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HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

2003, dir. Rob Zombie
105 min. Rated R.
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black.

Review by Justin Patterson
I have two caveats for anyone who reads this. One, I didn't pay the attention to this movie that I should have. That didn't stop me, though, because Two: this has some spoilers. People die in this movie.

HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES is a movie that had a very tough time getting released. Company after company picked it up, looked at it, presumably talked a little and dropped it. It doesn't look or flow like other films in the horror genre today, and it was a risk..

Screw them. Lions Gate finally agreed to put the film out, and I'm glad that they did. Rob Zombie directed this monster, and I actually like some of what he's done. It's obvious that he's not someone with a background in serious film, but some of that works for him. Rob Zombie is a guy who adds two things to this movie. He knows music, and he's been a horror film buff since Jesus was in short robes. I've seen complaints on various message boards that complain that this movie doesn't look like other films. It looks like the background to some sadistic and lengthy music video, and I agree. So what? I enjoyed it. It wasn't the revelation that was IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, but it was enjoyable to watch. It plays like an honest-to-God 70s horror film mixed with tons of vivid images, quirky writing and acting, downright bizarre costuming and none of the "we're serious this time" crap that you'll find in SCREAM, WRONG TURN, etc.

It's not good, but it's fun.

Point number one, please make sure to watch the DVD. It's a little childish, but it's fun to see one of the pivotal characters of the film screaming profanely at you to "Just choose a goddamn option, wouldja?!" He's a clown. Call it a quirk, a fetish, a raison d' etre, but I happen to really dig evil clowns. Krusty, Pennywise, Shakes . . . they all would have liked the clown who is Captain Spaulding. Or his son. Not sure.

Plot? See WRONG TURN. Four college-aged kids in 1977 are touring the country by car, writing about the peculiar roadside attractions that they encounter. After a brief stop and tour of Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madness, the boys decide (over the pro forma objections of the women, whose death rattles we can almost hear already) to drive to the tree where the infamous Dr. Satan was hung. Of course, his body disappeared overnight. Oh, and it's dark and raining outside. Cue the Rocky Horror soundtrack as they blow a tire after picking up a loverly but somewhat off hitchhiker. It's not "Dammit! I knew I should've gotten that spare tire fixed!" Instead, they point out that the tire was fixed but Brad Majors forgot to put it back in the trunk. Hitchhiker offers to have said busted car towed to her house just up the road (over at the Frankenstein Place. . . .). They get there and - surprise! - they're having some kind of party. Nobody offers to do the Madison.

Trouble ensues. Shit-kicking homicidal hillbillies don't like it when city slickers make fun of their ways, especially as they are getting geared up for Halloween.

A lot of people die, but this film isn't all about plot. It's about watching the movie. It's full of all kinds of fun little stuff that makes movies more interesting. Hot hitcher Baby's brother is doing a pretty good job of channeling Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff. Evil clowns are fun, especially when you're dumb enough to trust them. Lots of tribute is paid to Eddie Gein, as was done in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and (hah!) AMERICAN PSYCHO. It has the little guy with the high-pitched voice from REPO MAN. John Updike fans won't be disappointed as Riff Raff screams, "Run, Rabbit! Run!"

One little problem: people getting repeatedly stabbed through the chest are not able to continue screaming until death. Lungs collapse, and the screaming becomes rather frantic gurgling and bubbling, followed by a kind of rasp. Just a note.

There were some things that I thought were really well done in the film, particularly in the second half. The film remains well in the realm of the believable, so it is a shock when that is briefly cast aside. As a coffin filled with living people is lowered into a pit, the walls of the pit erupt with apparently skinless folk. That was neat. The sequence of scenes in which the scope of the killing is revealed really opens the film up. The messed-up hillbillies present a nice contrast to images nearer the end which are reminiscent of Giger drawing Jason Voorhees/Kane Hodder as Predator, with a little Mengele thrown in. There's even a bottle shop called Red Hot Pussy Liquors, staffed by the only guy they could get when Penn Gillette couldn't make it. I think he was shooting a Baywatch film.

In the "making of" featurette, one of the actors brings up an important point. He says, "As long as you're siding with someone in a horror film, I think it's a good. . . it's a good horror film." The fact that I couldn't tell you which actor it was or how his particular character buys the farm makes my point. You don't care, really. The female victims are completely forgettable. Of the male victims, the sci-fi buff (we'll call him Fish Boy) is okay. The other male victim apparently finds his muse in the more recent roles of Jack Black, Master Thespian. They're a little more fun. You don't care that they die, except to see in what manner they go.

Of the family members, there's a little more to tell. Grampa is memorable for the manner in which he treats family members and for the fact that he should have been played by Ned Beatty. Mother looks like what Stifler's Mom would after a long night and poor dental hygiene. Riff Raff (no, I'm NOT going to look up what the character's real name is) was okay. Baby, on the other hand, is a little more fun. We get to see many sides of this little lady who was made for porn stardom. We see her in Cowboy Ugly mode, we see her in tease mode, we see her as a nitrous-addicted sadistic cheerleader. Finally, we see her faux-Kabuki tribute to Betty Boop which was (I'm going to hell for this) strangely erotic.

Please don't just watch this film. I'm not saying not to watch, but not to just watch. Get drunk with friends and watch. Blare heavy metal and watch. Create your own audience participation (which was suggested by an actor) and watch. I'm convinced that this film can be fun, but (like many illegal substances) take it with something else that will complement the experience.

Finally, when escaping from someone named Dr. Satan, never accept a ride from an evil clown who says "I'll take you to a doctor."

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