To say that "House of 1,000 Corpses" is disturbing is to suggest that it's effective. And one can only assume that Rob Zombie's intent was to disturb, because it's hard to tell amid the resulting noise and chaos.
The rock star has written and directed a horror film that isn't scary, and isn't even funny in a campy way. It's depressing, and a waste of time and energy for everyone involved the people who made it, the people at the theaters showing it, and the people who will make the mistake of stumbling in to see it.
Like the living dead who stagger through the film, "House of 1,000 Corpses" barely even made it to the screen.
Zombie's movie meandered between distributors for two years before ending up at Lions Gate, which released it without screening it beforehand for critics and has barely promoted it. If it had to be released at all, it should have gone straight to video, and even there it would have competition from cheesy frightfests that are far more worthwhile.
Zombie aspired to re-create the gory horror flicks of the '70s, which is evident from the film's premise: The night before Halloween 1977, two young couples driving cross-country in search of odd roadside attractions stop at the Museum of Monsters and Madmen, run by Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig), who sits around all day in a dirty T-shirt and smeared clown makeup.
Then they have car trouble (of course) in the middle of nowhere (of course) in the pouring rain (of course).
They stumble upon a blonde, scatterbrained hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon, Zombie's real-life wife) who takes them back to her ramshackle house, where they meet her blonde, scatterbrained mother (cult horror actress Karen Black).
They also meet her deformed brother, Tiny (Matthew McGrory), who is anything but; Grampa Hugo (Dennis Fimple), a dirty old man who screams with his mouth full of food; and Otis (Bill Moseley), who isn't related to the family, but fits in just fine with his yellow teeth, stringy hair and general creepy demeanor.
Once the couples try to leave, they realize this isn't your ordinary dysfunctional family these are bloodthirsty, Satan-worshipping, sadistic cannibals (of course).
What ensues is an incoherent amalgamation of sex and violence, of imagery that aims to shock for shock's sake. Trouble is, most of it such as naked women writhing around with skeletons and ersatz doctors performing experiments with crude surgical equipment is more boring than shocking.
Much of this imagery comes in stream-of-consciousness montages between scenes similar to Zombie's music videos, which he directed before making this, his first feature.
What made the horror films of the '70s so eerie and so engaging was the sense of building suspense. The woods were populated with ax-wielding wackos, just like they are here, but the scares came at you gradually. The filmmakers paid attention to mood, whereas this is just loud, fast and in-your-face.
In a scene that best exemplifies this approach, one of the victims is placed on a makeshift crucifix while his face is sliced open with a straightedge razor, and "Brick House" blares from a radio in the background. Somehow, I suspect this isn't what the Commodores had in mind when they recorded the song, because this movie is anything but mighty, mighty."House of 1,000 Corpses" is rated R for strong sadistic violence, gore, sexuality, nudity and language. Running time: 88 minutes.
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