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Republished today in memory of Michael Parks, our own Howard Howe.
I became acquainted with a Walrus when I was lost at sea.
I would describe Tuskas a horror-comedy. I really would. I’d also describe it as the most atrocious, upsetting, horrific concept I’ve ever had to wrap my head (and my poor, poor eyes) around. So, while Kevin Smith will offer you his usual jokes, I cannot be responsible for how many of you will not find this funny. Just not even a little bit at all.
I’m watching Hausu on a tip-off from a friend, and while I suspected this would be strange (because she always delivers), I was 110% not prepared for the experience that awaited me. I’ve done a lot of staring at this empty blog post, wondering how exactly to express what I’ve just seen. And for that matter, what.
Thankfully, the smarty-pantses (sp?) over at Criterion have provided me with ample special features to try to help me with my problem. I confess, I followed up my screening by watching the included interview with Ti West, of all people, hoping that someone whose filmmaking I kind of understood might be able to explain this thing to me.
He didn’t, really. But he did reassure me that I shouldn’t be wasting any time understanding, and instead just try appreciating this for what it is: film art.
So, let’s do that.
How do you watch a film as art? I think the general populace is often intimidated by this, or at the very least, think it’s a bit of a time waster. It may be the former, but it’s never the latter. Consider how much time in your life as a film-goer (and a person) will be reclaimed when you can learn to appreciate a movie whether you actually liked it or not. I know – can you really appreciate something you don’t like? Sure you can.
When I first arrived at The Art Institute of Chicago for my freshman year of college, I can honestly tell you that I found the Mark Rothko paintings to be *bleh*. It’s blocks of color on a giant canvas – this one in particular is straight black and white. I did not get it. I really did not like it. However, once I got over my need to “like” it, got up close, looked at the way the paint was laid down, the brushstrokes, the patina, my perspective grew up a bit. It helped that I was learning to oil paint myself, and so suddenly had a real appreciation for the development of texture, and the skill that compositional choice entails.
That’s all I’m asking you to do here. Get over whether it’s your taste or not, and look real close (just not Poltergeist close – the TV waves will fry your brain) – see if you can see the skill set and details in the shots. (For the record, I now very much love Mark Rothko – so I’m confident this effort can change your dislikes into likes, too)
Unlike a lot of movies I find impossible, this one actually does have a plot. Like, a super clear cut one. Here it is:
A girl invites her gang of lady friends for a weekend retreat at her Aunt’s enormous and magical house. She is a welcoming and gracious host. Then, she eats them. Or rather, the house eats them. All in the name of eternal beauty. Amen.
This is like the original Taylor Swift #squadgoals, right here. If I didn’t know better (I don’t, actually – maybe Swifty is a closet Hausu fan?), I’d say she saw this movie and had a real bright idea to get all her best ladies together and invite them over to her giant Watch Hill mansion (she lives right by me, guys!), and then eat them for breakfast in the name of luminous skin and glowing eyes. ‘Cause she has those, and she seems to have new best friends all the time.
Seriously, Hausu could probably be read as a critique on women – particularly their values. It could also be really feminist, if you can appreciate the amazing high-five/secret handshake that happens between two women at the end. And the notion that consuming unmarried women has the power to make a single spinster into her most gorgeous self. Regardless, something this abstract leaves the possibility for endless interpretations, depending on mood/gender/age/what-you-ate-for-breakfast, and it’s precisely why film criticism is fucking awesome. The most complex, and the best art, asks its viewer not only to watch, but to actively participate in creating meaning. Here is your art, served beautifully on a plate. It doesn’t appear to make sense. Now, go make something out of it.
In terms of this week’s haunted house theme (I’m not letting that go – Netflix, where’s my copy of The Haunting?), Hausu is a fantastic variation. In The Grudge, the Onryo is a Japanese manifestation of a horrific event/feeling encased in a haunting spirit. Hausu is some terrifying amalgamation of a traditional Japanese ghost alongside the typical Hollywood-ized horror movie set-up where a bunch of teenagers take a trip to an ill-advised locale and get murdered.
I’m very intrigued by Auntie’s “eating” need. I’m also really interested in her connection with the house – and the suggestion that she somehow is the house. The more she consumes, the larger the place grows? Is that something I hallucinated? I promise (sadly), I did not consume any illegal substances before viewing this film. Actually, I think maybe Hausu is an illegal substance.
I’m going to go with anything having to do with the watermelon. The FUCK with this watermelon, guys?! (Actual sentence I texted to the friend who referred me this film) When Auntie takes a bite and then pops her lips open just a little bit and there’s a damn eyeball in her mouth?!
Am I making you want to watch this movie, yet, friends?! I have never in my life felt the legitimate need to use multiple exclamation point/question mark combos after every single sentence.
Other Things to Notice:
Everything. But really, the Ti West interview did help me come to terms with a few things. For one – the collage elements of this film are actually insane. The cut-ins, animation, I think maybe even some rotoscoping? Director Nobuhiko Obayashi uses absolutely every tool available, and though it may look cheesy-as-all-hell to you and me, respect how much time and effort that takes. Also, respect that sometimes, somehow, it really enhances a scene. That floating decapitated head, the many mattresses beating a girl to death through endless rewinds and replays, the glowing piano keys – when it works, it works. In the words of Cole Porter: Experiment! And it will lead you to the light.
Criterion helpfully describes this thing I just experienced as a “psychedelic ghost tale” and very accurately as “an episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava.” It is definitely a lesson in absurdity done to its extreme, and extremely true to form. As an out lover of absurdism in any format, I can honestly say, this is the most honest, straight-forward, from-the-heart attempt at an absurd narrative film that I’ve ever seen, and that I think I could ever hope to see. It is often hilarious. It is always bizarre. And it is most certainly, an absolute nightmare.
All I ask of you is this:
If you do watch Hausu, I recommend (insist) that you watch it as art. Do not put the DVD in the player expecting to understand. Do not go in with any expectations at all.
Press play. Then watch.
If You Like It (or you’re a big chicken about it), Watch:
Dumplings – This one isn’t for chickens. Chinese, contemporary, disgusting, and very good. Continues the theme of women needing to “feed” their beauty obsessions. Seriously, don’t eat maybe before this.
Show The Kids:
*Probably the most poignant thing Ti West says about Hausu is that it’s made from the perspective of a child’s mind. Perhaps that’s why so many movies from my childhood VHS collection came to mind.
Return to Oz – My father really wanted me to recommend this one. It’s not horror (except when it is), but it is the scariest damn movie Disney ever made. I’m sure they’d like to take it back. Too late. It’s amazing, and God knows why this movie reminded me of it.