I wish there was a way to write a long, exasperated, conflicted sigh.
House of 1000 Corpses is Rob Zombie’s debut film, known for being provocative, disturbing, and kind of awful. It kicked off his Firefly trilogy (of which the third movie is being filmed now) and while the second entry, The Devil’s Rejects, is relatively well known and acclaimed, House of 1000 Corpses seems to have a much more, uhh, niche, cult following. It’s about a group of four college-ish aged kids who, while on a roadtrip to visit and explore America’s weird and wild roadside attractions, fall victim to the Firefly family: a cult of sadistic and psychotic hillbillies who capture, torture, and kill anybody they come across.
Before House of 1000 Corpses, I’ve never seen a Rob Zombie movie. I figured that while half drunk on a Friday afternoon, I wanted to watch something kind of fucked up, and while I’m not ready for Cannibal Holocaust (no matter how many times I tell my friends that I am), I thought hey why not watch a crazy movie and my first Rob Zombie flick at the same time? So, here I am an hour and forty five minutes later, scratching my head, and just a smidge drunker than I was before I queued up the movie.
I have to give Rob Zombie credit where credit is due: House of 1000 Corpses is unlike anything else I’ve seen before. Sure, it helped pave the way for movies is Martyrs and Saw, but past the shock value of the gore, there isn’t anything in this movie that resembles those other two. House of 1000 Corpses is capital “W” wild, and I think that’s about one of the only reasons I can say that I liked it. Surreal and trippy transitions flash across the screen between and even in the middle of scenes, from using the negative color of the current scene to cutting to seemingly unrelated footage of characters talking to the camera almost like a talking heads segment meeting a serial killer’s manifesto video, House of 1000 Corpses is constantly shoving something into your eyes for the entire duration of the film. Filling the space between transitions lies all the scenes which are equally as extreme and difficult to digest. Zombie doesn’t shy away from the gore, and as the movie ramps up, he leans hard into the ’70s grindhouse aesthetic, letting some even crazier shit unfold on screen. Now, don’t get me wrong. Even though House of 1000 Corpses can be brutal at times doesn’t mean it’s devoid of any other substance.
It’s rather funny, for instance. I never thought I would say that about this film, but after watching it I can safely say that House of 1000 Corpses partially rests on it’s kind-of-crude-but-mostly-absurdist humour. I wouldn’t say there are any jokes here, but when you see Grandpa Firefly walking through the mist with his menacing murder family wearing Edo-era Japanese samurai armor, you can’t help but laugh to yourself. Even the climax of the film has some moments where all you can do is uncomfortably laugh under your breath. They’re too overt for me to think they were unintentional, and I think Rob Zombie, while a huge fan of schlocky, gonzo horror flicks, is kind of “in on the joke” of how over the top they can be. I believe that Rob Zombie made House of 1000 Corpses with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
You might’ve noticed by now that I haven’t made any comments on the plot or the characters. That’s because there are none. The majority of the plot is summed up in that second paragraph and the characters are so paper thin that I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Zombie wrote his script on them. Now obviously this is a flaw of the movie, but does it even matter? House of 1000 Corpses is such an assault on the senses right from minute one that I feel like if he spent more time than he already did with our characters (whether our unsuspecting 20-somethings or the Firefly family), the movie would feel bloated and overwritten. I don’t know how it works the way that it does, but it does. House of 1000 Corpses feels like Zombie watched the last half hour of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wanted to remake it, but with the insanity turned up to 11.
I can, however, comment on the acting. It’s kind of all over the place. Bill Moseley solidified himself as a horror icon to for the modern age as Otis, and Sid Haig absolutely floored me as Captain Spaulding. I knew horror fiends loved Haig from this movie, but I didn’t fully understand why until I watched this. Haig is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious as Spaulding, and despite there being no shortage of actors who can pull off crazy eyes, I can’t imagine anybody else filling this role. Everybody else ranges from piss poor to passable, but again, it doesn’t really matter. Rarely is the acting so bar it’s distracting and if anything, the bad acting adds to that grindhouse feel House of 1000 Corpses seems to capture so well.
So, is House of 1000 Corpses good? I dunno. I think I said I liked it about 400 words ago and said it was awful 500 words ago, but I’m too deep into this case of Alpine to double check right now. Sober Saturday Morning Editor’s Note: I did, and they were 522 and 787 words ago respectively. If you like weird cinema, or are in to movies that are unapologetically different and stylized for better or worse, you should give this film a shot. It definitely got me interested in Zombie’s other films, and while I don’t know if I’ll like them (especially his contribution to the Halloween franchise), I think they’ll be interesting to say the least. To be boring is the worst crime a movie can commit. I would rather watch ten interesting movies that I disliked than one that was truly and completely boring. If it’s one thing, House of 1000 Corpses is not boring.