House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black, William Bassett, Erin Daniels, Walter Phelan
(out of 4)
Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses is a curious freak show of a movie – a fun house of horrors that wants to aim for cult status but doesn’t quite have the authenticity to pull it off. It starts out promising enough – bringing us into Captain Spaulding’s (Sid Haig) Museum of Monsters (and Chicken) off a lonely highway in the middle of nowhere, America. The date is October 30, 1977, our first tip-off to Zombie’s love for 70s grindhouse and Texas-Chainsaw-style goings-on. Haig’s performance as the hilarious (and dangerous) owner of the creepy establishment at the edge of Roadside America is a masterpiece of slow-building intensity that takes us to a campy high point the rest of the movie (post-opening-credits) can’t seem to find its way back to.
We are soon treated to four idiot teens who, after paying a visit to Spaulding’s attraction and learning of the possible location of local scary legend Dr. Satan, decide to take a trip off the beaten path to find out more. Running into a sexy psycho cowgirl (Sheri Moon, hot!), they eventually make it to the requisite house of the title, run by a family best described as the Texas Chainsaw clan version 2.0. Idiotic decisions are made and soon enough our foursome become unwilling playthings to the house’s resident redneck freaks.
What’s frustrating about the movie is its inability to figure out what it wants to be. Scenes of sadistic shocks involving naked dead cheerleaders are intercut with fast camera moves and changing color tones, 2 second edits and skewed camera angles with monologues by each psycho meant to give some insight into their personality. On one hand, we get a brutal stabbing death of a helpless victim; on the other hand most of the murders are hyper-edited, as if Zombie suddenly turned squeamish on us, and are soon replaced by quick faded jump-cuts or black-and-white television shorts of a Dr. Paul Bearer wannabe introducing the next fright-fest on the tube. There’s even one sequence that has its impact diminished by the playing of Brick House by the Commodores.
Admittedly, there are moments of brilliance here – take the Tarantino-esque sequence where the police stumble upon a horrific scene of tortured and mutilated victims to the tune of I Remember You being sung by Slim Whitman. After this, the camera pulls back slowly with complete silence on the soundtrack; then the tension is broken with the sound of a gunshot. These kind of sequences belong in a more serious movie, and I can appreciate a serious attempt at hard-core horror at the same time I can appreciate a campy attempt at making a partying haunted house attraction, but when Zombie tries to mix the two it’s more like trying to assemble incompatible parts from other (better) movies. Better to go with the superior sequel The Devil’s Rejects.
- Bill Gordon