Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sadistic Violence/Gore, Sexuality and Language
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Karen Black, Erin Daniels, Dennis Fimple, Chris Hardwick, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie & Rainn Wilson
Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie is definitely a polarizing figure in the horror genre. Originally a shock rocker for WHITE ZOMBIE (a band named after the old-school Lugoisi flick), Rob Zombie lets his geeky flag fly all the time. Whether it be at concerts or in his films, you definitely know that this guy is a huge fan of the horror genre. Moving on from music, Zombie made his directorial debut in 2003’s controversial HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. I still vividly remember the advertising for this flick. It had been shelved by Universal for fears of possibly receiving an NC-17 rating and being seen as “too weird” for mainstream audiences. Lionsgate picked it up and then unleashed it on the world. I was disappointed upon first seeing this film, but I honestly blame having unreasonably high expectations for that reaction. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s freaky fun for certain tastes.
On an October 30, 1977, four friends make a pit stop at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. This rundown roadside attraction is a bizarre delight to behold and Jerry is particularly taken by the legend of a local serial killer known as Dr. Satan. He convinces his three reluctant friends to drive to an old hanging tree. On their way to the tree, they pick up a weird hitchhiker who happens to live next to their destination. However, their trip takes an ugly turn when they find themselves abducted by a family of psycho rednecks. That’s pretty much the plot right there. It’s Halloween, there are psycho rednecks and four potential victims. I think you get the gist.
Rob Zombie has always had obvious horror influences in his music videos, whether it be the Drag-U-La used in the “Dragula” music video or little sound bites he throws in various other songs (e.g. Demonoid Phenomenon, Never Gonna Stop, etc.). Here, he takes his love for 70’s exploitation and throws it all into one wildly weird, if uneven, concoction that is HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. The script is a hodgepodge of different horror-related ideas that range from a TEXAS CHAINSAW sort of slasher to more bizarre territory during the final act. All of this sounds crazy and it definitely is. However, Zombie also injects a silly sense of humor into the mix. After all, you can’t exactly have someone being turned into an exhibit called “Fish Boy” and not have a bit of a laugh.
As far as characters are concerned, the four friends are as bland as bland can be. Aside from the fact that a young Rainn Wilson and even younger Chris Hardwick show up as two of the four friends, these potential victims are dull. They don’t have much personality, not even to an extent where they could be considered horror stereotypes. Instead, they’re merely fresh meat for the villains. It is on the opposite side of the coin where Rob Zombie really knocks it out of the park. These villains (the Firefly clan) are great! Bill Moseley puts in a memorable performance that balances out creepy and kooky at the same time as Otis (the lead maniac). It could be argued that this character is essentially Chop Top (from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) before he became Chop Top. Karen Black (mainly known for TRILOGY OF TERROR) is enjoyable as Mother Firefly. Meanwhile, Sheri Moon Zombie is not a good actress in the slightest, but Baby Firefly is a fun character…sort of. The best character comes in the briefly glimpsed (he has a total of four scenes) Captain Spaulding. Played by Sid Haig, Spaulding just might be my favorite evil clown to grace the horror genre.
The big problems with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES don’t stem from a jumbled script or weak protagonists though, but rather in Zombie’s directorial style itself. This was Zombie’s first feature and you can tell. He essentially plays the whole thing out like an elongated version of one of his videos. By saying this, I mean that we get really flashy transitions to other scenes and brief sections of the film that no connection with the story whatsoever. While Zombie occasionally cuts away to Otis or Baby yelling into the camera about how they enjoy killing people, we also get bits with crazy old folks rambling about Skunk Apes or totting shotguns. These elderly characters have no place within the story itself and seem to pop up for these 10-second intervals simply because Zombie thought it would be cool. Instead, it becomes a big distraction and annoyance.
HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES marked the arrival of a new polarizing voice in the horror genre. Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie is an interesting filmmaker to say the least. His feature debut is a mixed bag as a whole, but still provides enough sick enjoyment, dark humor and creepy sensibilities that it’s a worth an occasional viewing for every other Halloween season. Take it as flawed fun.