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HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black
Director:  Rob Zombie
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Lions Gate
Features:  See Review
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  August 12, 2003

“…this can’t be real this can’t be real this can’t be real…”

Film *** (on the cult scale)

When I first heard that Rob Zombie was writing and directing a horror film some years back, I clapped my hands with eager anticipation.  Not only was I a fan of Zombie as a musician, but from my decade-plus long experience with his records and videos, I knew the man was an absolute walking lexicon of the horror genre.  I’d wager there was no film, no matter how low budget or obscure (those probably all the better) that he didn’t know.  Many of them he had referenced in his music.

But House of 1000 Corpses turned into a house of 1000 problems, as Zombie put it.  The years passed and the faithful fans waited patiently, but no movie.  Universal, the studio that originally greenlighted it, kept insisting that it needed to be toned down.  They wanted an R rated film, and Rob Zombie wasn’t giving it to them.  It begs the question…when they first agreed to the project, exactly what kind of movie did they expect from Zombie?

Some of my friends had seen clips of the film he showed during his concerts.  And all of us were beginning to wonder if that was the best we could hope for…would Zombie’s directorial debut end up buried along with his fictional cache of dead bodies?

Thankfully, Universal gave up on the movie, and their loss was Lions Gate’s gain.  I was there on opening day when House of 1000 Corpses finally menaced the screen.  It was everything I expected…and then some.

But for others, it was nothing of the kind.  One camp contained both the devotees of Zombie and the horror film junkies who recognized exactly what he was trying to (and successfully) accomplish with his movie, which was a stylistic throwback to the “underground” horror films of the 70s. 

The other camp, I’m convinced, was made up of those who were weaned on Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  They were prepared for anything but what they got, which was a sheer, undiluted dose of horror extremism that harkened back to pictures like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes or Dawn of the Dead.  These were the first of the modern horror films to really push the envelope.  House of 1000 Corpses doesn’t break new ground, but pays dutiful homage to these icons of terror.  It seems fresh and invigorating simply because the likes of it hadn’t been seen on the big screen in so long.

The plot is familiar:  bunch of teens meet up with crazed homicidal southern family, guess who wins.  Nothing new needed to be created for the set-up, and for the true horror junkies, the familiarity lent to a kind of comfort zone, for lack of a better phrase.  Our frames of mind were set for the carnage to begin.

And it’s exactly there were Zombie shows his true mettle.  He hints at the creepy things to come in obvious ways:  posters indicating some cheerleaders had gone missing (in horror, missing cheerleaders ALWAYS means bad news).  We then get glimpses of said pom-pom posers in various rooms of the HOUSE as our unsuspecting victims blather away in the family room with their strange hosts.  Bad things are happening to them.  What will happen to our heroes?

Everything quickly unravels into a surreal, gory and decadent nightmare.  The stretch near the finale is close to brilliant in how well it keeps our stomachs churning, our faces ashen and our hearts pounding.  It all leads to exactly the kind of ending we’re expecting, but as I said, the point was never to break new ground.  It was to rediscover hallowed ground.

It’s a decidedly imperfect film, but an effective one nonetheless; one with a few modest and clearly defined goals for its audience that it goes after with gusto.  Zombie spun his knowledge of horror into a film aimed for a select audience, but if you’re one of them, you’re in for a helluva time.

Video ****

Rob Zombie obviously dreams in color, as his first filmed nightmare is a brutishly harsh assault of color.  I hope that sounds like a compliment, because that’s how I mean it!  His hodgepodge style of reverse negatives, enhanced colors, mixed media and montage editing make for a perfect DVD workout…your player will be putting in overtime to process these images, but your eyes will thank you.  Everything renders with integrity and clarity; I noticed no undue grain or effects of compression.  And definitely no bleeding despite the frequent chaos of adamantly clashing tones and such.  One of the year’s best.

Audio ****

The sound in a horror movie is all important, and even better when your movie pulsates to the sounds of Rob Zombie!  This 5.1 mix is a diabolical success, with plenty of dynamic range that will have you cowering in your chair, noise and music coming from all directions, and all out thunder from the .1 channel.  Mind the breakables on your shelf before you crank this one up!

Features ***1/2

For starters, this disc has the year’s coolest menu screens hands down.  Rob Zombie directed bits of new footage featuring cast members Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon, and they basically talk to you and taunt you as you navigate the menus!  On the main screen, the cursor is actually a little FULLY animated head of Captain Spaulding! 

Zombie offers a fun and fact filled commentary track, and as usual, I find I prefer commentaries for the low budgeted films than the bazillion dollar ones, simply because there seem to be more interesting tidbits in how to make a picture with no time and money!  Zombie is a great speaker who sounds amazingly normal.  To listen to him talk isn’t to imagine the man who snarled out monster rock tunes like “Living Dead Girl”!

There is a very short featurette and some selected cast interviews (also short), plus a stills gallery, and a teaser and theatrical trailer with radio spot.  A stereo music-only soundtrack is also included.  Rounding out are some strange and hilarious tidbits starting with a selection that I can’t actually print here, but again, they feature Haig, Moseley and Moon.  I say ‘they’, because they also pop up in Easter eggs, for the dutiful hunters.  All I can say is I laughed hard, even though I couldn’t really explain to you what was so funny about them!

Also, click on the Lions Gate logo on the main screen for some cool coming attractions.

Summary:

House of 1000 Corpses is a throwback to when horror really meant horror.  It’s not for those with delicate constitutions, or for those whose experience with the genre doesn’t go back further that Nightmare on Elm Street.  But for those who know the ropes, like Rob Zombie obviously does, this awesome DVD from Lions Gate will be a bloodcurdling delight.