House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Director: Rob Zombie
Sid Haig/Captain Spalding
Karen Black/Mother Firefly
The setting is 1977 on a dark and stormy Halloween night. After some car “troubles”, two young couples wind up at some backwoods house where they meet, and are entertained by, a sweet family of murderous psychotics. They get taken for quite an “amusing” ride, well…amusing for us that is…FUCK YEAH!
"Whatever you need to do, you do it. There is no wrong. If somebody needs to be killed, you kill him, that’s the way." -- Baby
Well, the wait is finally over for me. I recently caught a R-rated version of this film and finally got to see horror rocker Rob Zombie’s directorial genre debut. For me, it was worth the three-year wait.
The plot: kids get stranded and killed by psycho family and yes, it purposely echoes "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to the point of making the upcoming remake feel even more trivial. On this end, Zombie’s stamp made it quite a unique and visceral trip. Although sporting an infectious dark sense of humor (loved the Manson girl magazine), gnarly set designs and crazy ass costumes, the high card here was, without a doubt, Zombie’s excessive die-hard “horror fan” approach to it all. The horror imagery was constant throughout with scarecrows, scary masks, doll heads, skulls and much more put out in high, relentless doses till the end. The early amusement ride in serial killer heaven was definitely the highlight for me in that respect. THANK YOU!
Rob’s presence behind the camera also took me on a loop-the-loop and always kept me wanting more (like a junkie with no money torturing his dealer with a sharp blade and a handful of salt). Zombie served up a delicious RIP-MTV kind of jive with psychotic shots, brilliant use of colors (red, green, blue), split screens, kinetic editing, pleasurable indulgent shots (all about the money shot with the cop…wow), weird ass filters…you name it, it was in this graveyard! Zombie also went hogwild with flash cuts of hot nude chicks, clever grainy reels of the killers revealing info about themselves to the camera intercut between the action (loved that shite) and he even went as far as communicating his love for the classics via a horror TV show that would often comment on the goings-on in the world of the film. GENIUS! Then, there was the use of music throughout that never failed to engage me. If it wasn’t the “Mack Truck” score or hard tunes roadkilling my carcass over and over, it was the Tarantino-like use of soft tunes set behind violent scenarios. YEAHHHHH! Basically, the film assaulted my every sense and I thanked it for it.
The cherry on top of this bloody ice cream treat were the loveable, endearing and “non-annoying” villains who were, after all, the heroes in this madhouse. Rob assembled quite a horror-friendly cast here and he let them run wild for our viewing pleasure. My favs were “is he a villain?” Sid Haig ("Spiderbaby", "Coffy") who easily stole every scene that he was in as the extravagant Captain Spalding, Bill Moseley (Otis) who was so unpredictable that he gave me the willies and newcomer Sheri Moon (she’s in Zombie’s "Living Dead Girl" video and is now his wife) who charmed the boxer briefs out of me for more reasons than one. If it wasn’t her hot “Laura Palmer”-like looks wooing me, or her many moments of nudity, it was her cackling psycho laugh that put the possessed "Evil Dead" chicks to shame.
The gore was surprisingly low in this “abattoir” (mucho trim-trim will do that to a film), but that wasn’t really what hindered it. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" didn’t need the graphic red stuff to whoop that bootie, so why would this baby? This film’s pitfalls were mostly on a script level. First, the good guys suffered from being less interesting than the villains with the two “good” girls in particular being nearly interchangeable. They had no distinctive personalities and looked too much alike. That toned down the fear factor, since I was rooting for the loonies the whole way. The flick also lost its focus during its middle section. I was expecting extensive torture of the leads and I did get some in random doses, but it was never emphasized upon long enough to affect me full blast. The lack of conflict between the heroes and the baddies also made the middle section a more passive watch and lastly, characters good and evil would disappear for long periods of times, which often led me to ask myself who I was supposed to be following through this run. Actually, what’s the story again?
