There have been so many variations on the
stranded-kids-in-the-middle-of-nowhere scenario that, well, you can only come
up with so many variations. Rob Zombie's directorial debut film, "House of 1000
Corpses," adds nothing new to the scenario except more of the usual cruel humor
and occasional gory highlights.
The typical scenario has four young foolish people travelling on the road to
discover the urban legend of Dr. Satan. Supposedly, Dr. Satan performed
experiments on human guinea pigs involving dismemberment, disembowelment and
who knows what else. So they stop at a chicken-takeout/gas station/haunted
theatre called Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen (the owner is
wonderfully played by Sid Haig). They are lured into a ride of horrors that
include wax figures of real-life murderers such as Ed Gein, Lizzie Borden and,
naturally, the fictitious Dr. Satan. After the amusement ride is over, the four
agree to go the woodsy area where Dr. Satan was supposedly hanged. They pick up
a blonde hitchhiker (Sheri Moon) who has a knack for heavy rock and roll. Of
course, their car gets a flat (thanks to a shotgun blast during a rainy night
which nobody hears) and they end up at the blonde girl's residence, a spooky
house occupied by the blonde's flirtatious mom (Karen Black), a deaf, deformed
giant named Tiny (Matthew McGrory) and a blonde madman wearing spooky contact
lenses and sporting a "Burn the Flag" T-shirt named Otis (Bill Moseley).
Most of "House of 1000 Corpses" is blackly comical and often too hyperbolic. It
is the equivalent of a rock music video with interspersed clips of superior
horror movies (including "The Old Dark House"), grainy footage and other film
stocks, not unlike what Oliver Stone might have done had he directed this. The
problem is that none of it is remotely scary. Even the cliched false alarms and
the "who's there" shenanigans aren't very well executed. The two young couples
are the most innocent and annoying of victims, and they hardly merit any
sympathy. The black humor runs too high and the gory killings, played against
rock music and asynchronous Satanic readings, feel out-of-date and repetitious.
I know this is set in the 1970's and that this is Rob Zombie's homage to those
splatter flicks, but he could have benefitted from the most tried-and-true rule
of horror - less is infinitely more.
The best thing about this movie is Sid Haig, last seen as a judge in "Jackie
Brown." He has fun with his role and brings it the relish and humor one might
expect from an atypical clown character like Captain Spaulding. Bill Moseley
seems to be treading on his "Chop Top" character from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre
2" (which this movie clearly resembles), yet he has a menacing stare. Karen
Black and Sheri Moon run the gamut of overly theatrical to highly overly
theatrical and may grate the nerves after a while. However, Sheri Moon's
lip-synched rendition of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" is hysterically gaudy stuff.
"House of 1000 Corpses" is occasionally chilling and moodily photographed
(though the zoom lens is overused), but it is just a maniacal, out-of-control
carnival rather than a horror movie. High octane doesn't translate as unruly
intensity. Ask Tobe Hooper.
Copyright © 2003 Jerry Saravia