Directed By: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie
Tag line: "True Horror Is Back!"
Trivia: Filmed in 2000, but wasn't released until three years later
For about 7 years now, House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel The Devil’s Rejects have been my “Halloween” films, the movies I watch when the big day finally arrives (technically, I suppose House of 1000 Corpses is my “Halloween Eve” tradition, seeing as I watch it on the 30th. Then, once the trick-or-treaters have stopped ringing my doorbell on Halloween night, I pop in The Devil’s Rejects to close out the evening). Released in 2003 (though shot in 2000), House of 1000 Corpses was Rob Zombie’s first feature-length directorial effort, a movie that pays homage to the films of the ‘70s and does so with a style that’s as unique as it is engaging.
The date is October 30, 1977. Jerry (Chris Hardwick) and Bill (Rainn Wilson) are on a road trip, hunting down unusual roadside attractions for a new book they’re working on. Along with their girlfriends, Denise (Erin Daniels) and Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), they pull into a gas station / “Museum of Monsters and Madmen” owned and operated by a guy in clown make-up who goes by the name Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). While there, Jerry and Bill learn about a local legend that tells of a surgeon nicknamed “Dr. Satan” who was hanged for conducting a series of illegal, and often brutal, experiments on his patients. While looking for the spot where Dr. Satan was supposedly executed, the four pick up Baby (Sherri Moon-Zombie), a beautiful hitch-hiker who asks them for a ride home. Thus begins a night of terror in which Jerry, Bill, Denise, and Mary are abducted and tortured by Baby’s “family”, a collection of very strange, very dangerous individuals, the most lethal of whom is Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), a struggling “artist” who specializes in pain.
Simply put, House of 1000 Corpses messed with my head, which I’m guessing is what it did to the executives at Universal Studios (after viewing the film, the studio, which had initially financed House of 1000 Corpses, feared it would receive an NC-17 rating from the MPAA and refused to release it. Zombie eventually bought the movie back from them, and then sold it to Lions Gate Entertainment). Part of what I love about House of 1000 Corpses is its unpredictability, something it has in common with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. After opening with a great scene in which Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding thwarts a couple of would-be thieves (Chad Bannon and David Reynolds), our four twenty-something protagonists are treated to a carnival-like ride through a bizarre serial-killer “museum” before meeting up with Sherri Moon-Zombie’s Baby, who takes them home with her. It’s at this point House of 1000 Corpses spirals into pure insanity, culminating in a final sequence that is, quite frankly, too disturbing for words. The movie’s constantly twisting story is enhanced by Zombie’s distinctive visual style, with split-screens, flash cuts, a little slow-motion, and a number of brief asides giving the film an energy that’s positively exhilarating.
While 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects is, on a technical level, the better of the two (and is a tremendous film in its own right), I find I actually prefer House of 1000 Corpses. A wild, highly-stylized descent into madness, House of 1000 Corpses grabbed hold of me in the very first scene, and then lingered in my mind for days afterwards.