Well this is the long delayed horror movie from first time writer-director Robert Zombie. Let’s face it, that’s probaly not the dude’s real name. But I like it better than “McG.” Apparently Mr. Zombie is some sort of rock and/or roller who directs his own videos and draws his own album covers, and my guess is that he’s better at the artistical stuff than at the actual rock n roll.
Everything I know about Rob Zombie I know from this movie. I know that he likes brutal ’70s horror movies, in particular THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE but also probaly THE HILLS HAVE EYES. I know that he is fascinated by gaudy roadside attractions, tasteless t-shirt slogans, phoney sideshow curiosities, serial killer legends, spookhouse rides, scary rednecks, Bela Lugosi movies, Zacherly-style TV horror hosts, iconic Halloween decorations, oversized paper mache masks, gimmicky cereal boxes, old video footage faded to the point of abstraction, violent satanic rituals. He also has great taste in b-movie actors judging by the cast which includes Sid Haig (SPIDER BABY), Bill Moseley (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2), Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) and Karen Black (everything). If you cram all of those motifs and influences so that they barely fit into one movie, this is what you get. Or to put it another way, you take the first two texas chain saw movies, and you put an episode of Pee Wee’s playhouse in between em, then you smoosh it together like a peanut butter sandwich and keep it in your pocket for a while. like that imaginary sandwich the movie is kind of sticky and messy and doesn’t really work but it’s got a lot of good shit in there. I’m not sure why the hell you would put a sandwich in your pocket though, that’s kind of a weird analogy. what the hell man.
So this is a movie you really want to like more than you actually do like it. It is loaded with great characters and of course they’re all the bad guys. You got Sid Haig as the working class clown Captain Spaulding. And you got Otis, who is Bill Moseley reconfiguring his Chop Top character from ‘Saw 2, this time an albino and wearing a “Burn This” american flag t-shirt but without a metal plate in his head or a coathanger that he uses to pick off pieces of skin from his head for snacks. And you got Grandpa Hugo, I don’t know what his deal is but I liked the scene where he was watching the Munsters hot rod episode and he yelled, “Throw me behind the wheel of that bitch I’ll show you drivin’!” And there’s Tiny, who is a horribly mutilated giant who wears different masks and eats Agatha Crispies cereal. And also there’s a bubbly Britney-Spears seductress type in a cowboy hat and Karen Black and Dr. Satan and I’m probaly forgetting a couple more too. Come to think of it there are a whole lot of killers in this movie, they probaly really do have a thousand corpses stuffed in there somewhere.
It’s a real visual movie, crammed with detail. They didn’t skimp on any of these sets, they are even more detailed than the underground amusement park from ‘SAW 2. The filmatists never pass up an opportunity to cover a wall in art school graffiti or serial killer portraits or to nail a hundred dolls on the side of a house. If it’s Halloween (which it is) then the porch has to be covered with 20 or 30 of the best jack o lanterns you ever saw and all along the driveway there gotta be scarecrows with the coolest paper mache heads possible. When one of the young gals makes a run for it just like in the ‘saw movies it has a little different feel because this time the killers dressed her up in a bunny costume.
Shit the more I think about it the more I like this movie. I mean the title says alot about the movie – it doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds so great and ridiculous that it doesn’t matter. A movie called HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES really should be the greatest fucking thing ever but the trouble comes with the storytelling. They got the ideas and the artistic flair that you need but in other ways they got the kind of flawed filmatic skills you might expect from a rock guy named Robby the Zombie. For one thing, he didn’t really know how to direct the victim characters. I really don’t think you have to like the kids whose car breaks down in the wrong place – it’s not like I want to hang out with the kids in Texas Chain Saw. But they do need to have some resemblance to real people. The victim characters in this one never seem real until they start screaming. The acting is too much straight to video and their bickering and condescension doesn’t make you want to forgive that.
And if these guys are travelling around specifically to write a book about crazy roadside attractions, then why the hell does only one of them really want to go in when they discover the greatest roadside attraction of all time, Captain Spaulding’s Fried Chicken & Gasoline/Sideshow/Murder Ride? It makes no sense Zombie. Come on Zombie.
And with the exception of one pretty bravura montage (is bravura a word? I think it is. that was a good use of bravura I think) the guy still needs to learn more about how to use the camera and the editing to tell the story. He has some of the problems with closeups and quick cuts interfering with the action that you expect from these fuckers from music videos. fuck all you fuckers.
So no, the movie doesn’t really work and I’m not surprised it is getting some bad reviews but overall I gotta say I am in support of this picture. It is not only a breath of fresh air for modern horror to have something this chaotic and brutal, but the art direction is so spectacular that I think it is guaranteed cult status forever like FORBIDDEN ZONE or that type of deal. So maybe it’s a failed attempt but it’s an admirable one and I would like to reserve a seat at the first showing of whatever movie Mr. Zombie does next unless it is on digital video.
p.s. Positive reviews of this type of movie usually start out by saying “no this is not going to get any oscars” but actually I would like to recommend that this movie gets an oscar for best costumes. If not for the masks or for Tiny’s bright red skull and crossbones turtleneck then for Captain Spaulding’s t-shirt that says “If I wanted to hear an asshole I’d fart” on the back and on the front shows a picture of a hot dog.
p.p.s. Mr. Zombie, I have to say I thought the ending was kind of stupid. Obviously from the beginning everybody assumes Captain Spaulding is evil, so it’s the opposite of a surprise when he turns on the girl. I almost thought you were going for an actual surprise ending and having him actually be a non-evil clown. Now that woulda been cool. Oh well thanks Zombie.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.