House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

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 A valiant effort from first time director Rob Zombie, House of 1000 Corpses does not quite hit its mark but gets close enough to keep us wanting more.

It’s October 30, 1977 and a group of teenagers are traveling cross country to write a book about offbeat roadside attractions. On their journey they stop at Capt. Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. During the museum’s Murder Ride the travelers learn of Dr. Satan, a local legend who was hanged for performing torturous experiments on patients at the local asylum. Jerry Goldsmith (Chris Hardwick) and Bill Hudley (Rainn Wilson) are excited by the legend, but there girlfriends, Denise Willis (Erin Daniels) and Mary Knowles (Jennifer Jostyn), could care less and want to go on down the road. As you may have guessed, we soon learn Jerry and Bill should have headed the advice of their girlfriends.

After convincing Capt. Spaulding to give them directions to the tree where Dr. Satan had been hung, they head out into the rainy night. Along the way, they pick up Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) who is standing on the side of the road. After they get a flat tire, Baby takes Bill up to her house and sends her brother, Rufus (Robert Allen Mukes), to retrieve the car and remaining passengers. Once at the Firefly family’s house, things take a turn for the worse, think Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Will the traveling teens meet death, or worse, Dr. Satan?

House of 1000 Corpses has been criticized for being too similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, Rob Zombie adds his own touch to this genre of splatter films. The character of Capt. Spaulding and the Firefly family are well written and entertaining. Sid Haig, who appeared in many exploitation films and a few horror films in the 1970’s (several of which were directed by Jack Hill) gives a dynamite performance as Capt. Spaulding, the lovable asshole adorned with clown paint and costume. Sid’s approach to the character is equally comedic and disturbing.

The Firefly family is a group of misfits who seem hellbent on torture and death with no rhyme or reason. The acting head of the family, Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), is a Charles Manson-esque psychopath who spouts intellectual sounding nonsense to his victims before torturing them to death. There’s even a touch of Hannibal Lecter to Otis. Bill Moseley, who is best known by horror fans as Bo ‘Chop Top’ Sawyer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), brings a truly disturbing dynamic to Otis, which has not been surpassed in recent years. This dynamic goes even further in The Devil’s Rejects (2005). I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie). I was skeptical as to the acting ability of Mrs. Zombie, and feared her inclusion in the film might be solely for eye candy. I am happy to say I was mistaken. Sheri showed that, at least when it comes to horror, she has the acting chops to keep up with the best of them. Baby’s disturbing laugh will remain one of the most easily identifiable character traits in horror for years to come.

The film does not focus as much on the rest of the Firefly family, but each character is entertaining and adds to the story. There’s Mother Firefly (Karen Black), who is past her prime, but still tries to work her coy charms on the visitors. There’s Grandpa Hugo Firefly (Dennis Fimple), who has a bad attitude, and performs stand-up comedy after dinner. And lastly, there is Tiny Firefly (Matthew McGrory), who is anything but tiny. Over seven foot tall, Tiny wears a leather mask to cover his face, which was burned as a result of his lunatic father who set the house on fire with the family inside.

The visuals are one of the film’s stronger points. Zombie knows how to make a scene look good and bring a creepy atmosphere to life with a combination of cinematic technique, costuming, and production design. We see this right away with Capt. Spaulding’s commercial and the opening credits sequence. Zombie even uses split screen successfully in several scenes, I never felt taken out of the film by the process, which can easily happen if a horror film focuses too much on cinematic techniques.

I have mixed feelings about the soundtrack. I enjoyed the scenes where Zombie used old ‘happy’ songs to contrast the horrible violence happening on screen. A great example of this can be seen when the local law enforcement (well acted by Tom Towles and Walton Goggins) come to the Firefly’s house and find more than they bargained for to the sound of Slim Whitman performing I Remember You. Rob Zombie, with the assistance of Scott Humphrey, wrote and performed the score, which brought a creepy industrial feel to the film. Zombie also wrote several songs which appear in the film. However, since the story takes place in 1977, I felt the industrial score, and Rob Zombie’s songs,  took me out of the time period. Apparently Rob Zombie felt the same way, because he remedied the situation in The Devil’s Rejects by sticking to songs from the time period.

Rob Zombie uses more than music to create a contrast to the violence, he also uses comedy. There is nearly an equal amount of comedy and violence in House of 1000 Corpses. I find this dynamic, when done correctly as it is here, can add to a horror film, however, when poorly executed, it can make a film unbalanced, or ruin it entirely.

What holds this film back the most is the poorly written teenage characters. Granted there is not a lot you can do with characters like these, but considering how much thought went into the rest of the film, I expected more out of Zombie’s writing of these characters. Jerry is a wise-cracking douche bag who keeps getting the group in trouble, Bill is the levelheaded one, but apart from that, there is nothing which stands out about these characters. They are nothing more than victims waiting to push the plot forward. Worse than the characters of Jerry and Bill are Denise and Mary, they are both rude and bitching nonstop, especially Mary. After about 30 minutes, I was hoping they would both die a horrible death. Although House of 1000 Corpses was doomed to be compared to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I think it would have received better reviews if more time had gone into the writing of the teenagers. Once again, Rob Zombie corrected this problem with The Devil’s Rejects. I cared about the victims in that film.

At the end of the day, if you like the gory and cheesy slasher films of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s you’ll enjoy House of 1000 Corpses.

