STARRINGSid Haig - Captain Spaulding
Bill Moseley - Otis B. Driftwood
Sheri Moon Zombie - Baby Firefly
Karen Black - Mother Firefly
Chris Hardwick - Jerry Goldsmith
Rainn Wilson - Bill Hudley
Erin Daniels - Denise Willis
Jennifer Jostyn - Mary Knowles
Matthew McGrory - Tiny Firefly
Year - 2002
Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4
It's nice for a movie to have hype. With a certain amount of buzz, a film can be very successful financially due to word of mouth and curiosity. Hype is like a nail hammering deep inside your head. It keeps getting slammed louder and louder into your brain, that you have no choice but to want to watch what the hype's about. But it doesn't mean that the film's quality will match the hype. And that could make an average film into a true disappointment. Such is the case with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES.
For a film directed by a rock star and amateur-film director, Rob Zombie, it sure had a lot of buzz. Apparently MGM and Universal Pictures passed on the film after it received a NC-17 rating. Obviously the studio execs of these two studios had never heard any of Zombie's music or seen some of his music videos if they believed if the film would receive a lesser rating. So after two years of Zombie editing the film enough to receive an R rating, Lions Gate Films, which pretty much started to pick up horror films that no other studio would pick up, accepted the film. It had a limited release in 2002 but was released nationwide in early 2003. Lots of critics decided not to even review the film [due to the title] and others who did see it bashed it. While a critical failure, it did okay commercially, making up its small budget. But it started to become clear: The film, while gory and ambitious, wasn't all that great. But it wasn't bad either. Just an average horror film that did just as much right as it did wrong.
In the late 70s, four twenty-somethings [two couples] travel cross country to put together data about weird roadside attractions for a book. They make a stop at Captain Spaulding's (Sid Haig) museum of murderers and chicken shack, which is run by a stereotypical redneck dressed like a clown [probably the coolest clown ever and I hate clowns]. To gain the full experience, the boyfriends drag their girlfriends into Spaulding's tour. The tour is actually a "ride" of sorts, pushed by an inbred looking dude who likes to laugh, that tells the story of mass murderers. The ride's main attraction is the legend of Dr. Satan, who seems to be from the area and has a history of killing people.
Since this is a horror film, the two couples naturally decide to locate the place where Dr. Satan did his dirty work and was supposedly hung. On their way, they pick up a hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) who seems to know all about Dr. Satan. Of course, the car breaks down and the group has no choice but to go to Baby's house to wait for a tow truck. However, Baby's family are nothing but crazy hillbillies who capture them, torture them, and begin to murder them one by one.
REVIEWHOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES can be summed as such: a retread of the 1974 classic THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Just with less interesting protagonists and really weird ending. Obviously the film is inspired by TCM, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and other classic horror films. That doesn't hurt the film too much, because originality is not Hollywood's strong suit to begin with. What does is the fact that it's not executed well-enough to stand out amongst its peers. The "heroes" of the film are not interesting or even developed enough to make us care about them. The villains are SO developed that the film loses something [I'm not afraid of people I can somehow identify with, I'm sorry]. We barely see the violence unfolded on these people. The gore is okay but it doesn't really mean much in context of the film. This film is a disjointed mess that doesn't really flow the way it should. We don't feel fear. We don't feel alarm. We don't feel uncomfortable. It doesn't totally succeed as a horror film.
One thing the film does have going for it is the direction by Rob Zombie. His first feature film, it's not perfect but it's a lot better than it should be. He definitely has a visual eye and handles shots and sequences in the film fairly well that we understand what's going on pretty much at all times. And his use of jump cuts and shaky cameras are obvious odes to 70s horror, which Zombie is a fan of. I liked the sequence when Otis murders the father of one of the girls and the two officers. Slow motion, no sound effects, no explosions - just a slow tension-filled sequence filmed as country music plays over the carnage. When Otis finally fires that gun point blank into the younger officer's head after 2 minutes of anticipation, you get chills up and down your spine when it finally happens. And the final sequence, while kind of unsatisfying, is directed wonderfully. When the "Final Girl" ends up in the subterranean corridor that's like an insane version of Alice In Wonderland, Zombie has total control as a director and it's really the only time in the film where Zombie feels at ease with his abilities. Not a fan of the scenes intercut with the real film that revealed the Firefly family and their victims in some sort of Grindhouse-style [thought they were more distracting than helpful after a while]. And Zombie could have used more lessons in tone and atmosphere, because while dark and surreal, it never felt scary enough. A lot of the times, the situations just seemed really silly. And I think Zombie used humor too much to really get his point across. It was welcomed at Captain Spaulding's Murder Ride, because Spaulding is a sarcastic son of a bitch. But at the Firefly House, it was WAY over the top. Was I supposed to be scared of these people or laugh at them? This inconsistency of terror didn't help the film at all. But other than these things, Zombie is pretty good behind the camera. And he has ambition. I can never fault anyone for that. It was obvious he learned from his mistakes from this film and pretty much fixed most of them for the much better sequel, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS.
