HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
Directed by Rob Zombie
Produced by Andy Gould
Written by Rob Zombie
Director of Photograpy Tom Richmond & Alex Poppas
Music by Rob Zombie & Scott Humphrey
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon & Karen Black
2003/88 mins/Color/5.1 DD
1.85:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD
Rob Zombie isn't the first rocker to be obsessed with horror movies, far from it, but (to the best of my knowledge), he is the first to go out and make a feature-length horror film. Given the fashion in which Zombie has also channeled horror films into his songs, CD art, and music videos, his direct involvement in a horror film was inevitable. So, it was with great anticipation that Zombie's fans, and horror mavens alike waited for the release of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. But, the film got mired in Hollywood bureaucracy, being passed from studio to studio, and took over 2 years to reach the screen. Now, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is coming to DVD from Lions Gate Home Entertainment. After all this time, can the film live up to the hype?
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is set in 1977. Four teenagers, Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), Bill (Rainn Wilson), and Denise (Erin Daniels), enjoy driving the back-roads looking for bizarre road-side attractions. On October 30th, when low on gas, they stop at Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters & Madmen. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), a demented clown, gives the kids a tour and tells them of the legend of Doctor Satan, a local boogeyman who allegedly killed many mental patients, was hung by the locals, and then disappeared. The teens are intrigued by this story and ask for directions to the spot were Doctor Satan was hung. While on their way to the legendary tree, they pick up a hitchhiker, Baby (Sheri Moon), who claims that she knows the way. When a flat-tire leaves the car stranded in the mud, the teens go with Baby to her house, where they meet her mother (Karen Black), Otis (Bill Moseley), Grampa (Dennis Fimple), and Tiny (Matthew McGrory). At first, the kids assume that this odd family is just a group of eccentric hillbillies, but as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that the family is a group of homicidal maniacs, and that there is no escape from their house of horrors.
There was a lot of pressure on HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES to be the ultimate horror film, as Zombie has often proclaimed his love for hardcore horror. But, those who are expecting HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES to change the world will be disappointed. This is not the ultimate horror film, nor does it appear that this was Zombie's intention. Zombie was approached by Universal to make a movie after his success making a horror attraction for a Universal Studios Halloween event. Now, this is an oversimplified assessment, but my feeling is that Zombie attempted to make a film which is the equivalent of an amusement park ride. Simply put, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is colorful, loud, and garrish fun. The movie is very short on plot, and is made up of elaborate set-pieces. Essentially, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is zombie's love-letter to horror film fans. The story is basically an amalgam of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and TOURIST TRAP, as we have the urban "innocents" who have a run-in with the rural crazies. This familiar tale serves as a jumping-off point for Zombie, as he explores the idiosyncracies of the family and sets up his shocking scenes.
To be honest, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is a mixed-bag. Zombie has experience directing music videos, and his visual talent really comes through here. The production design in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is incredible, and each set is a smorgasbord of things to look at. The movie is very colorful, and Zombie juxtasposes dark scenes (and the dark material) with bright reds, blues, and greens. But, Zombie has also overdirected the film. There are many, many, short vignettes showing disturbing images, which often cut away from the action and damage the pacing of the film. If this process had been used sparingly, it would have been more effective. (These segments involve various visual media, reminiscent of NATURAL BORN KILLERS.) To his credit, Zombie's use of split-screen and odd angles adds to the surreal, almost comic-book, feel of the film. And there are two moments in Chapter 12, one involving music (which has a David Lynch feel) and the other involving suspense which work really well. Another problem with the film is the family. In movies like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and TOURIST TRAP, we know that the characters are weird, but it's not until later in the film that we know exactly what they're capable of. In HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, we learn from the get-go that these over-the-top characters are capable of (and fully intent on) murder. This takes away from the suspense in the film. The last 15-minutes of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES actually turns into a totally different movie, which offers some of the best imagery of the film, and makes one wish that Zombie would have explored this aspect even further.
By now, most of you probably know that Universal dropped HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES for being too intense and disturbing. Now having seen the film, I have trouble understanding. Yes, when compared to a Disney film or a Julia Robert movie, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is intense. There are scenes of murder and mayhem here that aren't seen in the average film. But, they are things that we've seen before, and there not much more intense than the carnage in Universal's RED DRAGON. Granted, this is the R-rated 88-minute version that we are seeing. The other reason that the movie doesn't seem that intense is the intentional humor in the film. There are some truly funny, campy moments in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, and I found myself laughing out loud at times. (Tiny's t-shirt just killed me.) So, once again, the film definitely shows acts of insanity and cruelty, but it isn't the exercise in grueling terror that many expected it to be.
Despite the treatment that HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES may have received with editing and releasing, the DVD from Lions Gate certainly does the movie justice. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks beautiful. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing only the finest amount of grain at times. Otherwise the image looks pristine, making the fantastic colors of the film seemingly jump off the screen. There is little evidence of artifacting or edge-enhancement. The picture has a great deal of depth and really shows how good DVD can make a movie look. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is even more impressive. A great deal of work obviously went into the sound design of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, and that attention to detail really shows through here. The dialogue is alwasy clear and intelligible. Surround sound effects abound throughout the film, and really add atmosphere to the film. The music by Zombie and band-mate Scott Humphrey sounds great, and gives the subwoofer a good workout. Also, there is an option to view the film with a music-only track. From a technical standpoint, the HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is super.
But, the special features on the DVD are quite disappointing. The highlight is the audio commentary from writer/director Rob Zombie. Zombie speaks at length about the film's production, and gives a great deal of detail about the locations and difficulties in shooting the movie. While he mention some hassles from the studio from time-to-time, he doesn't really talk about the problems that the film had getting to the screen. He does discuss the "breaks" in the schedule, and points out shots which were filmed long after principal photography had wrapped. One can't help but wonder what HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES would have been like if it had been released as originally scheduled. Now, I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, but Zombie does allude to an unated version of the film, and the commentary sounds as if it's been edited -- as if he had been commenting on scenes which aren't in this version of the film.
The remainder of the extras border on being pointless. There is a 4-minute "making-of" featurette, which consists of clips and soundbytes. This has the feel of a press-kit promotional item, as it offers little information on the making of the film. (But, this segment does contain at least 2 shots which weren't in the film.) Next, we have 2 1/2 mintues of video footage from the set of the film. This essentially consists of shots of Rob Zombie standing around. There is a 2-minute audition tape for Dennis Fimple ("Grampa"). This is very similar to the three "rehearsal" segments, featuring Bill Moseley, Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, and Erin Daniels. There are brief interviews with Bill Moseley (4 minutes), Sid Haig (6 minutes), Sheri Moon (2 minutes), and special effects artist Wayne Toth (4 minutes). These are heavily edited and don't offer much information. There is a still gallery which contains both production stills and behind-the-scenes stills, most of which show special effects makeup. The theatrical trailer and teaser trailer are here (both full-frame), as well as a audio-only radio spot. And finally, we have the weirdest extra ever -- a 3-minute segment in which Baby, Otis, and Captain Spaulding each tell knock-knock jokes, all of which have the same punch-line "Tiny F**ked a Stump". Don't ask me. It should also be pointed out that the disc contains some of the most annoying menus ever.
The easiest way to describe HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is that it's a Rob Zombie album cover come to life. The movie is campy and fun, but never really delivers the shock that one would hope for. But, then again, maybe if we get an unrated DVD of the fim, it will be the horror masterpiece that everyone wanted to see.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©