Rocker Rob Zombie burst onto the horror film scene with his 2003 movie House of 1000 Corpses. It took years to get released (and necessitated a change of studios) and the movie was generally slammed by the critics but horror fans understood what Zombie was trying to do; create an homage to the classic 70's horror films he grew up with. With a good dose of humor and just as much gore, Zombie succeeded brilliantly. Now this film has made its way to Blu-ray with a very good transfer, high definition sound and even a bonus JAVA game not found on the SD release.
Just before Halloween, four budding authors are researching a book on road side attractions when they stumble upon Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen which also doubles as a gas station and sells "tasty" fried chicken too. They meet Captain Spaulding himself, a foul mouthed grungy man in clown makeup (wonderfully played by Sid Haig) and he tells them about the local serial killer, Dr. Satan, the two couples head off in the rain to see the tree where he was hanged.
Nearing their destination they spot a hitchhiker, Baby Firefly (played by they hypnotic and ultra-sexy Sheri Moon) and offer her a lift. When the car blows a tire, Baby takes everyone to her house, a bizarre and unusual affair with decapitated dolls nailed to the walls. There they meet the Firefly family including the disfigured giant Tiny (Matthew McGrory), crazy Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple), and Mother (Karen Black) who tries to seduce one of the young men. The leader of this group is Otis (Bill Moseley), an insane psychopath who spends most of his time torturing five cheerleaders that he kidnapped. After an odd dinner an even more bizarre floorshow starts. After Grandpa tells some off color jokes, Baby comes out dressed in a slinky outfit and sings a sex song to the men. When their girlfriends object, a fight breaks out and the four youths are asked to leave in their newly fixed car. Spooked, they jump into the car and try to leave, but they don't get very far before the car is stopped and everyone is beaten and captured. What maniacal plans do Otis and the Firefly's have for their new victims?
Though there were problems with this film, it is still a very good horror flick. Rob Zombie takes an everything including the kitchen sink approach to the movie and throws in all the horror conventions: serial killers, demonic clowns, sex-starved older women, disfigured freaks, mad doctors, and a crazy family, just to name a few. Because of this the movie starts off at a fast pace (with a pair of would-be criminals deciding to rob Captain Spaulding....big mistake!) and never really slows down.
This was Zombie's first directorial effort and he proves that he has
a lot of talent. He used old film clips, split screens, and mirror
images to very good effect. These never came across as artsy or film-school
pretentious but worked to advance the story in a visually interesting way.
There were some scenes that really stand out too. One of my favorites
was when Otis confronted a sheriff's deputy (played by Walton Goggins.)
The deputy is kneeling with his hands up and Otis has the barrel of a pistol
touching his forehead. The camera pulls back and stops, and still
Otis doesn't do anything. Will he let the man live and tie him up?
Will he kill him? As the scene goes on with neither character moving
the tension builds and builds.
The reason the film works so well even with the flawed script is because of the strong cast. Though the four victims are very bland and fade into the background, the other actors create unique and memorable characters are a huge asset to the film. Sid Haig is the run away star as Capt. Spaulding. His vile clown is both funny and displeasing at the same time and every scene he's in is a joy to watch. He's at the top of his form when he confronts the robber who's holding a gun on him. It's a classic scene.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The movie is presented with its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in tact, and it looks pretty good. Much of the film takes place at night or in poorly lit rooms, and even in these low light situations the level of detail is very good. You can clearly see the layer of dirt and grime that covers everything in Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen. Fine lines don't disappear when they cross over into shadow and the blacks that fill many of the rooms are dark and solid without being crushed. The exterior daytime shots are just as impressive with bright colors that are very pleasing to the eye. On the down side there is are two spots on the film that I was surprised to see over the course of the movie, and just a tad of grain in some of the darker scenes. This is a stylized film, mimicking the horror films of the 70's and as such looks less polished than a recent film. That's not a bad thing, just a stylistic choice.
This disc comes with both a 5.1 DD EX soundtrack and a 7.1 DTS audio track which both do the film justice. There is some great use of the soundstage in this movie that really adds to the atmosphere. A good example is when two victims are placed in a coffin and lowered into a pit, you can hear the discrete water drops from all corners of the room even while the girl is screaming, and it makes that scene just that much creepier. Other sections are more surrounding and engulfing like when the kids get attacked near the beginning. Sound is coming from all over the room and the mix really places the viewer in the middle of it all. The range is fine, but not outstanding. The sub does kick in frequently, but it never has that really low rumble that shakes windows and upsets neighbors. Naturally there isn't any distortion or other common audio defects.
This disc ports over all of the extras that the SD version featured (though the character voiceovers on the menu are lost), and adds a new HD exclusive: Zombietron. This is a simplistic JAVA based game that's a lot more fun than any of the games found on SD DVDs. Using the directional controls players move a sheriff around the screen. The object is to rescue the captives while avoiding the zombies.
The bonus features that were ported over include a rather technical audio commentary from director Rob Zombie that's bit on the dry side. He's not nearly as animated as you would expect, but he does manage to fill the time with stories about how the movie was created and some of the problems of film it.
There's also a reel of the main characters telling obscene knock-knock jokes, a raw clip of a rehearsal, a 5 minute "making of" featurette that's pretty much a waste of time, and a behind the scenes reel that runs three minutes. There are also interviews with some of the cast where they answer such difficult questions as "What is your favorite horror film?" For some reason these are presented in black and white.
Though this wasn't a perfect movie, it is a great homage to the classic slasher films of the 70's. Though the plot isn't very intricate (or original) director Rob Zombie throws so much into his script that it's hard to stop watching. The acting was excellent too. This Blu-ray disc does a good job of recreating Zombie's freshman effort with a solid picture and very good sound. Recommended for horror fans.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc
and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.