HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sadistic Violence/Gore, Sexuality and Language

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Grade: B-

COOTIES (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence and Gore, Language including Sexual References, and some Drug Use

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Directed by: Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion

Written by: Ian Brennan & Leigh Whannell

Starring: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Morgan Lily, Jack McBrayer, Jorge Garcia, Nasim Pedrad & Leigh Whannell

If you ever attend a film festival, you’ll quickly run into the ultimate first-world problem. Festival programmers schedule cool-sounding films simultaneously, so you’ll be forced to choose between two selections that you want to see. I was faced with such a dilemma at 2014’s Sundance Film Festival. My ultimate decision resulted in me not seeing COOTIES and instead, waiting over a year to finally catch this horror-comedy. COOTIES (now on VOD and in select theaters) turns out to be a fairly competent little film that delivers some good laughs and gore, but doesn’t quite stick the landing as a whole.

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It’s no secret that educators don’t get enough respect. Clint understands that more than most. He’s a struggling writer turned substitute teacher at an isolated elementary school. His day starts off rough, but only gets worse when the kids eat some tainted chicken nuggets. The food virus turns these prepubescent bundles of joy into rage-fueled zombies. If there’s any hope of survival to be found in this pint-sized apocalyptic scenario, Clint and his mismatched teachers must band together to escape from the school.

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Originally considered for a straight-faced serious horror flick and then quickly shifted into a far more obvious comedic approach, the premise for COOTIES is brimming with potential. Indeed, plenty of jokes regarding the public school system got big laughs out of me. The best of which point out how the creepiest guy is usually the one teaching sex ed and also lampoon political correctness to a ridiculous degree. However, the movie seems to forget midway through that it’s billed first and foremost as a zombie-comedy. Instead of going through dark laughs and bloody antics, the movie decides to focus on a sort of love-triangle between Clint, a former classmate and her gym teacher boyfriend. The zom-com angle is fun, but this love-triangle subplot is pointless filler.

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Even when it’s unfocused, COOTIES manages to stay more than watchable due to a strong cast. Elijah Wood is playing the nerdy Clint and mainly serves as the straight-man to the colorful characters around him. Allison Pill is enjoyable as the perpetually happy teacher who seems to be repressing her frustration underneath the surface. Rainn Wilson is perfectly cast as the thick-headed, cocky gym teacher. Meanwhile, Leigh Whannel got the biggest laughs out of me as the socially awkward science teacher. Jack McBrayer is playing his usual typecast role to great effect. The rest of the side characters serve as brief comic relief or bloody casualties in the war between teachers and flesh-eating students.

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Most people might go into COOTIES expecting crazy, over-the-top fights between teachers and zombie kids. However, we don’t get to see enough of that. There are great moments in the last half, but the film seems content playing out like a traditional zombie film (with characters cowering in the corner from the monsters). I feel that approach was a blunder, but I can’t deny the awesomeness of one long fight sequence in the final third. If you want to watch zombie kids (who were brats before even being turned into monsters) take baseballs to the face and receive one of the best gore gags I’ve seen so far this year, then the final third of COOTIES will mostly do the trick. I say “mostly” because this movie really doesn’t seem to have much of an ending. They seemed to be going in one direction and then lost momentum with a “I guess that’s it” final scene.

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COOTIES is fun while it lasts, but definitely could and should have been better. There are good laughs to be had as well as one stellar practical effect in the finale. The cast do well in their parts, but the movie gets bogged down due to poor pacing and losing focus of the real story at hand. Overall, this is a decent horror-comedy that comes recommended if you want a time-killer about zombies, teachers, and tainted chicken nuggets.

Grade: B-

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