And there’s the catch-22 on this sicker-than-sick beeyatch, my friends. Even though the story kind of evaporated during the mid-section, the visuals and the extreme sadistic oddness of it all kept me in the coffin where I belonged. The film double-downed on that with a last block that I can only describe as “Alice in Horror Land”. The “bizarro” threshold was crossed to become some seriously, mind-tweaking messed up jamboree. Countless freaks, an axe-wielding monster, cannibalism, and a devilish surgeon doing what he does best. Zombie went on a rampage with the horror fun for the finale and I lapped it up like a trained "Cujo" earning a biscuit. In the end, I had a freakin' macabre riot with "House of a 1000 Corpses" even with its shortcomings. I expect mainstream audiences to walk out on this one scratching their heads in bewilderment. As for me, I want to celebrate Halloween with this family. ADOPT ME PLEASE!
It shows that this one got the machete in the editing room, but we still get some quick “don’t blink” gore like a bullet in the head, a dry axing, a razor cut, a scalping, nasty surgery, lots of red and more! I’d slaughter to see the uncut version.
The Killers: Bill Moseley (Otis) was one intense mofo and he gave one of his finest and scariest performances here. I wouldn’t fuck with that guy! The same could be said about genre veteran Karen Black (Mother Firefly) who was in fine form and cut loose as the horn dog mother. Sid Haig (Captain Spalding) was also the bomb as the motor mouth, cussing clown. Great show! Sheri Moon (Baby) owned as the vivacious psycho beeyatch from hell that we all want to date. The Teens: Chris Hardwick (Jerry) was the more appealing “good guy” as the duder with a sense of humor. Erin Daniels (Denise) and Jennifer Jostyn (Mary) did what they had to do, but their parts were too thin to leave an impression. Who was who again? Rainn Wilson (Bill) had a good delivery as the Sci Fi geek, but again, his role was too slim to fully stick on me. Tag to that, cameos by genre favorites Tom Towles (Henry) and Michael J. Pollard (I’m not a fan, but he worked here).
T & A
You’ll catch a lot of breasts in this house with all kinds of quick shots of naked chicks being tied down or tortured. Thankfully, Sheri Moon was also one of the donors in the T&A department, showing us a lot of her stuff.
Zombie’s eye was what kept me feeling like a small fish on a big hook. Nutty shots, trippy lighting, speed-like editing, powerful use of slow motion, whacked out filters and so many horror images tossed at ya in quick cuts that you’ll need 13 viewings to fully grasp what you’re seeing. Wrap all that in a polished yet thick morbid horror feel and you get an undeniably damn outstanding directing job.
The soundtrack was AMAZING! We get "Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue" by the Ramones, a sick use of "Brick House 2003" by Lionel “washout” Richie and of course, "House of 1000 Corpses" by Rob Zombie, which is a tune that I can’t stop listening to nowadays for some reason. The score by Scott Humphrey and Zombie was also very groovy in its aggressivity. Loved it!
With "House of 1000 Corpses", Rob Zombie wanted to put out an "old school" 70’s-like harsh offering for today’s generation and in my opinion, succeeded 90% of the time. When he failed, the heavy aesthetics and the addictive horror vibe oozing out of every single freakin' frame made up for it. How’s that for a safety net? Yes, the “heroes” should’ve been explored more, the middle section would’ve benefited from more direction/conflict, but the INSANE ride I was taken on made it all way worthwhile in the end. Blood, guts, hot dames, sadism, LSD-inspired images, sets and costumes wilder that those “Girls Gone Wild” videos, a badass score and a kickass soundtrack…I’m SOLD! This is a horror movie made by a fan for the fans and I can just imagine how greater this bitter pill would’ve been if all the cutting it went through over the years hadn’t been done. Having said that, thanks Rob, not only did I need this slamming dose of genre juice in my veins, but it also inspired me on an artistic level and is now my new “choice” Halloween Party horror movie. LONG LIVE THE HOUSE!
"House of 1000 Corpses" history: In 2000, Universal Studios picked up the film and dropped it in 2001 judging it to be too graphic. In 2002, MGM picked it up and Zombie began editing. MGM dropped the film after Zombie made this comment on MTV: "Apparently they have no morals over there. They're happy for some blood." In late 2002, Lions Gate Films picked it up and is now preparing to launch it on screens in limited release on April 11, 2003.
I heard that the DVD will be uncut. It better be.
Zombie was once set to direct the third chapter of "The Crow" series, working from his own screenplay, but Miramax Films eventually pulled out.