House of 1000 Corpses (2002)
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley
Synopsis: Set in 1977, House of 1000 Corpses follows the classic storyline of four teens out on the road who pick up a hitchhiker which turns out to be the worst mistake of their soon to be cut short lives.
Review: House of 1000 Corpses tries hard to be the 1970/s slashers of old and for the most part it succeeds save for a few stumbles along the way. If the synopsis sounded familiar, that is because HO1TC wears its influences very much on its grubby sleeve. Parts of the plot seem to almost have been ripped straight from The Texas chainsaw massacre with its crazed family, sinister hitchhikers, masked mute giant and lone star location. While this might sound like a negative, this is not a bad thing as Rob Zombie has unleashed his own twisted creativity on the brilliant framework laid down by TCM with a movie that attacks the senses with vivid color and vibrant sound. Much like Texas Chainsaw, HO1TC has gained a fan following and it is clear why.
One thing the film does really well is characterization; Captain Spaulding is a funny but menacing presence and we are not sure of his intentions, while Baby is a bubbly young woman with a sick and twisted soul. Like most slasher films of the decade this one is aping I found myself being much more interested in the crazed family of sadistic killers than in the four unfortunate teenagers who are our “heroes”. The characters also look great especially Spaulding with his iconic make up and clown suit paired with his dirty back woods nature and appearance create a memorable and iconic character; who would go on to be the figurehead of the movie. My only slight problem is that there are so many characters that some of the ones who appear near the end of the movie get little screen time and can feel a little tacked on.
Visually the film looks great with that classic 70s/80s grainy quality, paying more homage to the films that inspired it. The use of color is also great. Vivid colors lend a sickly and unsettling air to the events but also create eye popping visuals for the audience. Two parts in particular make heavy use of color, during the Captain Spaulding’s ride at the beginning of the movie and in the underground sequence later in the movie, both of these lend a chaotic feel to the movie. Zombie also uses some experimental techniques during the film such as switching the camera to negative or playing with the colors, while this can sometimes be jarring, I feel that it is successful in creating an almost shell shocked feeling which ties in with how the heroes are feeling in this horrible situation. The whole movie also has a significant grind house/ drive in theatre quality, which I feel only adds to the style of the movie making it feel like you are almost watching it in some back woods town in the middle of Texas.
The narrative is at times unfocused, which you could say helps to add to the chaotic nature of the movie, however it is debatable whether this was Zombie’s intention and It could just be sloppy film making. This did not detract from the movie for me but It could for other people and is worthy of note. At times we get strange footage of Otis rambling like Manson and Baby getting intimate with a skeleton. In fact this last observation is a great example of one of the stronger themes running through the movie, that of sex. The first image we see in the movie is a Polaroid of a naked woman, from then on we have sex woven through out. We have the carnal mixed with the carnage; from the implied necrophilic tendencies of Otis, the promiscuity of Mother Firefly, The booze store names “Pussy Liquor” and pretty much everything baby wears or says or does. This theme seeks to show the completely hedonistic and deranged nature of the Firefly family. I think is another nod to classic horror movies such as those of Hammer from the 60s to the slashers of the 70 and 80s that also mix together sex and death.
This is movie is clearly a love letter to horror and Zombie’s experimental approach is mostly successful. Great visuals, bat crap crazy characters and a hefty amount of gore make this movie an exciting first entry by Zombie.