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House Of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Director: Rob Zombie

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

With modern filmmaking less about entertainment and more about mass appeal, product placement, and political correctness disguised as carefully structured 'rebellion', no other genre has suffered more than horror. For example, look back to 1972, when Wes Craven unleashed The Last House on the Left, which redefined American horror, and then move forward to 1996, when Craven exploited his own work to give the masses Scream. The exploitation of Scream, which many critics and fans labelled homage, led to further decay, with directors such as George Romero struggling to make another 'dead' film while previous efforts such as Dawn Of The Dead (and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) were remade with "younger and hipper casts."
   With House Of 1000 Corpses, industrial/metal music artist Rob Zombie returns to the 1970s and creates his own demented family, inspired not only by movies such as The Hills Have Eyes and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer but also by real-life serial killers such as Ed Gein and cult leaders such as Charles Manson. Unlike other so-called tributes, however, Zombie's effort suffered a critical backlash, as well as studio animosity (both Universal and MGM dropped the project), and even some fan indifference (particularly those 'suckled' on modern horror movies). And although House Of 1000 Corpses lacks genuine chills and a true sense of menace, it does more with characterisation and humour than much of the product out there.
   The story itself is quite simple: two couples pay a visit to Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen, where clown Captain Spaulding, played by Sid Haig (Spider Baby, THX-1138, Galaxy Of Terror, and Jackie Brown), tells them about Dr Satan, a murderous surgeon. Intrigued, the two boys, their bitchy girlfriends in tow, try to find the good doctor's stomping grounds. It is in these backwoods that they run into Baby Firefly (played by Sheri Moon, whose next project is a remake of The Toolbox Murders), whose family includes Otis, played by Bill Moseley (1990 version of Night Of The Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and The Convent), Mama Firefly, played by Karen Black (Trilogy Of Terror, Burnt Offerings, and Invaders From Mars), Tiny Firefly, played by Matthew McGrory (The Dead Hate The Living), and Rufus Firefly, played by Robert Allen Mukes (Black Mask 2: City of Masks).
   As the family physically and mentally tortures the couples (as well as other assorted victims, including some abducted cheerleaders), one of the girl's fathers enlists the help of local law enforcement, including Lieutenant George Wydell (Tom Towles, who played Otis in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer) to search for her. Mayhem ensues, and just when you think one of the girls escapes (like Sally in Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Zombie delivers one final scare.
   The interplay between family members is impressive, with each personality inhabiting a bizarre world of their own. Otis fancies himself a philosopher with delusions not unlike those of Manson, Baby longs to be a vintage movie star but lacks any couth (there's also her murderous streak and her penchant toward necrophilia), and Mama Firefly oozes nymphomania. The backgrounds and attention to detail are excellent, as is Zombie's direction and the editing. Numerous old horror movies make appearances and Zombie's grainy television sequences, as well as the title sequence, give some of the proceedings a mock-documentary style that is fun to watch.
   There's also Zombie's homage to many of the films that inspired House Of 1000 Corpses. Some of these references are overt, such as the film clips sprinkled throughout, the horror host known as Dr Wolfenstein (which Zombie originally was set to play in the end was essayed by Gregg Gibbs), and Captain Spaulding's horror ride. But Zombie also has more subtle references. For example, late in the film Deputy Steve Naish (Walt Goggins) stumbles into a storeroom filled with clothing and shoes of past Firefly family victims, a sequence that reminded me of a similar one in which Sally spots similar items in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Then there's the sequence in which the only survivor of the ordeal escapes Dr Satan's underground lair by using one of her hands to break through the earth. This sequence, at the moment she breaks through, reflects the poster for Evil Dead 2.
   The film's principal weakness lies with its two couples. Although fleshed out and well acted, there's a bit too much clich´┐Ż in their development (the boys are nerds, the girls shrews), and as a result the audience does not readily sympathise with these 'victims', instead focusing on the killer family. Another weakness is the film's flimsy plot. Although other films have used threadbare stories (The Hills Have Eyes is a classic example), House Of 1000 Corpses promises a lot of plot at the beginning, particularly about Dr Satan and the Professor, but when these characters are finally revealed, there's not much to say about them. And just how are Dr Satan and The Professor related to the Firefly family? There are numerous unanswered questions throughout the film, which makes the question mark on the end title card very appropriate.
   The DVD of House Of 1000 Corpses is an inspired piece of packaging. All the menus have live action, with Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby serving as horror hosts who talk amongst themselves or interact directly with viewers. Rob Zombie's commentary is interesting and engaging, with Zombie discussing the movie's strengths and weaknesses quite candidly. He also gives his take on the look of the film that many fans will enjoy. For example, Otis upon first view looks like Riff Raff of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but Zombie describes his inspiration for Otis' look coming more from rocker Edgar Winter (and he's right!). Other extras include behind-the-scenes footage, the audition footage of Grandpa Hugo (played by Dennis Fimple, who passed away before the film saw theatrical release), cast and crew interviews, a still gallery, and trailers.
House Of 1000 Corpses

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