Chainsaw Massacre Redux
House of 1,000 Corpses proves that persistence can pay off. Three years ago, rocker Rob Zombie completed his writing/directing debut and waited for Universal Studios to release it. But the studio, fearing the film would be stricken with the dreaded NC-17 rating, abandoned Zombie, who shopped his pet project around to other studios until MGM picked it up. However, this relationship didn’t last long. Zombie made some joking comments about MGM which caused them to drop distribution. Much later, House of 1,000 Corpses was picked up by Lions Gate, famous for taking on tough projects other studios have shied away from.
Was it worth the wait? Is Rob Zombie’s entrance into the realm of movies as intense as rumored? Not quite, but in delivering a film of terror and psychological horror akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombie shows a great love for the genre. I predict he will be making horror movies like this for years to come.
October 30, 1977. Four kids (Chris Hardwick, Rainn Wilson, Jennifer Jostyn, and Erin Daniels) are on a road trip, researching various roadside attractions for a book they’re writing. On a dark and stormy night, the group stumbles upon a terror museum/fried chicken emporium run by the eccentric, clown-faced Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). There, the kids learn the legend of Dr. Satan, a local mass murderer who was hanged long ago but whose corpse was never found. Driven by curiosity, the four press on and search for the tree the killer was hung from. Instead, they encounter a different sort of horror -- a crazed backwoods family. Over the course of the night and following day, such psychotic types as Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon, Rob Zombie’s wife), and Mother Firefly (Karen Black) take turns terrorizing the youngsters, showing them a world of blood-soaked death, torture, and cannibalism up close and personal.
What Rob Zombie has done with House of 1,000 Corpses is pay homage to a period in the horror genre where it was at its most primal and close to reality, a time before cell phones and GPS systems could get the characters out of trouble before Leatherface got a chance to rev up his chainsaw. House of 1,000 Corpses is in the tradition of TCM and The Last House on the Left, where the terror is more realistic because you never know if or when things like this will happen in real life. You might not like what you see in the movie (some pretty sick and disgusting stuff goes down here), but you have to admit that the film does an impressive job of depicting human horror at its scariest. House of 1,000 Corpses doesn’t put horror in the hands of a zombie killer who always survives for the sequel; it leaves it up to the sick, disturbed minds who do exist in the world.
Zombie is an intriguing new talent in filmmaking, packing House of 1,000 Corpses with dark lighting, a foreboding tone, and all of the editing techniques (turning the picture negative, splicing the action with footage of the family explaining their murderous habits) at his disposal. While this would normally be annoying, Zombie somehow turns it to his advantage, making the tricks a part of the film’s guerilla style. Although not working with the highest of budgets, he emerges as a director to watch for in the future.
Unfortunately, Zombie's shoddy screenplay tells a much too freaky story. It's also simplistic (kids get terrorized by killers…and that’s pretty much it), features thin characters (the victims could’ve been played by monkeys, and no one would notice), and without reason gives some villains more screen time than others (who exactly are Rufus and Grampa?).
Hardwick, Wilson, Jostyn, and Daniels are decent as the kids, but they’re hardly memorable, with Hardwick standing out as a guy who loves all the spooky atmosphere…up until the scalping begins, of course. The best performances belong to the crazy family, from Sheri Moon as the cackling Baby (notice how she never breaks her tone of voice, even when she’s become threatening), Bill Moseley as demented killer Otis, and genre staple Karen Black as the family matriarch to Sid Haig, playing the part of “Is he a villain or not?” Spaulding with enough over-the-top gusto for two movies.
House of 1,000 Corpses comes across as sick, disgusting, bloody, and seriously messed-up in the head. Still, with its sense of style and respect for hard-core horror fans, it's also better than most horror flicks we get these days.
MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong sadistic violence/gore, sexuality and language.)
Review also posted on www.ajhakari.com.