House of 1000 Corpses (2003) Review
House of 1000 Corpses was directed and written by Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, Lords of Salem) and stars Rainn Wilson (The Office, Cooties), Chris Hardwick (Waco Valley, Me Him Her), Erin Daniels (Animal Among Us, Wheelmen), Jennifer Jostyn (Deep Impact, Milo), Bill Moseley (Sin Eater, Crepitus), Sheri Moon Zombie (The Toolbox Murders, 3 from Hell), Karen Black (Burnt Offerings, Killer Fish), Sid Haig (Hanukkah, Abruptio), and Matthew McGrory (Big Fish, The Evil Within). It follows a group of young adults as they try to survive their captivity at the hands of a depraved family.
During their trip, a tire is popped by Rufus, and Baby leads the group to her home, occupied by adoptive brothers Otis (Moseley), Tiny (McGrory), and Mother Firefly (Black). The sadistic family entertains themselves and the “visitors” with violence and threats while the sheriff works his way to the house due to a crime committed by Spaulding.
The Characters: House of 1000 Corpses’ characters are mostly terrible, Bill and Jerry are stupid, adventurous, nerdy guys who like pop-culture stuff, whereas their girlfriends Denise and Mary complain about stuff. The Fireflys don’t fare much better, with Mother and Tiny acting as half-measures of the main three family members. Baby is by far the weakest, only ever shown off as a piece of ear-ringing eye candy for the audience, sometimes doing something nasty.
Otis is the most outwardly violent, a self-serving agent of chaos that preaches and performs violence of all sorts to anyone who gets near him. Spaulding is the best, a hellbilly clown with some memorable lines and an idiosyncratic personality. Performances are generally awful, with the normal leads being uncharismatic, Zombie being plain annoying, and everyone aside from Haig and Moseley banal.
The Horror: Horror is equally terribad. While House of 1000 Corpses strains itself to push the viewer to their breaking point with physical violence, sexual violence, and psychological violence, it only ever comes off as Zombie trying to get a rise out of the audience. There’s a lot of torture, some manhunting, and some unprofessional surgery, but none of it shocks in the way it clearly wants to; aside from Fishboy. Can’t forget about Fishboy (not that that creation is scary or anything, but it is bizarre).
Several of House of 1000 Corpses’ scenes are less nods to and more rip-offs of much-praised classics, like a dinner scene entirely aping the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and chase scenes reminiscent of slasher franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween. While not a high bar to pass (with the exception of the original Halloween), Zombie still fails to bring anything new or even energetic to the screen.
The Technics: Technically, House of 1000 Corpses is a garbage fire. Zombie has a distinctly awful approach to his filmmaking, much like his music. Writing is just pitiful like the worst of screenplays, confusing a string of expletives for creative interactions; lots of F-bombs and slang plague the script, and it wears on the senses after the first 500 utterances. Editing is the pits. Spliced between scenes are bits of non-sequitur footage with the Fireflys spitting random, vaguely related dialogue; other times it’s of characters that have never appeared.
Also edited in are colour-changing transitions meant to reference grindhouse films of the 70s, but they only bring up memories of better homages. Pacing is lumbering, finding the 89-minute movie struggling to pad scenes out to feature-length by means of slo-mo, musical interludes, and long pauses. It’s a mess.
I do believe all films are pieces of art, but some are on a different level, House of 1000 Corpses, for example, has a ramshackle plot, mostly uninteresting characters, and a script most likely written in crayon. If this is called one of Zombie’s best, I want nothing to do with his worst.