“Even in your fists, there is darkness.”
*WARNING: A few spoilers and some potentially upsetting subject matter ahead, along with a bit of geeky gamer jargon. Viewer discretion is advised.*
Did you know that the PlayStation survival horror classic Resident Evil began as a remake of an obscure 8-bit RPG that never came out in America, and was itself based on a Japanese horror film about the ghost of a woman who used to burn babies alive?
Welcome to Sweet Home.
Given its direct influence on one of the biggest video game franchises in history, it’s understandable that more seems to have been written about the Famicom video game adaptation of Sweet Home (1989), than the film itself. Directed by Tokuro Fujiwara (who’d go on to produce Resident Evil) and with considerable input from the film’s director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the game is a relatively standard turn-based RPG, but with an ominous horror bent and the alluring prospect of unspeakable brutality around every corner. And considering the game’s vivid replications of the film’s numerous murders and mutilations, it’s perhaps equally understandable that Nintendo felt reluctant to localize the game for US markets near the height of their industry domination. Though, that isn’t to suggest that the NES was horror-free, with the first three Castlevania titles bowing on American consoles, and the glorious Monster Party standing as a personal favorite (despite some . . . questionable censorship decisions outside of Japan).
It’s a shame then that Sweet Home, the film, has remained largely unseen by American audiences, as it’s a sensational, deeply twisted haunted house experience. It’s the simple tale of a documentary film crew investigating a renowned artist’s old mansion, which has been boarded up and off-limits to the public for thirty years, for reasons no one on the team seem to care about. After a tense, if relatively uneventful first act, all manner of hellacious doom begins to befall them one by one; pretty standard stuff on paper, though Sweet Home is anything but standard. The plot may bare more than a passing resemblance to Nobuhiko Obayashi’s tremendous Hausu (1977), but there’s far less of an editorial frenzy to the proceedings here, which really helps the back half of Sweet Home to pack a punch. Moreover, with body melt effects to rival Street Trash (1987) or, well, Body Melt (1993), the gruesomeness of Sweet Home’s practical FX work is nearly unparalleled for the era in Japanese horror cinema. [That is, unless you want to go down the deep, dark rabbit hole of the gonzo short films they put out during the 80s video boom, such as the highly disturbing Gakidama (1985),or the absolutely splatter-packed Biotherapy (1986), which doesn’t even technically qualify as a feature at its gore drenched thirty-five minute runtime, but I digress.]
Sweet Home won’t be for everyone—it’s moody and foreboding for perhaps a bit too long for a lot of tastes, and its ghoulish backstory is dark as hell, but it’s rare that I get to check anything off my Flicks-To-See-Before-I-Die list that lives up to the hype, and Sweet Home struck just the right J-horror chord for my Halloween season. It’s easy enough to find online in decent quality if you’re currently on a continent where it’s not readily available for rental or purchase, and if you really find yourself getting into it, you can kill another four hours or so watching some faceless Let’s Player run through the video game real quick.
For the record, I haven’t done that yet.
Happy Halloween. 🎃