House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

I was a bit excited in 2003 when I heard that House of 1000 Corpses was finally going to get a release.  Rob Zombie, both solo and with his band White Zombie, had made a career out of doing music that often sampled as well as aped the feel of the horror and exploitation films he grew up watching.  If anything his music got better once White Zombie broke up.  No shade on the rest of the band; they had improved exponentially throughout their whole existence.  It just happened Rob left after their first solidly consistent album. 

There was also the aesthetic of his videos.  I figured if that carried over into the movie it would at least be interesting.  I had also followed the drama behind the movie, as it had been made and completed in 2000 for Universal, only to have them not release it because they were sure it would get an NC-17 rating.  Between 2000 and 2003 Zombie added some footage while cutting quite a bit, including subplots and, though a longer approved version of his is said to exist, the version currently available is what was released in theaters.  Thus began an era of outright hate for Zombie by some and a grudging appreciation by others. 

Bill Hudley (Rainn Wilson) and Jerry Goldsmith (Chris Hardwick) are traveling cross country with their girlfriends Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) and Denise (Erin Daniels).  They are doing a book on roadside attractions so, when they are low on gas, are happy to come across an isolated station owned by Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), a man dressed as a clown that offers a murder ride and fried chicken as well as gas.  The ride piques the interest of the guys due to the local legend of Dr. Satan, a man who experimented on mental patients and was hanged nearby.  They go in search of the tree where this happened, only to come across a hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie). 

Baby and the rest of the Firefly family - Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple), Mother (Karen Black), R.J. (Robert Allen Mukes), Tiny (Greg McGrory) and Otis (Bill Mosely) - live in a farm nearby and at first seem helpful, but strange.  Unfortunately, they are more than just eccentric, and things escalate quickly.   Meanwhile, Denise's dad (Harrison Young) becomes concerned when his daughter doesn't show up to visit and comes to the town of Ruggsville to investigate. 

One thing that carried over was Zombie's video style.  He uses many different types of media, from video tape to 16mm and 8mm cameras, and everything is here.  That is either one of the biggest assets to the movie or biggest drawbacks, depending on the viewer.  As in his concerts he throws everything at the audience at once to the point where it can become numbing.  The good thing about House of 1000 Corpses is that, even if it often feels like just random things are happening, at least it's usually interesting - or disturbing. 

The movie is definitely at homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with Mosely having been in that movie's first sequel as Chop Top.  It is set in 1976, thus negating cell phones from the plot, as well as having a reason to keep the effects cheap and practical.  Unlike Chainsaw it does not hold back on the violence.  One thing Zombie does well in this movie - and better in The Devil's Rejects, its sequel - is make the audience uncomfortable.  Tobe Hooper did that just through the setting and the tension, but Zombie was interested more in show than actual horror in his film.  Being a musician Zombie also knows about sound design and, though the sets often copy the aesthetic of Chainsaw, it's the sound that works to unbalance the audience most in this film. 

I have always liked The Devil's Rejects much more, but House of 1000 Corpses has its charms, and this time around didn't seem as random.  It still has things that are there for no other reason than Zombie thought it was cool - the preacher scene, the whole Dr. Satan subplot and one kill scene that involves an extreme pullback to a crane shot and 26 seconds of silence - and he does go a bit too far sometimes.  However, a good horror film pushes the envelope, and it this point he was still interested in making a good movie, for fans of his music and fans of horror alike.  Occasionally the sparks of creativity from this movie reappear, but these days they are few and far between.  While the self-indulgence of some of his later work as seeds in this film the good largely outweighs the bad, and if time has done anything to this film it has improved it. 

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Mosely, Sheri Moon Zombie, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn
Director: Rob Zombie



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