A little over a year ago, Nashville's historic Belcourt Theatre treated a virgin midnight movie audience to the craziest movie they'd ever seen: Nobuhiko Obayashi's HOUSE. James Cathcart, a Belcourt staff member who was an important advocate in getting the film booked, had been hyping the movie up to me, and the Belcourt suggested I try designing a poster for it to sell at the screenings. I used the first idea that came to me after watching a screener of the film-- Blanche the cat's psycho-screaming mug-- and adapted it to stand alone as a symbol of the uncanny and over-the-top assault that our midnight movie audience was in for. One year, many more midnight screenings, and a nationwide theatrical tour later, HOUSE has arrived on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection.
Limited edition screenprints for the Belcourt's encore run of House,
in hot pink, electric blue and sour watermelon.
Getting the email from Janus Films that they wanted to use my poster for the nationwide tour of HOUSE was a dream come true. We worked out the upscaled design (I had designed the original Belcourt poster at only 12 x 18" and we we needed 27 x 40"), changed the text and the posters started going out with the prints. I immediately suggested the idea of doing a t-shirt too, just the cat face, which Eric Skillman put together for me. Months later, decals followed; Blanche had somehow become a miniature cult celebrity of her own. In those months, word of mouth was only getting stronger about this indescribably insane film, and Janus' newly-struck 35mm prints were a hot commodity. Somewhere along the line, a photo arrived in my inbox of Obayashi himself autographing one of the original Belcourt HOUSE posters. Marc Walkow, a mutual friend with Obayashi and Criterion and a producer on the DVD/BD release, kindly arranged for that poster to ultimately end up back in Nashville and it's now one of my most cherished possessions. If the story of HOUSE had ended there, it would have already been too good to be true.
When Criterion decided to induct Janus' Halloween goldmine into the pantheon of the collection, the cover had already been designed, but I was given the opportunity to have some fun with the rest of the package. I relished this chance to highlight the film's many, many gorgeous images that really don't get acknowledged often in reactions to HOUSE; for it is truly a beautiful film. I wanted to avoid any of the obvious images that get burned into your brain after watching HOUSE, and instead feature some less obvious (though nonetheless iconic) images that I've become so attached to as a massive fan of this film. With this approach I also didn't really have to worry about ruining any of the movie's best scares. There was plenty of great imagery to go around.
I also wanted to reframe the movie from the point of view of its characters-- specifically Auntie and Gorgeous-- and celebrate the great archetypal power of this story as Chuck Stephens (another Nashvillian on the HOUSE team) touches upon in his essay "The Housemaidens," contained in the booklet: "A coming-of-age story about a clique of teenage schoolgirls who will never grow old and a demon spirit in the guise of a spinster who was never young..." With a movie like HOUSE it's easy for reviewers and fans to harp on the genre elements and the film's overall craziness, but I've always felt that no one talks enough about how simply beautiful the film is, in both its aesthetic and its story. My approach to the booklet and overall package design for HOUSE was to counter that craziness (which the cover and poster, I think, do a decent enough job conveying on their own) with a tribute to HOUSE's beauty. I like to think that the package is one that would please this movie's biggest fans and most attentive students; the image on the Blu-ray disc, for example, is one that will probably only be recognizable to fans who have seen the film more than once. I also had fun designing the DVD menus:
What started as just another fun movie poster project became, rather quickly, a personal discovery of one of my favorite films. Seeing HOUSE with new midnight movie audiences, bringing new friends and family members to experience it for the first time, and now sharing it with even more people at home, this movie has grown so very dear to my heart. I'm so honored and grateful to have played even the smallest role in the story of HOUSE's North American release and success, and want to thank Toby, James and everyone else at the Belcourt, Mark Walkow, Sarah Finklea at Janus Films, Sarah Habibi at Criterion for getting in touch and really making my wildest dreams come true, and to everyone who was at all involved in bringing HOUSE to a whole new audiences in the United States this past year.
HOUSE is out today on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion. Buy it, Netflix it, watch it, share it, tell everyone you know about it. Your life as a mortal moviegoer is about to change forever!