Review by Dustin Putman
3½ stars out of 4
Three years and three film studios after it was originally supposed
to be released in the Fall of 2000, Rob Zombie's already infamous
"House of 1000 Corpses" has finally been unleashed for the public
to see. So much controversy can, usually, only mean one thing: when
the subject in question is eventually seen, one wonders what all of
the uproar was about. Despite little in the way of actual gore (the
old farts at the MPAA clearly had something to do with this, although
the unrated version will be released on DVD), "House of 1000 Corpses"
is unrelentingly violent and disturbing. Controversy or not, this
loving, down-and-dirty throwback to the 1970's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"-style
horror flicks creeps under your skin and stays there for its full 88 minutes.
Four twentysomething friends--Denise (Erin Daniels), Mary (Jennifer
Jostyn), Jerry (Chris Hardwick), and Bill (Rainn Wilson)--traveling
cross country as they research weird roadside attractions stop for
gas at "Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen." The owner
of the place, the clown-painted Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), is only
so happy to take them on a sort of carnival ride tour through the
history of serial killers. Further up the road, they make the mistake
of picking up a beautiful hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon). When
they run into car trouble, Baby suggests they come back to her family's
house until their car is fixed by her mechanic brother Otis (Bill
Moseley). Once inside and having also met matriarch Mother Firefly
(Karen Black), the friends discover too late that the family are depraved
serial killers themselves, having trapped and slaughtered at least
a thousand victims over the years.
Rob Zombie's ballsy, freakishly stylish, highly auspicious writing-directing
debut, "House of 1000 Corpses," is a welcome respite to what horror
movies have become in recent years--that of the sleek, overly self-referential
era of "Scream"-style slasher films. Because Zombie is a die-hard
fan of the genre, he knows exactly what he is doing, setting up his
cast of unwitting victims and twistedly entertaining villains, and
letting them run loose in his gruesome funhouse of carnage. The result
is gritty, grimy, thoroughly unpredictable, and always unnerving.
"House of 1000 Corpses" is a dream come true for those that have heard
of and read Fangoria; if you don't even know what Fangoria is, then
it's a safe bet you should stay far away.
In realizing his vision, Zombie has worked closely with production
designer Gregg Gibbs to create a dazzling, spooky visual masterpiece.
Set on Halloween, the movie has done the best job since 1978's brilliant
"Halloween" of personifying the holiday. Pumpkins, scarecrows, seasonal
decorations, or even trick-or-treaters fill each frame, deeply eliciting
a certain time and mood. Editor Robert K. Lambert (2000's "Red Planet")
also does indelible wonders with flash-cuts, slow-motion, split screens,
and the chilling use of film negatives. Mix all of this with a disturbing,
candy-colored ride-cum-tour of serial killers, psychopaths in masks,
severed doll heads, chickens in cages, clowns, operating tables, an
arsenal of weapons, dead bodies, skeletons, and a deformed mutant,
and what has been created knocks the socks off of every horror movie
in this vein that has been made in the last ten years, at least.
The cast is not brilliant, but the over-the-top performances are,
indeed, perfect. As the ominous Captain Spaulding, Sid Haig lords
over the proceedings with overwhelming presence even when he isn't
onscreen. Sheri Moon, Rob Zombie's real-life girlfriend, is quite
a find as the sexy, demented, childlike Baby, while Karen Black (1999's
"Mascara") vamps it up as Mother Firefly. The four normal protagonists,
including Erin Daniels (2002's "One Hour Photo") and Chad Hardwick
(MTV's "Singled Out"), cannot compete with their flashier adversaries,
and so do not stand out quite as much, but they do their jobs effectively.
Credit must go to studio Lion's Gate for having the balls to release
"House of 1000 Corpses" when former distributors Universal and MGM
shied away from what is, in essence, exactly what a horror film should
be. That director Zombie was able to achieve this with such maniacal
relish is, perhaps, what scared most studios off. It is rare in today's
prim, proper, politically correct times to find a motion picture with
the sort of pure visceral impact as "House of 1000 Corpses" has. While
this is not turning out to be a banner year for cinema, for this lifelong
horror fan, "House of 1000 Corpses" is one of 2003's best so far.
In other words, it was well worth the three-year wait it took to finally
bring it to the screen.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman