Sometimes films themselves can be a reaction. In this case, a furious bloody fist shaking in direct challenge of recent memory's unrelenting pop-horror crush and even the "gentleman" cannibal franchise of Hannibal Lecter. Here in the aughts, they're all too safe, too sanitary, too market friendly to ever aggressively burrow into deprave depths that, when viscerally explored, potentially haunt the minds of audiences. Some students of the genre argue it's been two decades since horror pictures such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes truly grabbed anyone by the gut. Enter one professor emeritus of this old school point of view: rockin' Rob Zombie. Who better to take a go-for-the-jugular leap toward recapturing the chilling carnage of those bygone days? Rob's not just a fan. He lives them. Trappings of the macabre inhabit every creative expression. They guide his grooming habits. It's a passion directly encoded into his DNA. Seems predestine someone who'd rename himself Z-O-M-B-I-E might get around to writing and directing a horror picture, especially one that so earnestly upchucks a host of his most beloved cinematic nightmares. Sort of a grand guignol Quentin Tarrantino with all the encyclopedic enthusiasm and eye for detail, yet unfortunately, a far dodgier command of such buzzing gnats as plot or storytelling.
But let us not forget the TITLE of this tribute. It's called House of 1000 Corpses and plays exactly so -- like Zombie's spookhouse mazes for Universal's theme park -- most transparently in an overraught final reel cavalcade. Those Halloween spectacles are what inspired the Hollywood giant to bankroll what'd become a potential NC-17 hot potato famously flung between screeching studio suits for nearly three years before becoming a trim, R-rated box office boon for Lions Gate. Now a sequel's in the grinder and it appears Zombie may pay proper penance for the original's shortcomings by adding further skin and sinew to his deliciously cruel carnival of caricatures, which thanks to the genre greats who abide within, propel his opus above a mere blood-stained love letter to Tobe Hooper.
On a dark and stormy Halloween eve in 1977, four road tripping collegians make a wee hour pitstop at a roadside gas station, chicken shack and home of Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen. Bill and Jerry (Rainn Wilson and Chris Hardwick) go ga-ga for Sid Haig's clown-faced captain whose profane carny bravado make his little known "Murder Ride" a can't miss diversion -- much to the chagrin of honies Mary and Denise (Jennifer Jostyn and Denise Willis). Yet, as larger than life as this crusty clown may be to our geekazoid tourists, he's just around long enough to point a tantalizing middle finger toward the rabbit hole, a newfound pilgrimage as it were, to the gravesite of the Murder Ride's infamous -- cue thunder clap -- DR. SATAN-N-N-N-N-N!!! Along their detour into Wonderland, they encounter Baby (Sheri Moon), a waterlogged hitchhiker, who slinks into NO clothing that doesn't play peek-a-boo with her hiney and readily releases a psychotic cackle reminiscent of a cathouse coupling betwixt Rosie Perez and Fran Drescher. Trouble is she's so freaking H-O-T that a fella looses sufficient blood flow to the brain to make overlooking such ticks a snap. That phenomena might also account for the male contingent of our quartet's fatefully poor decision to seek shelter with Baby's chicken-fried fam when a plot-friendly flat tire manifests.
Around dinner time, Otis (Bill Moseley) takes a break from torturing and tongue lashing a gaggle of whimpering cheerleaders upstairs to join a candle emblazoned table with ever-randy Mother Firefly (Karen Black), grumpy Grampa Hugo (Dennis Fimple), towering Tiny (Matthew McGrory) and, of course, their guests of honor in a time-honored feast before the slaughter. Although when things begin to go particularly badly, Mr. Zombie fires up a circus-like kaleidoscope of visual effects that obscure much of the ensuing grue that managed to survive this theatrical cut. It's a puzzling aesthetic choice that negates any hint of reality. In fact, the flick's best non-character commanded scene, is when the first-time auteur locks audiences into a heavenly view of an impending point-blank execution, then holds the moment for 30 squirm-inducing seconds before allowing the hammer to fall. Yes, it's a manipulation, though far more devastating than his more pervasive optical hysterics. But yours truly is probably overheating the ol' noodle much too much given this is a flick that expertly creates ghoulish glee in having a poor sap get his own severed hand comically shoved into his face amid strains of the Commodores' immortal "Brickhouse." Mighty mighty, indeed.
CineSchlockers will relish this studied slice of divine exploitation mostly for Mr. Haig's inspired Cap'n Spaulding. Sid's the John Travolta of this picture, underused since the '70s when he was a regular face and unforgettable talent in such seminal Jack Hill films as Spider Baby, The Big Bird Cage and Coffy. Bill Moseley also transcends with measured menace and pitch-black wit hardly divorced from his star-making role as Chop Top in the plate-licking classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. However, those anxious to let neuvo CineSchlocker muse Sheri Moon part their hair any way she desires must answer to her new hubby. She and Rob were married -- you guessed it, boils and ghouls -- last HALLOWEEN!!!
