Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
89 mins. Rated R for strong, sadistic violence/gore, sexuality and language.
Rob Zombie (Halloween, The Lords of Salem) had a good thing going with his music career when he was offered the chance to help design a haunted attraction for Universal Studios. This work helped to get Universal Horror Nights back up and going after a long hiatus for the theme park’s October attractions, and it also inspired Zombie to attempt a first feature film. That’s at least how the legend goes. Well, no matter what you think of Zombie and his directing career, you have to give him credit for helping bring Universal Horror Nights back.
It’s Halloween Eve 1977, and a group of cross-country youths, in search of unique roadside attractions, come across a gas station/horror museum/fried chicken joint run by Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig, Kill Bill vol. 2, Jackie Brown). Upon hearing the legend of Dr. Satan, a sadistic psycho who was hanged nearby, they plan a route to find the hanging tree, but they are stopped by a flat tire. They end up following a hitchhiker back to her home where her family is taking part in unusual Halloween traditions. As the night progresses, it becomes clear that this family has no intention of letting the youths go free.
I had trepidations about seeing this film for the second time. I initially hated the film, and I was only convinced to watch the follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects (a movie I really enjoyed), because I was told how different it was from the original. While, on second viewing, the film does not become perfect, I was surprised by how much more I liked it. Zombie has often been seen as an imitator of Tobe Hooper, and he was definitely influenced by the acclaimed Texas horror maestro, but I see him as an extension (for better and worse) much like how Brian De Palma took elements of Alfred Hitchcock to their logical next step. That’s not to say that Zombie improves on Hooper, but like any artist, there’s a through-line that allows Zombie to put his voice into those influences. If Tobe Hooper was the chicken-fried horror master, then Zombie’s is more chicken grease. His is smuttier, angrier, meaner, and sloppier, and that will work for some and fail to resonate with others (Hooper himself praised the finished film). I’ve always leaned toward the former.
I was really taken with the tension and confusion elements of the narrative, as events cycled out of control for our heroes. Perhaps it’s the fact that, last time I saw the movie, The Office was not on television yet and we had not yet been blessed by Rainn Wilson as Dwight, but I really rooted for 3/4 of the youths (less love for the annoying character played by Chris Hardwicke), and I wanted to see the triumph, though internally I knew that it was not in the cards for this movie.
Zombie made a good call on his first feature, understand the hell that the MPAA puts on filmmakers, so he shot two versions of all violent sequences, one with more blood and gore, one with less. This helped him to push the film as far as he possibly could while still satisfying the studio. That keeps the gristle on this greasy film, and it was especially helpful as Zombie took his work-in-progress studio-hopping, as new regimes at some studios changed their minds on his grizzly film and others didn’t like Zombie’s vision.
The biggest problem with House of 1000 Corpses is the truly-annoying and nauseating cutaways, based on the Manson recordings. None of these cutaway video interview moments add anything of value to the narrative, and there’s a lot of the film’s worst moments (and Zombie’s worse tendencies) at play in these cutaways. I think the movie would better (and faster, more frenetic) without them.
House of 1000 Corpses is an acquired taste. I can understand anyone who loves it, and I totally get why someone would hate it. The movie’s aged much better than expected, though it still leaves a bit to be desired. It shows an early director swinging for the fences, and I can appreciate that above all else.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, click here.