House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2019


I honestly don't know when the last time I watched Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses in its entirety, in fact it's possible that I only saw it the one time, theatrically (where I dozed off for a bit to boot). I could have sworn I watched my DVD at some point before Devil's Rejects came along, but today I found myself struggling with Lionsgate's notoriously obnoxious security adhesive (where they seal all three sides of the disc, and use a sticky solution that often leaves residue on the case) as I opened it for the first time. With 3 From Hell coming in a couple days, I wanted to refresh my memory, but as I watched the film I realized my memories were so poor it was essentially like watching the movie for the first time.

Indeed, even two of my "specific" memories of the film turned out to be wrong. I thought I remembered a scene of Baby (Sheri Moon) ordering pizza, but it was just booze - I had it mixed up with Texas Chainsaw 4 I guess? And then I vividly remembered the scene where Bill Moseley executes a man, depicted via a long slow-motion crane shot, but in my head it was the father of one of the girls the Firefly family was terrorizing - this was also wrong, as the father was gunned down earlier in the sequence. No, the man who got the crane shot was none other than Walton Goggins, a name I was surprised to see in the credits anyway, further proving how long it had been since I took a look at the film (yes, I remembered that Rainn Wilson and Chris Hardwick were the two male heroes).

In turn, the movie was better than I remembered. I wouldn't say I loved it - it's kind of all over the place and has about two too many villains - but I was never bored, and found myself frequently impressed by how much memorable imagery Zombie managed to cram into the 88 minutes of his very inexpensive movie. The set dressing alone is on par with things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nothing But Trouble, in that you can watch the movie a dozen times and still be noticing strange props and decor around the (equally colorful) characters. The Natural Born Killers-esque cutaways (recolored footage, video mixed with film, etc) get a bit overused, but otherwise I was impressed by how clearly Zombie established himself as a filmmaker in his first attempt.

Granted if you hate his "thing" then there's no chance to enjoy the movie, but just as I came around on his 2nd Halloween entry (in director's cut form) I found myself really appreciating how he was basically applying his distinctive style to a particular brand of horror (in this case, a Texas Chainsaw kind of thing, though he has some Eaten Alive in there too). I remember someone saying that if they had to guess what a Rob Zombie was like (for better or worse), their mental image would be almost identical to his film 31 - but they were saying it dismissively, whereas I kind of love that I know what I'll get when I sit down for one of his movies. If he was making them every year, I'm sure it'd get tiresome, but 3 From Hell will be his 3rd movie in the past decade - that's a big enough gap in between to enjoy his hillbilly hijinks as a diversion from the supernatural horror movies that make up an increasing percentage of what horror films are playing in our multiplexes.

It's also legitimately tense at times. The finale is kind of a dud (Zombie always knew this, for what it's worth) but there are some really great sequences along the way to make up for it. The first big attack on the group as they attempt to escape is fairly harrowing (and again, this was a movie released at a time that the likes of Darkness Falls was able to top the box office), and even the fakeout bits, like Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig, in what was his first major role in years) pretending to get angry at Wilson's character for mocking him, carry their fair share of unnerving energy. Also, Zombie's penchant for zooms and film distortion lends the film the appropriate "grindhouse" flair four (really seven since it was filmed) years prior to the film Grindhouse, so he deserves some credit for bringing that sensibility into the mainstream long before it became tiresome.

Its only real flaw (again, if you're on board with its general vibe in the first place; it's admittedly a tough sell) is that it's got so much packed into it, it ultimately kind of feels like Zombie lost interest in his own villains. The final 15 minutes finds the one survivor (Erin Daniels) facing off against Dr. Satan (a character we've heard about but not interacted with) and his creations, leaving Moseley and Sheri Moon pretty much on the sidelines, which is not only awkward but simply unsatisfying - it'd be like if Sally Hardesty's final ordeal found her fighting off the random drunk from the cemetery instead of Leatherface. There's also an ongoing subplot about five cheerleaders that is continually referred to for a solid hour of the movie, only to be discarded without fanfare, making me wonder why Zombie didn't just confine them to an introductory prologue so we could focus on our hero quartet the rest of the time.

I'm gonna revisit Devil's Rejects too; I KNOW I haven't seen that one since theaters (but retain more memories of it), and in my mind it's still his best film - curious to see if it holds up to that. I don't outright love anything he's done, but I don't hate anything either (hell even his Halloween - his worst film - has stuff I enjoy), and while early reviews on 3 From Hell have been pretty scathing, I suspect I'll walk out enjoying it. I just hope I'm not doing it a disservice by refreshing my memory of the first two, when he was still hungry (and had more budgetary support for his ideas) and what he was doing was something wholly unique in the landscape. I'll know on Monday!

What say you?

P.S. I went to the 1,000 Corpses maze at Universal Horror Nights last night, my first time in one even though it's like the fourth time they've done one based on the film (which was partially shot on the same backlot), and not only did I quite like it, but was amused at scenes in the film that were essentially playing out the same as these mazes, with the girl wandering through corridors as things jump out at her. It's the first one you'll come across after you enter the park, so make sure you check it out if you plan on hitting up the event!

1 comment:

  1. I recently grabbed this movie, solely due to the house at Universal Orlando. I have very low expectations, but have learned through the years that watching the films prior at least once is essential. I still remember the Dead Silence house as one of my favourites, and I wouldn't have enjoyed it near as much, had I not watched the film. (Which I had never heard of at all prior)


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