Seven breasts. 115 corpses (give or take a thousand). Pickled sibling. Straight-razor to the jaw. Hatchet amputation. Gratuitous vaudeville revue. Random Bigfoot sighting. Split-screen shenanigans. Slim Whitman caterwauling. Wild driving. Chicks in rabbit suits. Crypto taxidermy. Gratuitous slow mo. Crucifixion. Bloody knife licking. Unlicensed surgery. Multiple brainings. Gratuitous John Wayne impression. Geek speak. Cereal slurping. Excessive boozing. Otis earns Toastmaster honors for his fevered orations, but he's also good for one-liners: "Listen you Malibu middle-class Barbi piece of s@#%, I'm trying to WORK here!!!" and "It's all true! The boogeyman is real and YOU FOUND HIM!!!" Nerdly Bill when barked at by Spaulding: "You're such a BAD clown!" Later, observing mounted animal heads at the Fireflys: "Wow! Look at them! They must've been going pretty fast to smash through that wall!" Grampa doesn't cotton to nosey Nellies: "What are you? Jimmy Olsen cub reporter for The Daily ASS@#%$?!" Baby gets catty: "I'll f@#%ing cut your t@#s off and shove them down your throat!" She also adeptly sums up the family pastime: "We like to get f@#%ed up and do f@#%ed up shit!"
At first gaze, this sucker looks loaded to Fish Boy's gills. Wade a bit deeper, past the SPECTACULAR motion-video menus that'd easily dazzle even gouged eyesockets, and it's a bit easier to see the disc's sorta on the shallow side. But, OH!, could there be a BETTER set of menus!?! From the start, viewers are verbally accosted by Captain Spaulding's smirking, seemingly neverending torrent of profanity (about four minutes worth, actually). Elsewhere, a Daisy Duke'd Baby stomps her boots demanding we "PICK A FEATURE! PICK A FEATURE!" among roughly 30 minutes of hit 'n' miss bonus materials. While Otis skulks the "scene selection" graveyard reminiscing about his victims and predictably straying into Chuck Manson-inspired sermonizing. Mind ye, that's just the menus. What else is there?
Well, there's no DELETED SCENES, that's for certain. Which are what dang near every horror hound has pined for in strangulating anticipation since the R-rated theatrical release. Nor does Mr. Zombie dwell on the flick's famous funerary procession to the screen in his feature-length commentary. No discussion of how the picture was developed, no asides on his forming of the genre star-studded cast or specific nods to the horror classics he cribs.
!!! Timeout for CineSchlock-O-Rama POP QUIZ !!!
Our gloomy Gus still logs an engaging, entertaining track albeit one that favors technical and scene-specific production anecdotes such as the travails of shooting on the Universal lot where the Jaws tram attraction routinely ruined takes or that he and Mr. Haig crafted Spaulding as a "loveable asshole" akin to "Don Rickles as a serial killer." However, Rob's fleeting flashes of savage sarcasm during the final credits really hint at what coulda been.
Those other aforementioned "hit 'n' miss" extras? The worst case of filler among the bunch is a vacuous behind-the-scenes reel that appears to be the product of some yayhoo allowing a video camera to wobble while nothing of particular note was transpiring. A "casting" option promises more than it delivers, which is a solitary, yet hilariously raunchy audition by the late Mr. Fimple. Nearly four minutes are spent with Spaulding, Baby and Otis telling knock-knock jokes leaving yours truly to wonder if such hijinks potentially neuter their menace? (Wouldn't catch Leatherface crooning Ave Maria.) There's a brief "making of" featurette that plays like a Zombified "HBO First Look" hoorah -- the very same footage that wagged tongues of Fangoria conventioneers two full years before release. Moseley and Ms. Jostyn are the clear highlight among three rehearsal peeks. A breezy Q&A section lobs "What's it like to be an action figure?" softballs at the usual suspects alongside FX slinger Wayne Toth. As a whole, the extras amount to a half hour of suspiciously ancillary goodies that'll only make CineSchlockers salivate for a second, more lavished and gloriously UNCUT release. Stay tuned. (2003, 88 mins [Theatrical Version], 1.85:1 anam, DD 5.1/2.0, Commentary, Isolated score, Featurette, Rehearsals, Interviews, Joke reel, Extensive gore gallery, Radio spot, Trailers.)
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.