Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses back from the dead.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon
IMDb rating: 6.0
Metacritic rating: 31
Before his mediocre attempt at rebooting the Halloween franchise, and long before his beautifully moody, yet still utterly embarrassing 2013 film, The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie created some intriguingly malicious and memorable characters for House of 1000 Corpses. Originally set to be released by Universal, the studio refused to release the film due to an imminent NC-17 rating (or so they thought). Zombie bought back the rights for his film and eventually sold it Lions Gate, who released House of 1000 Corpses in 2003 with an R rating. Teeming with gore, vulgar language, and vibrant characters, House of 1000 Corpses is a worthy spiritual successor to 1970s horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, and The Hills Have Eyes.
House of 1000 Corpses is a worthy spiritual successor to 1970s horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes
The plot outline for the film is very much a cross between Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It starts out with a group of two young couples driving across the country while assembling information for a book that they are supposedly writing (a plot device which is never mentioned again, mind you). They stop at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen for gasoline and discover a whacked-out roadside tourist attraction. From here, they learn the legend of serial killer Dr. Satan, and set out to find the spot where he was hung to death. After picking up Baby Firefly, a hitchhiker played by Rob Zombie’s real life wife, Sheri Moon, the group’s car tyre is shot out and they must then spend the rest of the evening, and their lives, at the disposal of the Fireflys. Of course, the group has the misfortune to come across the most criminally insane family possible.
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Rounding out the Firefly family are Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), RJ (Robert Mukes), Grampa Hugo (Dennis Fimple), Tiny (Matthew McGrory) and the ridiculously sick and twisted Mother Firefly, played by the late, great Karen Black. The family brutally torture their unfortunate visitors, along with some missing cheerleaders, before introducing the survivors to the infamous Dr. Satan. If nothing else about Zombie’s debut is original, the characters make the film, somehow appearing immediately likeable despite being the ostensible villains.
Through show-stealer Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, the audience can never be too sure whether they’re rooting for a villain or not
Zombie takes an approach similar to slasher films of the late 70s and early 80s by making the audience root for the killers as opposed to the innocent victims; through show-stealer Sid Haig, as the ever-shifty Captain Spaulding, the audience can never be too sure whether they’re rooting for a true villain or not. Many claim that House of 1000 Corpses simply rips off 70s horror, but it’s easy to tell that Rob Zombie is truly a fan of the genre, and of filmmaking in general. Horror is a genre of excess, and Zombie definitely provides plenty of that – House of 1000 Corpses is chock full of blood and torture, as well as scenes of necrophilia and even deviant art projects (Fishboy, anyone?). There is never a dull moment in House of 1000 Corpses, as Zombie keeps pace with jump scares and frequent acts of violence.
Despite the initial backlash from critics and horror fans alike, House of 1000 Corpses has since gained new life as a cult film. Captain Spaulding, Otis, Baby and the others even returned for an encore, The Devil’s Rejects, which is even more disturbing and original than its predecessor. House of 1000 Corpses may not be as groundbreaking as its 70s/80s counterparts, but it is still packed with plenty to love. Diehard horror fans will find plenty of gore mixed in with the general air of depravity and helplessness, a la the staples of the genre.
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All images: Lions Gate Films