One of Aught Three's biggest cinematic horror stories was a Tale of Two Fanboys. Each obsessed with genre pictures from a tender age. Each with Quentin Tarrantino's encyclopedic enthusiasm. Each with an eye for the gratuitous in all its forms. Each clawing desperately through the Hollywood system to get their gleeful throwbacks to the screen. But each an instant professor emeritus of this nuevo Old School movement once fans got an eyeful. One less than graceful with plot and storytelling, yet masterfully macabre in his characterizations and leap-for-the-jugular bravado. The other more subtle, more palatable, though clearly more enthralled with bread-crumbing audiences into an outlandish narrative with grim wit. Both are equally successful when it comes down to sheer entertainment value. We're speaking, obviously, of rockin' Rob Zombie, whose House of 1000 Corpses borrows liberally from such '70s films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, and fellow first-timer Eli Roth, whose woodland fright flick dog-ears many a page from '80s chillers such as The Thing and the deified Evil Dead films.
The stories start the same: a gaggle of college students wander into the realm of rednecks, stopping only at a roadside mercantile before heading off to their ultimate doom. Rather than a house of horrors, here we have a more tender yarn. Nay a love story even! Albeit seemingly entirely one-sided. "Boy Meets World" heartthrob Rider Strong -- a name infinitely more suited to porn -- is Paul, a young fella with eyes for his childhood playmate-turned-hottie Karen, played by Jordan Ladd, the wing-ed daughter of one of Charlie's original angels. So, understandably, Paul's not so much on a post-finals getaway as a quest to rekindle an old game of I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours. Trouble is he's a NICE guy and she's a smokin' blonde who insists on reminding him what a great FRIEND he is. Show of hands, anyone? Right, like the rest of us, Paul is content to keep applying, rather ineptly, a torch to said ice queen. That is until she and his other three friends start falling apart -- one hunka flesh at a time. To even further poo-poo Paul's party, the full magnitude of this decaying downer is most viscerally realized once he finally gets to paw Karen's holiest of holies!
Yep, there's coed-munching cooties in them thar hills. Another delicious dish on the menu is Cerina Vincent as Marcy, the genre-mandated sexpot, who thankfully lives long enough to wander the countryside in search of help and reenact Teri "Meat Hook" McMinn's lingering hiney stroll from Saw. Although, with all due derriere deference to Ms. Vincent, cinematographer Daniel Pearl better recaptured his gloriously iconic imagery with Jessica Biels' backside. However, fear not, as Cerina's OWN place in scream-queen history is most assuredly secure thanks to Mr. Roth's ingeniously depraved delivery of the MOST memorable bathtub scene since I Spit on Your Grave.
What's next from horror's "it" fanboy? Perhaps a sequel if he and Lions Gate can avoid creative differences. There's even talk of a teen sex comedy -- another milieu of which Mr. Roth has spent years of fevered study. But right now, he's put his box-office buzz into getting the long-mired 2001 Maniacs off blocks and into theaters with Robert Englund as the chief purveyor of Southern inhospitality. Personally, dear CineSchlockers, it was yours truly's greatest desire that this sequel/remake of the Godfather of Gore's finest flick would eventually be helm'd by Herschell Gordon Lewis himself. Though my gorehound gut tells me this Eli character won't let us down. If he does? Well, there's always Teeterin' Rock!
Two breasts. 16 corpses. Rampant spazzing. Gratuitous urination. Body-part bowling. Projectile plasma puking. One firesuit stunt. Man-eating pooch. Human bonfire. Multiple diddling. Piggy gutting. Bambi clobbering. Window peeping. Marshmallow roasting. Kung fu fighting. Post-coital penial Listerine-ing. Spring-loaded dog innards. Ol' screwdriver into the ear gag.
James DeBello's loveable lunkhead Bert hates squirrels of ALL lifestyles: "I don't care if they're gay or straight. I'll kill 'em either way!" Doesn't take to pyrotechnical criticism either: "What are you? F@#%ing Smokey the Clown now!?!" Paul considers himself a connoisseur of masturbatory confessionals: "I'm sorry, but no story is better than Karen and her parents' Shower Massage!" Joey Kern's hilariously self-absorbed Jeff can't fathom Paul and Marcy's compassion: "STOP! STOP! I DON'T WANT TO GET SICK! I DON'T WANT ANY OF US GETTING SICK! BUT YOU TWO F@#%IN' F@#%ERS INSIST ON TOUCHING HER! NOW SHE'S BLEEDIN' ALL OVER BOTH YOU GUYS! SO YOU TWO CAN F@#%IN' ROT! BUT NOT ME! NO F@#%IN' WAY! NOT ME!!!" Earlier, when the gang accidently immolates a diseased drifter, Jeff aptly reasons: "I think the rain will put him out." Karen doesn't rationalize quite so easily: "That guy asked us for help -- WE LIT HIM ON FIRE!" Giuseppe Andrews's inspired Deputy Winston digs Paul's scene: "Hey man, you know what it's like. Like when you go to a new town, right, and you're the new guy? All the girls see you walking down the street and they all know you've got five pounds of dangling meat." Marcy makes an offer Paul can't refuse: "It's like being on a plane when you know it's gonna crash. Everyone around you is screaming and yelling ... all you really want to do is grab the person next to you and f@#% the s@#% out of them."
