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Starting Up: Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses"

Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) introducing our tourists to "The Museum of Monsters & Madmen"

Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) introducing our tourists to "The Museum of Monsters & Madmen"

"We like to get f**ked up, and do f**ked up sh*t" --Baby

I suppose there's hardly a better way to describe Rob Zombie's debut film, House of 1000 Corpses, which features a lot of "f**ked up" people doing "f**ked up sh*t." Zombie had already made a name for himself as the founder and lead singer of heavy metal band White Zombie, which featured songs like "Grease Paint and Monkey Brains," "Acid Flesh," and "Scum Kill." When the group disbanded in the late 90s, Zombie decided to venture into filmmaking, but with the same *ahem* sensibilities. The movie, which was filmed in 2000, ended up being shelved by Universal until Zombie managed to buy the rights back to distribute it through Lions Gate Films.

The victims (Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels, Chris Hardwick)

The victims (Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels, Chris Hardwick)

Set in the late 70s, House of 1000 Corpses follows two couples traveling through the Texas countryside in the look for offbeat roadside attractions. When they stumble upon Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters & Madmen, they learn the legend of a certain Doctor Satan and the place where he was killed. When they venture on to find it, they end up being terrorized by a sadistic family.

As you can guess from his music and his favorite subjects, Zombie is anything but subtle. He likes violence and gore, and it shows here. The film features numerous characters being shot, stabbed, mutilated, scalped, and vivisected, among many other things. His style is loud, in-your-face, and more in tune with 70s horror and exploitation films than more recent psychological horror films. It's important to know this in order to approach the film with the right frame of mind.

Despite all the backlash that such a style might get, Zombie is not a hack. Judging from this, and other films of his I've seen (the Halloween remakes), it's obvious he has a talented eye. Despite the loudness, there are times when you can see a more gifted storyteller peek from between all the guts and the gore.

One of the main problems of House of 1000 Corpses is the excess. Zombie feels the need to clog it all with everything, including the kitchen sink. During the film, our victims encounter pretty much every character in the horror book: the crazy, the evil, the strong, the dim-witted, and even the supernatural. Perhaps a slightly more restrained approach, without necessarily sacrificing the exploitative nature of the film, would've benefitted the film.

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The killer family (Robert Mukes, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon, Matthew McGrory)

The killer family (Robert Mukes, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon, Matthew McGrory)

The other main problem with the film is perhaps the biggest one for me, and it has to do with the characters and the performances. The performances overall are pretty bad, with only Sid Haig shining as Captain Spaulding. Unfortunately, his part is rather small compared to the others. As for the actors that play the young couples, they are all pretty bad and undistinguishable. Worst than that is the fact that I didn't care about any of them, which made everything just a matter of going through the motions of seeing how they will all die and in what order.

Dr. Satan is in surgery!

Dr. Satan is in surgery!

House of 1000 Corpses

Release date

April 11, 2003

Director

Rob Zombie

Writers

Rob Zombie

Starring

Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon, Karen Black

Duration

88 minutes

Budget

$7,000,000

Box office

$16,800,000

In summary, House of 1000 Corpses isn't a downright awful film nor a complete waste of talent and time. Zombie succeeds in bringing up what he wants, which is a lot of "f**ked up sh*t" happening to a group of innocent people, and he sporadically succeeds in inducing dread and terror. But there's also a matter of quantity versus quality. Putting every single gory thing you can think of on a film doesn't automatically make it scary.

Aside from the visual excesses and the psychedelic editing, the film fails to present competent and charismatic characters, which would help heighten the dread and fear of what will happen to them, not to mention the bad performances from almost everyone involved. Comparisons have been made to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, but both of those succeed in areas where Zombie fails. As it is, House of 1000 Corpses feels more like a messed, f**ked up experiment. Grade: C-

Grades

Rotten Tomatoes

19%

IMDb

6 /10

Thief12

C-

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