House of 1000 Corpses review by The Grim Ringler

House of 1000 Corpses This film, more than any in recent years, has had the imaginations and hopes running high for fans of macabre and dark films. It’s been a movie with a very long reputation and a pretty long gestation. Well, after two years of build-up, it’s finally hit the screen, and we can finally see if it lives up to all the hype or not.

So…does it? Eh, not really, but then it’d be impossible for any film to live up to, save maybe the Lord of the Rings movies and the Matrix films (hope, hope), but then too, the movie isn’t bad. Not as bad as some of the early reviews had me believing.

House of 1000 Corpses is set on October 30, 1977, and focuses on four young adults out on a joyride and looking for interesting places to visit and perhaps to write about in a book on such things they are considering writing. Needing gas, the foursome stops at a man named Captain Spaulding’s roadside chicken, gas, and murder exhibit. Intrigued, the four journey into Spaulding’s stop and are instantly entranced by the bizarre exhibits he has on display and the two guys, anxious to see more, buy tickets for them all to go on the murder ride located in the back of the store which chronicles the misdeeds of some well known murderers. Spaulding, dressed as a clown and oozing the menacing charm of a carnie, leads them through his exhibit, the boys completely enthralled as their girlfriends are just as equally repelled at what they are seeing – which are basically mechanical approximations of some of the killers’ notorious crimes as Spaulding fills in the blanks. But what gets the attention of all four of them is the story about Dr. Satan, a local physician that was convicted of murder and deeds of medical madness and was hanged for his crimes, though his body disappeared the next day. And so it is that as soon as the ride ends the boys are desperate to find the tree Dr. Satan was hanged from and to investigate it, much to the chagrin of the girls. Captain Spaulding gives the gang a rough map and off they go into a sudden downpour, anxious to find this local legend and whether it might be true. Standing beside the road on their journey though is a beautiful young woman that they decide to pick up so she doesn’t have to stand in the rain. It’s immediately obvious though that the baby-voiced woman is not all she appears to be, even as she promises to lead the foursome to the place of Dr. Satan’s hanging. A tire blows on the car though (shot out by a mysterious man hiding in the woods that surround the car) and there is no choice but for one of the guys to follow the girl back to her house so they can get her brother and get it towed. And towed it is, but it will take hours before the tire is fixed and until then the kids have no choice but to get up close and personal with Baby (the girl’s name) and her family, even sharing the honor of being their guests at their Halloween Eve dinner. But things take a turn when it becomes apparent that the family is much more than just eccentric, and as this night progresses, it’s more than clear that there may be no way to escape them but in death. The terror of what kind of family they’ve become trapped by growing with each new revelation until they are finally faced with the man they had sought out in the first place – Dr. Satan. And by then, even surviving seems a horror.

House of 1000 Corpses is not at all what I had expected. From what I had read I thought it would push the limits of what had been done before in terms of brutality and gore, well, that just ain’t so. I had gone in assuming that Zombie was going to bring back the hey-day of the seventies grind houses when movies like Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ruled the day, instead he has given us his homage to those films and to films like Jack Hill’s Spiderbaby. The film, as gruesome as it is, and as dark as it becomes, is almost as much a comedy as it is a horror film. The characters are written so cartoonishly and are captured perfectly by one and all that it is obvious he was making a cult film and nothing more. And that’s both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he knew what he was making, he was making a fun and gross movie to watch with friends with the lights turned out. A movie that will be quoted and emulated to some degree by its fans. But as neat as that is, well, it ain’t what we were promised. And that’s a shame. He had a chance, and a good one, to re-write the modern trend of horror films and to take things back to the days when movies were still scary and disturbing, instead he gave us a dark homage to the old movies he loves as well as to Alice In Wonderland. The hell of it is that it coulda been great. He had the right ideas - he just went down a different road than he could have. And maybe it will take someone not in love with the genre to truly bring us the newest nightmare maker. Look at The Blair Witch Project, as many people as say they hate it now, well, it made a hell of a lot of money for a ‘bad’ movie, and was pretty well liked at the time. If it did nothing else, it took us back to a time when the imagination was the most horrifying thing in the film. It made what was implied more horrifying than anything you could ever see. And the funny thing is people that don’t really like horror films made it. Which in that case was good, because they weren’t slaves to re-making what had been done before.

And don’t get me wrong, this is a pretty boss movie. The film is well directed, for the most part, and Zombie does show a flair for making this kind of film. His style does tend to slant more towards the MTV video style of quick cuts and over-used music, but generally it works for the film. It creates a strange and surreal feeling that sets the tone for the film. And any studio would be foolish not to want the man because heck, he can do his own set design, which he does wonderfully. Every scene oozes character and depravity and it’s a credit to him that he doesn’t linger too often on these images but lets them simply flash in front of you so you never quite get a real idea of what you just saw. The acting is wonderful, lead by the fantastic Bill Moseley and Karen Black, who serve as the surrogate ‘parents’ of the family the kids run across. Sid Haig too is hilarious as Captain Spaulding and you can tell Zombie wrote the part with him in mind all along. He gives his goofy Spaulding a charm and menace that can easily go from funny to disturbing in just a change of tone, as it does in one scene where he is chastising one of the boys for asking so many questions. The entire cast though does a wonderful job of not winking at the audience and playing things straight, even as the movie dances gleefully into the comedic again. The writing is very well done, if over the top, and if I had one complaint about it, it’d be that he never really lets you know much about anyone in the film. You never really come to care about the hapless kids, you never really fear the family, and you the only character you almost get a feel for is Spaulding, who is as much a chameleon as anyone. I know he meant the film to be this way, but hell, even Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave you an idea of what the family was, and who they were. And the film does get brutal, though he lightens its impact by making most of it occur off-screen, implying more than he shows and only showing it happen in weird mid-scene flash-overs in which we get a color saturated version of what went down. Which was my biggest issue with the film. I know he did some re-shoots on it and I wonder if these were part of it, injecting some more weirdness in the hopes of fleshing out some of the mayhem. Sadly, all it does is take you out of the scene it is in the middle of and ruins the flow of the film. It’s a rookie mistake, but a mistake just the same. The end also leaves a lot to talk about. After the film a friend and I talked it over and I think he nailed what it meant, but man, it isn’t overt enough to really leave you feeling as if he knew what ending he really wanted.

This is not a great film. It doesn’t pump new blood into a stagnant horror genre, and it doesn’t re-write the book on horror films. At best it’s a weird sub-chapter in the old grindhouse movies Zombie and many others grew up on. But being as such, I really did like it, and think I will like it more the second time I see it. If you let go of all your preconceptions and just go to enjoy this movie, you probably will…if you are apt to like this kind of thing. It’s dark, funny, and is the kind of movie dorks like me live for because its unlike anything else out there. It’s the kind of movie few have the guts to make and fewer have the wherewithal to finish. Rob Zombie has done both, and wonderfully so. As a movie, it ain’t so great. As a throwback to the old movies that were made for drive-in audiences and for people to watch at a party, this is brilliant. I am hoping that a packed special edition DVD is released so we can see what he meant to do and see how he made this wonderfully bizarre movie. If you love weird, macabre movies, see it, but leave your expectations at the door.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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