The story was somewhat flawed. And it's not because Zombie doesn't write good characters, because he does. Captain Spaulding, the most interesting and entertaining character in the entire film, is proof of that. But he seemed to focus too much on the villains of the story than on the victims that we're supposed to be rooting for. I like the Firefly family. They entertained me. But I'm not supposed to care for these characters as much as I'm supposed to care for the victims of their carnage. The only one with a real personality was Jerry, played by Chris Hardwick. He was just as wacky and over-the-top as the Firefly family was. And he had great one-liners, making him pretty funny. Rainn Wilson's character was pretty much there and the two girls were interchangeable.
Honestly, I couldn't tell which girl was which. Any actress could have played those roles. The fact that THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE worked so well was because Sally Hadesty was a developed character and we felt for her when she was up against Leatherface and his wacky family. We cared about Sally. We don't really care about these 4 characters. And that hurts the film somewhat. If we can associate with the villains, the fear factor is gone. And some of the dialogue was more like an inside joke to Zombie's fans. If you're gonna do a mainstream film, you have to appeal to the masses, not just the people who made you a star. It's not selling out. It's called a good business move. Some of the dialogue could have been taken out because it was just plain silly to hear. It was almost Tarantino-ish in a way, just with less talent. At least the moments of real terror in the film stood out against the silly dialogue. But it kind of makes people less familiar with Zombie's work left out in the cold. That's not good. The script just didn't seem as tight as it should have been, because nothing felt centered or sincere.
Now I don't fully blame Zombie for this. I'm sure the direction and script was a lot tighter before the MPAA came in and demanded that Zombie cut and change some things before giving it an R-rating. And I can see it in some parts of the film, where things appeared a lot bigger than the film was allowed to tell and show. If you listen to Rob Zombie's commentary during the film, you can tell the man wasn't fully pleased with the final product. He sounds like a defeated director who wasn't allowed by the studios to show his full vision of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. He doesn't sound interested in doing the commentary for the film and refuses to discuss certain scenes, probably because they weren't to their fullest potential. The guy was definitely pissed off and I don't blame him. It sucks that the DVD is the theater version, because if that Director's Cut version is ever released, I'm sure it'll be a whole lot better film than the one released. But at least the film we do get is a lot gutsier than this PG-13 wave of "horror" that's infiltrated Hollywood. And for that, I respect Zombie for trying to make a true horror film, even if the final result doesn't seem that way.
The acting was a mixed bag for me. At times I was annoyed. Other times I was entertained. Just a really weird film acting-wise. For the villains, Sid Haig was obviously the best actor of the bunch as Captain Spaulding. Sarcastic, badass, and just charismatic as well, the evil clown could do no wrong. He's the only clown I wouldn't beat up if I came across them. He's too cool for school. Too bad he wasn't in the film more. Bill Moseley, who best known as Chop Top in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, is pretty good as Otis. I thought he was more silly than scary, but he gave a fine performance nonetheless. I really believed the guy was insane. Not a dude I'd mess with. Karen Black, best known for EASY RIDER, is also really good as the sexual Mother Firefly. She still looked pretty good for her age [MILF!] and really played the seductress role very well. And Sheri Moon Zombie, wife of Rob, had a really weird effect on me as Baby Firefly. She was way over-the-top with her cutesy baby voice and that laugh that puts those THE EVIL DEAD possessed demons to shame. But I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. She was fine as hell and had a blast playing the role.
For the protagonists, Chris Hardwick was the best one as Jerry. At least the guy had good dialogue and a sense of humor. The other ones were so dull. Especially the girls, played by Erin Daniels and Jennifer Jostyn. Honestly, it was like they were twins. I just couldn't tell them apart. Their roles weren't thick enough for me to even care anyway. They screamed well though. And Rainn Wilson was pretty underused as Bill. He's a real good actor [any U.S. THE OFFICE fan will tell you that] who had good delivery with his dialogue, but it didn't add up to much of anything. Shame he wasn't given more to do.
And the music is pretty sweet in the film. Not just the score by Zombie and Scott Humphrey, but the use of songs like The Commodore's "Brick House", "Now I Want To Sniff Some Glue" by the Ramones, and the title track by Zombie himself really made the film a lot better than it should have been. Only times in the film where I sensed some atmosphere and mood was when the music played. Just a great soundtrack to a really uniquely disappointing film.
THE FINAL HOWL
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is a mixed bag for me. I like the film but it's really flawed. At least Rob Zombie tried to make a film that any horror fan, like myself, would love and appreciate. Too bad he was screwed by his distributors. What was probably a great film underneath the massive edits and excess is turned into a confusing and disappointing movie as a whole. At least the film is memorable, which you can't say for many films in the horror genre. Hopefully an unrated version is released so we can experience what this film would have really looked like, because I'm sure that version of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES will be a spine-chiller. Entertaining film that's not up to its full potential, which is really sad if you think about it.