House of 1000 Corpses Reviews
House of 1000 Corpses can be credited with two major labels: Rob Zombie's first feature length film and his own version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Neither of these really pay any credibility to the man. It's obvious for anyone watching the film that the director's prior experience lies in making psychedelic music videos. The man's distinct style for combining surreal lighting, heat-sensor colours, slow motion, stock footage and home video style footage will please the most dedicated Rob Zombie fans and drugged up audiences. But for those in search of a coherent narrative, it's best to look elsewhere. The entire film plays out like one long music video strung together by an extremely loose plot. If the plot doesn't deter you, the excessive manner in which the film frantically cuts between varying visual styles without any consistent look or narrative structure turns the film into a jumbled mishmash of subplots with arbitrary relevance to any kind of actual story. There is no real build-up with the story as the film keeps cutting away to shots of random characters performing lude acts or other arbitrary elements, and it ends up becoming difficult to keep up with and inconsistent with any kind of visual appeal. I can certainly admit that there are many things about House of 1000 Corpses that I find appealing to look at, but they end up being blunted by Rob Zombie's psychedelic ambitions. The entire production design for the film is awesome because the production is constructed out of a keen eye for the most sick and twisted eye for imagery you could imagine. The entire setting for the film is a derelict mansion full of damaged furniture, mutilated toys secret rooms set against the backdrop of the secluded backroads of with satanic fields of graves and secret underground passages, and that is nothing short of the iconic horror setup. The only problem is that all the shifts in the visual style that captures it renders it inconsistent with visual appeal. House of 1000 Corpses is not short on horror atmosphere as the setting is perfectly horrific, but the jarring shifts in Rob Zombie's visual style makes it difficult to appreciate to its maximum potential.
The story is the other issue in House of 1000 Corpses. In attempting to pay homage to both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the director actually remakes them. But rather than being an original and gleeful homage to 1970's horror cinema, House of 1000 Corpses ends up being simply a derivative and predictable film. The narrative attempts to avoid its generic path by cutting between the subplots of multiple characters and their many victims so that the lacklustre story can hide behind a rising body count, but keeping up with every character's individual formulaic story is confusing, annoying and overall pointless. House of 1000 Corpses is a series of different horror concepts strung together by no plot and a frantic pace which just cuts from one form of horror imagery to the next. The film certainly is certainly striking with all its gruesome murders and exploitation nature, but a film aiming to be a clear drive-in horror movie should not be this difficult to keep up with. But with every subplot just piling upon a story which has no grounding, audiences will eventually have to learn to turn off their brains more than they could have imagined before. House of 1000 Corpses is not a film which encourages thinking as it lacks coherence in narrative and in imagery, and despite its sporadic sparks of inspiration and exploitation ambition it is a clear sign that Rob Zombie is not yet at a point where he has the sense to construct a full-fledged feature film.
However, House of 1000 Corpses does have the best intentions. Rather than trying to take influence from older horror films, the fact that Rob Zombie makes an active attempt to create one definitely shows some flair. He goes overboard in many areas, but his clear sense of exploitation horror manages to create some gruesome and shocking content. The dialogue is entertaining as well because it is proudly obscene and stupid without ever being pretentiously dramatic, effectively giving an edge of dark humour to the film and making the antagonists into interesting characters. Even if the man still has progress to make in story coherence, House of 1000 Corpses is energetic and atmospheric enough to show the director's potential. And the way he treats his characters means that the cast of House of 1000 Corpses really get to have a fun time acting insane.
The protagonists of the story are stock characters who exist for no other reason than to be tortured by the Firefly family with the only memorable one being Rainn Wilson due to the fact that his presence comes from just prior to his career hitting a high point with the role of Dwight Schrute from The Office (2005-2013). As far as standouts go, it comes in at a four way tie between the most prominent antagonists of the film.
The first character to take note of in House of 1000 Corpses is Captain Spaulding. Sid Haig enters the film in clown makeup and makes an effectively creepy presence. His typical southern manner of speaking combined with his clown nature brings strong black humour into the film, and the actor's tenacious line delivery makes it difficult to tell when he's joking or posing a threat. He immediately prepares audiences for the darkly comedic thrill ride of a Rob Zombie film, and even when the narrative structure collapses in on itself, Captain Spaulding's scenes still exist independently as the one aspect of the film with any sensible pacing and genuine consistency. Sid Haig's dark charm is not burdened by the film's faults and thus shines brightly with the glory of its dark humour, making him one of the most memorable assets to the film.
Karen Black also makes a memorable appearance. The Academy Award-nominated actress carries a slight sense of nostalgia due to how her presence reflects upon the glory of her 70's career in a time when the genre House of 1000 Corpses aims to follow was thriving. But more importantly, she really sinks into the psychotic nature of the character. If you combined Jennifer Coolidge's performance as Stifler's Mom from American Pie (1999) with Jacki Weaver's Academy Award nominated role as Janine "Smurf" Cody in Animal Kingdom (2010), you would get someone along the lines of Mother Firefly. She's a sexual deviant with a typical pornstar charm to her, yet her dominant nature as the family matriarch makes her a commanding presence even without her having to be dramatic. She just has fun with the role, and as a result captures the perfect edge that Rob Zombie is going for. Karen Black delivers a career redefining performance in House of 1000 Corpses.
Bill Moseley is also a memorable presence. Cast clearly on the basis of his iconic role as Chop Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Bill Moseley replicates what made him so iconic in the first place without directly copying the character. He looks pretty much identical in both roles, yet in House of 1000 Corpses he tones down the comic nature of his natural persona to be more intimidating. He still carries his comic elements, but he seems far more sadistic this time as he goes into his self-indulgent and psychotic rants to the victims. His very presence in the film is a perfect piece of fan service, and his shows that he has lost none of the maniacal charm that made him so popular in horror film communities. Bill Moseley finds his second coming as a horror icon working with Rob Zombie who knows how to bring out the best in him, so House of 1000 Corpses proves another solid platform for his charismatic sense of dark humour and horror.
Lastly, House of 1000 Corpses also serves as the feature film debut of later scream queen Sheri Moon. Now known as the distinctive casting choice of any Rob Zombie film, Sheri Moon proves her potential in House of 1000 Corpses by creating her own rendition of a more psychotic Harley Quinn. She presents herself as an airhead blonde on the surface and manages to make it both a true aspect of the character and a front to disguise the far more twisted nature of the character. Her high pitched voice and gleeful energy make her sadistic nature all the more frightening, and the way she actively works to be both the submissive daughter seeking the approval of her family and a twisted psychopath of her own right shows that she has clearly put thought into the character. Sheri Moon makes a strong start to her scream queen legacy in House of 1000 Corpses.
House of 1000 Corpses shows a flair for Rob Zombie's strength with building a strong horror atmosphere, crafting some memorably freaky characters and wringing strong performances out of his cast, but his overbearing visual style and convoluted narrative structure proves too difficult to handle at feature length.