On Oct. 31, Dollar Cinema hosted a special Halloween screening of Hausu, a 1977 Japanese cult horror film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. The film follows a schoolgirl named Gorgeous who, upon discovering her father’s impending remarriage, travels with six friends to vacation at her aunt’s haunted country house. Although the trope of the haunted house is typical of the horror genre, Hausu is anything but conventional. From the beginning, Hausu is, quite frankly, insane. Some of the more notable examples of its lunacy include people shapeshifting into bananas, an evil, carnivorous piano, and cats metamorphosing into people. Hausu is full of cinematic magic, complete with trippy special effects and cheap, B-movie thrills. It combines upbeat music, corny humour, gratuitous, over-the-top violence, and sharp self-awareness. These elements contribute to Hausu’s own particular brand of charm.
The film’s biggest trick, however, might be convincing the audience that it is not scary. Though it seems innocent and even childish at first, underneath Hausu’s campy veneer lies an extremely sinister film. When Gorgeous, Melody, Kung-Fu, Prof, and Fantasy finally decide to call the police after losing their other friends, the camera’s over-exposure gives the image a ghostly quality. Gorgeous—now possessed—picks up the phone, and, from the other side of the line, come the gruelling, horrid screams of her friends. These kinds of eerie moments are rare, but they suggest a much darker film below the superficial playfulness. The darker scenes are haunting within a movie where, for the most part, its characters implausibly ignore the horrors going on around them, and in which scares are often played off as jokes. The film toes the line between comedic and horrifying: In a running gag, characters yell “An illusion!” whenever they encounter the supernatural. Hausu doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s no less scary for it.
Like many horror films, Hausu is best experienced with a group. Through laughs, grimaces, or bewilderment, the film’s spectacle is only complete when sharing these moments. This may be why it is perfect for Dollar Cinema, a theatre known for showing movies months after their initial release at incredibly cheap prices. Dollar Cinema’s familiar atmosphere and underground reputation make it the ideal place for a film like Hausu and its ardent fans.
Bernie Gurberg, Dollar Cinema’s eccentric owner, recently ran for Montreal mayor on one simple campaign promise: Cut the poverty line. While he lost the election, Dollar Cinema is proof of his ability to provide a space for people to enjoy themselves without breaking the bank. The theatre was packed for Hausu, and according to the event organizer, was one of its most successful screenings, other than Rocky Horror Picture Show, another iconic cult film. Films like Hausu, with its colourful personality and meta-cinematic nature, will always attract cult followings, and Dollar Cinema is the perfect spot for movie nerds to convene at an affordable price.