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John’s Horror Corner: House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Rob Zombie’s sick experiment in extreme cinema.

March 19, 2016

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MY CALL: This felt like a sick kid’s slapstick torture film and back when this came out I really wasn’t so excited to see what Rob Zombie would do next. Not necessarily original or clever, I view this first film to be his experiment in filmmaking. I may not have been impressed (at the time), but I’ll still call this experiment a victory and I imagine this hard-R horror and its popularity helped transform the genre as we know it today.
MORE MOVIES LIKE House of 1000 Corpses: The Devil’s Rejects (2005) for more but better of the same. Lords of Salem (2013) for a major change in pace and artistic approach.

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Written/directed by Rob Zombie (Lords of Salem, Halloween), this modernly spun 1970s throwback immediately lets you know what you’re getting into–and it’s really SOMETHING! It’s gory, in-your-face, brutal, macabre, schlocky and offensive as a gas station hold-up goes horribly awry for two bumbling criminals who are gleefully resisted by the evil clown-faced Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig; Creature, Galaxy of Terror). But this film’s greatest impact was not on the audience, but the genre itself. Dare I be the hater to say I wasn’t at all impressed with this film on its own. But far be it from me to deny how this film (among others like Wrong Turn and the TCM remake; also 2003 releases) reintroduced brutality and gore back into mainstream studio-release horror after a over a decade of soft-R and PG-13 theatrical releases. Take my word for it, the 90s weren’t awesome for fans of hard-to-watch horror. And there was almost nothing so schlocky gracing screens backed by a studio!

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A group of four friends (including Rainn Wilson; Cooties) stop by Captain Spaulding’s monster museum, go on his Murder Ride, and pick up a hitchhiker (Sheri Moon Zombie; Lords of Salem, Halloween) who wastes no time in luring one of them away from the others to her home after they get a flat tire. By the way, Rob Zombie is clearly very proud of Sheri Moon’s body (and I think so is she, and rightfully so)–a trend you’ll observe in all his movies along with her comfort with nudity and scant wardrobe.

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The gigantic, mask-wearing, mute and shy Tiny (Matthew McGrory; Big Fish) and the scraggly, stringy-haired Otis (Bill Moseley; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, House) are clear reflections of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (parts 1-2) family and a shallow gene pool. Rounding out the crazy family of murderers is a sultry mother and a loud mouth grandfather.

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For his first feature-length film Rob Zombie does well, but still displays some beginner-level editing and camerawork that we see more honed in his subsequent movies. The same can be said for the somewhat crass writing (typical of direct-to-DVD movies starring Clint Howard) and Sheri Moon’s acting. I’m not trying to be mean, but all of these components seem far more developed in his more recent work. But, then again, this is a deliberate schlocky throwback.

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The choppy editing offers visions of malevolence, necrophilia, torture and nudity. These scenes are meant to create a twisted flavor, but the celluloid scenes also unevenly break the pacing. Flayed bodies, masks and suits of human skin, and general evil-doing may impress some viewers. But to me this is a beginner’s take on extreme horror. It had no sense of story and became more over-the-top with each subsequent scene, culminating in a most unreasonably elaborate finale in a mineshaft lair of pseudozombie ghouls, Dr. Satan’s lobotomized human experiments, and a mutant barbarian that leads us to an ending that, again, smacks of a lovechild between an R-rated acid trippy videogame and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I thought it was silly (and maybe I enjoyed it a little), but this was something horror-goers weren’t getting elsewhere, perhaps making it the hot commodity of its time.

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The violence is campy and unconvincing by current standards (again, this is schock cinema, though). This film has a reputation for brutality, but well-seasoned horror fans probably won’t see it that way today. Some may find the macabre humor, evil laughter and odd score to be more than a bit disconcerting–but I was not so affected. This felt like a sick kid’s slapstick torture film and back when this came out I was honestly not so excited to see what Rob Zombie would do next. It wasn’t original or clever and it offered little more than to demonstrate that Rob Zombie knew his way around the features on his camera. To that end, we see him trying (and learning) about alternative lighting schemes and filters (very music video-ish actually). Although it didn’t really fit well here in my opinion. I guess it was fun at times, and it’s lunacy lends itself well to drinking games. No scares to be found (nor were there meant to be), but a constant flow of bloody evil craziness.

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Today, by the way, my opinion on Rob Zombie has changed dramatically as he has matured as a filmmaker. I’m actually quite excited to see 31 and Halloween 3…and everything else he does. I view this first film to be his experiment in schlocky filmmaking that paved the way for heavier R-rated horror. I may not have been too impressed upon its release, but I’ll still call this experiment a solid victory.

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