MIDNIGHT-MOVIE FANS, REJOICE: The little-seen Japanese surreal/horror/camp classic “Hausu” (House) is making the art-house rounds, with a Criterion DVD release rumored for later this year. But unless you’re heading to Baltimore’s Senator Theatre this weekend, you’ll have to hit up a gray-market dealer to experience the awesome weirdness.

While not nearly as disturbing as 1977’s other experimental classic “Eraserhead,” it’s got an equivalent number of “WTH?” moments, the most notable featuring a girl being eaten by a piano.

The basic plot: schoolgirl Oshare and her creepily omnipresent cat, Snowflake, bring some friends to visit a long-lost aunt’s mysterious house, which the locals treat like Dracula’s castle. With good reason, since both Auntie and the house consume fresh girls to stay immortal.

The animated opening credits hint at what’s to come — the movie title takes the shape of a white grin, then the “O” morphs into lips with a cheesy cartoon eyeball.

Despite the horrible things that happen to the girls, it all plays like a cartoon. Liberal doses of humor, low-budget (but highly cool) special effects and the fact that the girls seem a parody of a Scooby Gang give the film a lighthearted touch and high camp value. In one scene, Auntie enters a fridge, quickly re-materializes near the camera, then gives the audience a knowing smile.

Aside from watching “Evil Dead 2” a few times beforehand (the similarities are uncanny), there’s little the prospective viewer can do to prepare, even knowing that director Nobuhiko Obayashi based the story on his young daughter’s idea. It’s best to consider it as Oshare’s dream: many backgrounds are washed-out matte paintings, and Oshare’s scenes dissolve even more randomly than the others do.

Mostly, you should just sit back and enjoy as Obayashi throws every film school technique in the book at you, some of which are blink-and-you-miss-it.

Some final advice, though: If you own a white cat, keep a very close watch on her.

Written by Express contributor Paul Stelter
Photo courtesy Criterion