House of 1000 Corpses

A little over a year ago I was having a night in with some friends, facing the always-difficult dilemma of finding something to rent that all three of us had not yet seen and wouldn’t mind seeing. I talked them into renting Jeepers Creepers because I had heard it was an entertaining B-grade horror flick and was worth a rental even though it had gotten horrid reviews in its theatrical release. Well the critics were right and it wound up royally sucking and my friends were sorely disappointed in my movie suggestion and I wound up spending the rest of the night apologizing profusely for my poor judgement.

A few weeks ago, these same friends told me that Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses, was an entertaining B-grade horror flick and worth a rental, even though it had gotten horrid reviews in its theatrical release. So I reluctantly rented it. Well, it royally sucks and we are officially even for the Jeepers Creepers incident. Read on for the rest of my review.

House of 1000 Corpses, or “H1K” as the fanboys on the message boards like to call it, is the predictable story of a group of young people who gets lost on a country road on the eve of Halloween in 1977. They run into a demented backwoods family of killers and spend the first half of the movie tolerating way too much creepy weirdness from their hosts when any normal person would get the hell out of there and find some civilization. The second half of the movie focuses mainly on one of the young girls as she stumbles clumsily around in horror-cliche fashion, whimpering helplessly as her friends are killed, and screaming mindlessly as she discovers new horrors at every turn but never seems to get it together enough to actually do anything about it.

Apparently it is intended as an homage to classic 70s horror flicks like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, but it’s more like an insult. Where TCM and HHE broke new ground and were genuinely scary in their grainy dementia, H1K is derivative, silly, and tedious. It doesn’t play with the cliches those movies established, it merely follows them like a rulebook, devoid of originality or spin. The heros are clueless and helpless to an obnoxious degree, and the twisted Firefly family is just twisted for twisted’s sake, with no trace of motivation or complexity. There’s some unexplained lip service paid to some occult ritual in the third act, but it’s barely even addressed in passing and certainly doesn’t give the audience the satisfaction of an “ah-hah, so that’s why” moment.

The colors are garishly oversaturated, as anyone who has seen White Zombie’s videos would expect. And the entire film is interspliced with short clips of handheld low-res video accented with cheap camcorder effects. Does anyone really think watching a color negative is spooky? Some of these video sequences depict the parts that are supposed to be scariest or at least goriest, e.g. showing us how Otis Firefly flayed the skin off our heroine’s father’s face to make a dad mask, but the pseudo documentary style destroys the timeline and prevents us from actually comprehending what we just witnessed.

But stylistic problems aside, my main complaint is that the movie is just dumb. There are several prolonged sequences that have little or no payoff. There’s no actual plot to speak of apart from the aforementioned “dumb kids get captured by insane family of rednecks.” And the third act where all the really freaky shit happens is just a disjointed series of funhouse tableaus that neither enlighten nor entertain. The DVD extras are pointless and self-aggrandizing, including clumsy “interviews” with cast members, some audition and rehearsal videos, and one string of unfunny knock-knock jokes. I’m mildly curious about Rob Zombie’s director commentary track, but couldn’t bring myself to watch the movie a second time just to hear his excuses.

This movie sat on a shelf for two years, desperately trying to find a distributor willing to release it to mainstream America. Over those two years, Rob should have had plenty of time to tweak and edit and improve it. And it certainly seems he did a lot of tinkering, to the point that it is so overedited and crammed with needless cuts and random creepy imagery that it comes off like a tacky student film, so desperate to be cool that it oversteers its own coolness and just falls down lame. It may yet achieve some cult status on DVD, but I certainly won’t be adding it to my permanent collection.