After her father surprises her by inviting his new fiance to their summer vacation, the daughter rebels. She instead writes to her long estranged spinster aunt and asks if she could visit. The aunt agrees enthusiastically, even allowing six of of her friends to join as well.
It’s hard to find much precedent for Hausu. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is an obvious point of comparison, although it was released four years later. They both share a delight in dismemberment, spraying multi colored bodily fluids, and omnipotent spirits who take great pleasure in torturing their captives slowly. But Raimi’s films were always anchored in our reality. The natural world beckoned, it was there at the other end of the destroyed bridge. Hausu bears no relation to our reality. “Reality” here seems imported wholesale from H.R. Pufnstuf. Even without ghosts, simply boarding a train is an occasion for a musical number.
Director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi takes great delight in mapping out the physics of this world. He uses stylish and artificial mattes for backgrounds in the early portion of the film. Just when the audience’s eye has adjusted to them, mattes start to get integrated into the environment. When exiting their train, the girls look out to a joyously painted exterior, but the camera pulls back and it’s shown to be a billboard advertisement.
If the tone of Hausu is very cartoonish relative to Western Horror, it still offers a far darker ending than any of the aforementioned films. Certainly the saddest sack of bananas ever caught on film. And that’s a shame, the leads here--teenage girls with apt names like Gorgeous, Prof (wears glasses), Fantasy (the romantic dreamer), Melody (the musical genius), Sweets (for candy), Kung Fu (who kicks ass and takes names), and Mac (who is fat, but only by Japanese standards)--make for one of the most capable horror film victims this side of The Descent. Had not the evil ghost been so powerful they’d have a real shot. If there’s any consolation in this belief structure the spirits of the dead still have a link to the living world, their passions and personalities outliving their bodies.