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Originally published Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Movie review

'House' is home to goofy gore

"House" is an insanely entertaining haunted-house comedy from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'House' (Hausu), with Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Yoko Minamida. Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, from a screenplay by Chiho Katsura. 87 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains cartoonish gore and violence, brief nudity). In Japanese with English subtitles. Central Cinema.

It's taken 32 years for "House" to reach our shores, but it's an insanely entertaining case of better late than never. Released in Japan in 1977, this colorfully cartoonish haunted-house tale marked the audacious debut of director Nobuhiko Obayashi.

"Star Wars" mania was spreading when Obayashi unleashed this low-budget extravaganza, but what "House" lacks in technical wizardry it more than makes up for in playful ingenuity, injecting cheesy effects into outrageously stylized set pieces that now serve (in the clarity of hindsight) as prescient sources of Japanese pop-cultural influence. Just about everything from "Hello Kitty" to "The Grudge" can trace its origins to this gonzo exercise in funny frights and goofy gore.

Inspired by an idea from his 7-year-old daughter, Obayashi (with screenwriter Chiho Katsura) concocted this fantasy that opens with teenage pals Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Ohba) changing plans for summer vacation. Eight years after her mother's death, Gorgeous dreads vacation with her father and his new fiancée, so she recruits Fantasy and five other schoolgirls to visit the seemingly cozy home of her elderly aunt (Yoko Minamida), whose infirmities mysteriously vanish when the girls start disappearing.

Dear ol' auntie is not what she seems, and "House" turns into a horror-fantasy comedy that grows increasingly absurd as the body-count rises, provoking more laughs than fear with over-the-top scenes involving severed limbs, a ravenous piano, attacking mattresses and a cat with telekinetic powers.

For connoisseurs of the bizarre, "House's" revival is long overdue.

Jeff Shannon:

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