… surreal. It’s exactly the type of detail a child would overlook while they are calculating the next scene in which a piano devours a small Japanese girl whole. 

As the plot develops, each of seven girls, faces off with a grisly aspect of this haunted house. A closet full of mattresses come alive and fall on a girl. This is a great way to go out in my opinion. Death by comfort. One girl simply leaves through the front door. Is later -ghostified. The movie continually gets sillier and sillier. 

The wave of horror comedy that we have seen over the years is a lot of fun. I love the early Peter Jackson movie, Dead-Alive, even though I don’t like gore. The practical effects are very fun. Fun is the word with horror. Genre films get away with things that dramatic and artful movies cannot. The mere fact that we know we are watching a genre film allows us to immediately suspend some disbeliefs. The practical effects in these films can be astounding. I love to imagine the crowds of people watching the original, The Haunting, and seeing that door bend when the ghost was behind it. A giant rubber door. 

Many people love Shaun of the Dead. One of my now favorite films is The Lighthouse, which is definitely more comical than it is scary. But above all things, it is a beautiful movie. Stunning at every turn, in what on paper should be quite boring. Two men, isolated in a lighthouse together. 

House isn’t deliberately funny. There is a lack of self-awareness that is endearing. Nobuhiko Obayashi is a fantastic director really. It seems there is a lot of control and deliberation in the choices, but somehow the sum of these choices makes something a little bit different. Several scenes in the film are artfully collaged and feel like Bunuel or Dadaist pieces. So in some ways it fails perfectly. 

The greatest detractor from the film is the escalation. I recently screened Willy Wonka for an audience and I realized that one of the reasons the movie is loved, is one of the reasons I am not a huge fan. As the movie escalates, it sets up an expectation and then satisfies that expectation. It then uses this same trope over and over again. Generally, a good story should set up an expectation and then predictably satisfy that. Then again, increase the expectation and satisfy that. Then at some point it must set up the expectation and subvert it. Whether this happens through denial of the satisfaction, rejecting the expectation, moving the story in another direction entirely, the viewer needs to be taken somewhere else at some point. Most horror films fail at this. 

House is a fun watch. I don’t think it lives up to the hype. It got a little boring to me as it went on. But it is fun and amusing and I can guarantee I’ve never seen anything like it. In some ways it is reminiscent of The Room, the supposed “worst film ever made.” It shares the utter naivete. But on the other hand, it made me think of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie as well. A movie that I find somewhat terrifying even though it is just an experimental film. 

Happy watching. Can’t wait for Hallmark Christmas movie season to begin!

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