House of 1,000 Corpses: DVD Features

Menu

  • Once you get to the menu screen you will see a counter with a bell on it. Above the bell reads “Ring bell for service.” You can press “Enter” on your remote, or wait for a few seconds, and you will be greeted with a one sided conversation with Capt. Spaulding. Once this starts you can select from the options on the right. You will see Capt. Spaulding’s head next to the item you select. If you don’t interrupt Capt. Spaulding, he’ll go on for about four minutes before the scene repeats.
  • Each menu screen is hosted by a character from the film. Capt. Spaulding, Otis and Baby take you trough the DVD features.

Play Movie

  • After a few words from Capt. Spaulding the widescreen presentation of the film, shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, will begin.

Scene Selection

  • After a few words from Capt. Spaulding you are taken to the scene selection menu.
  • Scene selections is hosted by Otis.
  • Video clips are shown of each scene.
  • On shots 1-4 Otis talks for two minutes before repeating.
  • On shots 5-8 Otis talks for 40 seconds before repeating.
  • On shots 9-12 Otis talks for 45 seconds before repeating.
  • On shots 13-16 Otis talks for 40 seconds before repeating.

Special Features

  • After a few words from Capt. Spaulding you are taken to the special features menu.
  • Special features is hosted by Baby.
  • Baby talks for one minute before repeating.

Making of Featurette

  • A four minute featurette which is not a making of as much as it is a collection of close ups featuring the actors talking about how much they like the script, Rob Zombie and the characters.

Behind the Scenes

  • A boring and pointless two and a half minute segment which shows nothing more than a few crew members working on a prop and a few shots of Rob Zombie standing around.

Director Commentary

  • Once you select Director Commentary from the Special Features menu, you will be taken back to the main menu. Once there, select Play Movie to view the film with audio commentary by writer/director Rob Zombie. If you can stay awake through Rob Zombie’s deadpan delivery, you will be treated to a worthwhile commentary full of amusing stories and insider info.

Tiny Fucked a Stump

  • An three minute segment of improve featuring Baby, Otis and Capt. Spaulding telling jokes with “Tiny fucked a stump” as the punchline.

Casting

  • A two minute segment featuring Dennis Fimple’s audition for the role of Grandpa Hugo Firefly.

Trailers

  • Early Teaser Trailer: A one minute teaser trailer.
  • Theatrical Trailer: A two minute trailer.
  • Radio Spot: A one minute audio clip lifted from the two minute theatrical trailer.

Still Gallery

  • A large collection of behind-the-scenes production stills.

Rehearsals

  • Bill Moseley & Jennifer Jostyn: A three minute and 30 second clip, rehearsing their scene together which takes place in the Firefly house.
  • Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwich & Erin Daniels: A 40 second clip, rehearsing the scene when they attempt to leave the Firefly house.
  • Chris Hardwick & Erin Daniels: A 50 second clip, rehearsing the scene when they are tied back to back in chairs.

Interviews

  • Bill Moseley: An informative four and a half minute interview about the film, and various aspects of the horror genre.
  • Sid Haig: An informative six minute interview about the film, and various aspects of the horror genre.
  • Sheri Moon: Although it needed to be longer, this is an informative one and a half minute interview about the film, and various aspects of the horror genre.
  • Wayne Toth: An informative three and a half minute interview about the films special effects, and character designs.

Setup

  • Baby and Otis (later joined by Capt. Spaulding) host setup. They talk for three and a half minutes before repeating.
  • Audio: You can select between 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Dolby Digital, or a music only track.
  • Subtitles: You can choose between English or Spanish.
  • Credits: A list of the DVD credits.

Easter Eggs

  • On the Main Menu, scroll down past Setup to highlight the Lions Gate Films logo. Press “Enter” on your remote to view trailers for “Cabin Fever”, “May”, and “Godsend”.
  • On the Main Menu, scroll down past Setup to highlight the Lions Gate Films logo. Press “Right” on your remote to view a 50 second clip of Capt. Spaulding, Otis and Baby dancing in front of a green screen.
  • From the Main Menu, scroll down to Scene Selection and press “Enter” on your remote. Highlight “9-12” and press “Enter” on your remote. Then scroll down to “Shot 11”, titled “Shit Ten Bricks”, press “Right” on your remote to view a 20 second clip of Baby doing a pyramid cheer, in front of a green screen, atop Otis and Capt. Spaulding.
  • From the Main Menu, scroll down to Special Features and press “Enter” on your remote. Scroll down to “Tiny Fucked A Stump”, then press “Left” on your remote to view a four minute and 40 second clip of Baby, Capt. Spaulding and Otis having a conversation about Tiny, a story in a porno mag, and other random thoughts, all while eating dinner.

Apart from a lack of deleted/extended scenes, and a few lame extras, the special features on this DVD are entertaining and educational. I was especially impressed with the DVD menus. I wish more studios, directors, cast and crew members would put this kind of time and effort into the production of their DVD’s

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

DVD Rating: ★★★★☆

6 Comments
  1. Kevin Matthews says

    How the hell did I miss this review? Love this film and love the disc. I need to buy it but keep avoiding the bare bones re-release that seems to be stocked everywhere nowadays.

  2. Justin Smith says

    I think I like this movie more than most people do. Glad to find someone else who appreciates it, despite its flaws.

  3. Kevin Matthews says

    Oh yeah. It has a great soundtrack, great visuals, some impressive nastiness and I think that people often forget how atmospheric it is in places (the “scarecrow scene” was most impressive IMO). The over-editing in between scenes can be offputting but it’s certainly a very impressive debut.

  4. Kevin Matthews says

    Finally found this in HMV just the other day for £5, bargain for the features-loaded version. 🙂

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