House of 1000 Corpses Review
By Shawn McKenzie 04/14/2003
I normally rush to see a movie that has conjured up controversy to see what the big deal is about, which was the case with heavy metal musician Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. After Zombie had designed two successful haunted houses for Universal, the studio decided to reward him with a $7 million budget to direct his first movie (he had already directed several music videos, including many of his own.) Zombie was a fan of the “weird family” horror movies of the seventies, like 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He decided to make one of those, and it was apparently too gross for the studio (they couldn’t imagine it getting any lower of a rating than NC-17.) Universal dropped the film, and MGM picked it up. The second studio decided to drop it after Zombie made the mistake of joking about the studio’s morals on MTV’s “Total Request Live.” Lion’s Gate, a studio known for taking a chance on films that other studios were too nervous to distribute (they distributed Kevin Smith’s Dogma after Miramax dropped it) picked it up. After submitting the film to the MPAA five times, it finally got an R-rating. I saw the final product (which was finally released almost three years after wrapping production), and honestly, I don’t know what the big deal was about.
Jerry Goldsmith (Chris Hardwick) and Bill Hudley (Rainn Wilson) are two young men crossing the state with their girlfriends, Denise Willis (Erin Daniels) and Mary Knowles (Jennifer Jostyn) on Halloween Eve in 1977. They are writing a book about weird roadside stops around the state, and conveniently, as they run out of gas, they pull off on an exit that directs them to Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. Bill thinks the place is cool and annoys the clown-like Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who runs the place along with Stucky (Michael J. Pollard) and Ravelli (Irwin Keyes), with a bunch of questions. Spaulding talks them into taking his tour of serial killers. During the tour, they learn about a local legend named Dr. Satan (Walter Phelan), who performed primitive surgery on mentally handicapped patients with the hopes of creating a super race of humans. After he was caught and hung, his body strangely vanished. When the tour ends, Spaulding tells them that the place where Dr. Satan was hung is close by, and draws a map for Bill to find it. Bill talks the others into checking it out. While on their way to the spot, they pick up hitchhiker Baby (Zombie’s real life wife Sheri Moon) who says she lives not far from the spot they are trying to find and can show them where it is located. Rufus Jr., a.k.a. R.J. (Robert Allen Mukes), Baby’s brother, shoots out their tire, and they end up heading back to Baby's place where they wait for their car to be repaired. It is at Baby’s house where the foursome gets to meet the rest of her weird family. Mother Firefly (Karen Black) flirts with the guys, Grampa Hugo (the late Dennis Fimple) is rude and disgusting, Tiny (Matthew McGrory) is disfigured and masked, and Otis (Bill Moseley) is long-haired and has a mean attitude. They don’t know it at the time, but this family has recently kidnapped five high school cheerleaders and are torturing them in their basement. Denise’s father, Don Willis (Harrison Young), becomes concerned that her daughter and her friends never arrived at his place as she said they would, so he calls Sheriff Huston (William Bassett) to check up on her. Huston sends officers George Wydell (Tom Towles) and Steve Naish (Walton Goggins) with Don to search for them. By this point, the family has already set upon torturing their new houseguests and it is now just a matter of survival.
Maybe I have become desensitized, but I didn’t think the movie was as graphic as the controversy made it out to be. I remember when I was a kid, my mom wouldn’t let me watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because she had heard it was the most violent, graphic movie ever filmed. That shows you the power of hype, because when I finally saw Massacre, I didn’t know what the big deal was about it. Sure, Corpses is bloody and twisted (in an MTV quick-edit sort of way), but I have seen far worse movies before, like this year’s Irreversible.
I wasn’t expecting great acting, but the performances in this movie varied in quality. I thought Haig was memorable, and probably would have made a better main villain. Black actually managed not to annoy the heck out of me as she usually does. It would have been cool to see Wilson as a member of the family instead of as one of the victims, since he has done such a great job creeping us out this season on “Six Feet Under.” Everyone else’s performances were either okay or bad, but as I said, my expectations weren’t that high to begin with.
House of 1000 Corpses isn’t a horrible movie, but it isn’t even one of the better horror movies I’ve seen this year (Final Destination 2 was much better), and it certainly didn’t live up to the controversy. I suppose if
you want to go just out of curiosity, give it a try, but it didn’t do much for me. It certainly wasn’t scary, and the funny parts of it end after Captain Spaulding sends the kids to the spot where Dr. Satan was hung. I actually thought ex-Twisted Sister front-man Dee Snider’s 1998 horror movie Strangeland was much better than this one. I heard Zombie wants to try a comedy
next, which might be interesting to see in the hands of the rocker, as long as he’s not trying to pay “homage” to some terrible ‘70s comedy. In the future, I’ll try not to confuse controversy with quality.
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