Extras: Apparently an unexpected side effect of the dreaded fever is excessive jibber jabber. Hence this single disc being jam-packed with dangerously near a HALF DOZEN commentaries!!! Ever the public servant, yours truly has lent a critical ear to all SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS worth and ranked each in order of diminishing returns:
The Director: Writer/actor/auteur Eli Roth ... As much manifesto as commentary, Mr. Roth, who's as kinetic as a 5-year-old after his second 12-pack of Mountain Dew, leaves no cinematic stone unjostled. Whether it's rapid-fire refs of his favorite genre pictures, an impassioned diatribe on Hollywood's hypocritical "Horror vs. Thriller" doublespeak (Hear! Hear!) or copious chronicling of his harrowing misadventures along the picture's eight-year odyssey from script to screen. Tracks don't get much better than this.
The Star: Eli and Rider Strong (Paul) ... Gotta burrow a menu deeper to find this gem that glistens mostly due to Mr. Strong's honest uneasiness about being a teen phenom and his desire to buck such trappings by making "a movie I'd actually like to see!" That end goal fosters an unexpected kinship between filmmaker and star, ultimately cultivating some of the better behind-the-scenes insights. Yes, there's also plenty of "Boy Meets World" talk for those people.
The Girls: Eli with Jordan Ladd (Karen) and Cerina Vincent (Marcy) ... It's the sort of dippy, flirtatious banter to which any one of us would've succumb, so it's tough to blame an enraptured gortuer among his ingenues. Hear Ms. Ladd chirp about her ill-timed "girly days" on set. Marvel as Ms. Vincent declares her desire to know her co-diddler is "into it" -- physiologically -- during such scenes. Sadly, no catfighting ensues as the girls are recorded separately and intercut. Jordan starts the track and exits within an hour, while Cerina joins after roughly 20 minutes. Don't miss Eli's charming call to his beyond-proud mom and pop (1:17:40).
The Filmmakers: Eli with producers Lauren Moews, Evan Astrowsky and Sam Froelich, cinematographer Scott Kevan, co-writer Randy Pearlstein and Lions Gate suits Peter Block and Jason Constantine ... Much of the same ground is covered in other tracks or the breezier and just as informative "Beneath the Skin" doc. But do punch in to hear Eli's former professor, Boris Frumin, commend "good-intentioned horror" via phone (48:25).
The Guys: Eli with Joey Kern (Jeff), James DeBello (Bert), Giuseppe Andrews (Deputy Winston), Adam Roth (Happy Bald Guy) and campfire singers Matt Cappiello and Noah Belson ... Only HINTING at after-hours stripper shenanigans breeds a less-than-riveting track. Unless one finds amusement in Mr. DeBello's veracious verbal attention to Ms. Vincent's gravity-defying tatas. Shoulda ditched those other dips for an all-Andrews track! Giuseppe's trailer-park philosophy alone is more than deserving (1:19:12). Hang in for a quickie shout-out to 73-year-old Robert Harris who's pleased as punch to have played Old Man Cadwell and really, really digs Shirley Temple (1:26:00).
Other than those, chief among the remaining goodies is perhaps THE greatest easter egg of all time. What happens when porn starlet Stephanie Swift and Playboy TV's Janelle Perry are stood up after being booked to ply their trade for the Wonderland DVD menus? Mr. Roth has 'em "party" with Deputy Winston, naturally! Wait two cycles at Scene Selections 19-21 to see the trio knott'd up. Vignettes leading up to and following this encounter are similarly nested among other scene ranges. Additional digging will also unearth a gag reel featuring a less-than-convincing thespian of the canine persuasion. Among the immediately visible extras, the aforementioned half-hour "making of" rates highly among its ilk as do all three episodes of Mr. Roth's demented claymation fracas "The Rotten Fruit" (12 mins). Just don't get your hopes up for Chick-Vision, which uses state-of-the-art SUBTITLE technology to burn hands-over-the-eyes silhouettes onto the screen during "the scary parts," or the Family Version that borrows the Troma gag of skipping straight to the credits. Har. Har. (2003, 92 mins, 2.35:1 anam, DD 5.1 & 2.0, Commentaries, Documentary, Short films, Karate demo by Matthew "Pancakes!" Helms, Trailers, Profoundly icky motion-video menus.)
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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.