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Dustin Putman

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House Of 1000 Corpses (2003)
3 Stars

Directed by Rob Zombie
Cast: Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Bill Moseley, Karen Black, Dennis Fimple, Harrison Young, Tom Towles, Walter Phelan, William Bassett, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Allen Mukes
2003 – 88 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence/gore, nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 12, 2003.

Three years and three film studios after it was originally supposed to be released in the fall of 2000, Rob Zombie's already infamous "House of 1000 Corpses" has finally been unleashed for the public to see. However, as is typically the case with filmic controversy,when the subject in question is eventually seen, one wonders what all of the uproar was about. Despite little in the way of actual gore (the old farts at the MPAA clearly had something to do with this, although the unrated version will be released on DVD), "House of 1000 Corpses" is unrelentingly violent and disturbing. Controversy or not, this loving, down-and-dirty throwback to the 1970s "Texas Chain Saw Massacre"-style horror flicks creeps under your skin and stays there for its full 88 minutes.

Four twentysomething friends—Denise (Erin Daniels), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), Jerry (Chris Hardwick), and Bill (Rainn Wilson)—traveling cross country as they research weird roadside attractions stop for gas at "Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen." The owner of the place, the clown-painted Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), is only so happy to take them on a sort of carnival ride tour through the history of serial killers. Further up the road, they make the mistake of picking up a beautiful hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon). When they run into car trouble, Baby suggests they come back to her family's house until their car is fixed by her mechanic brother Rufus Jr. (Robert Mukes). Once inside and having also met matriarch Mother Firefly (Karen Black), the friends discover too late that the family are depraved serial killers themselves, having trapped and slaughtered at least a thousand victims over the years.

Rob Zombie's ballsy, freakishly stylish, highly auspicious writing-directing debut, "House of 1000 Corpses," is a welcome respite to what horror movies have become in recent years—that of the sleek, overly self-referential era of "Scream"-inspired slasher films. Because Zombie is a die-hard fan of the genre, he knows exactly what he is doing, setting up his cast of unwitting victims and twistedly entertaining villains, and letting them run loose in his gruesome funhouse of carnage. The result is gritty, grimy, thoroughly unpredictable, and always unnerving. "House of 1000 Corpses" is a dream come true for those who have heard of and read Fangoria; if you don't even know what Fangoria is, then it's a safe bet you should stay far away.

In realizing his vision, Zombie has worked closely with production designer Gregg Gibbs to create a dazzling, spooky visual masterpiece. Set on Halloween, the movie has done the best job since 1978's brilliant "Halloween" of personifying the holiday. Pumpkins, scarecrows, seasonal decorations, and even trick-or-treaters fill each frame, deeply eliciting a certain time and mood. Editor Robert K. Lambert (2000's "Red Planet") also does indelible wonders with flash-cuts, slow-motion, split-screens, and the chilling use of film negatives. Mix all of this with a disturbing, candy-colored ride-cum-tour of serial killers, psychopaths in masks, severed doll heads, chickens in cages, clowns, operating tables, an arsenal of weapons, dead bodies, skeletons, and a deformed mutant, and what has been created knocks the socks off of every horror movie in this vein that has been made in the last ten years, at least.

The cast is not brilliant, but the over-the-top performances are, indeed, perfect. As the ominous Captain Spaulding, Sid Haig lords over the proceedings with overwhelming presence even when he isn't onscreen. Sheri Moon, Rob Zombie's real-life girlfriend, is quite a find as the sexy, demented, childlike Baby, while Karen Black (1999's "Mascara") vamps it up as Mother Firefly. The four normal protagonists, including Erin Daniels (2002's "One Hour Photo") and Chris Hardwick (MTV's "Singled Out"), cannot compete with their flashier adversaries, and so do not stand out quite as much, but they do their jobs effectively.

Credit must go to studio Lion's Gate for having the balls to release "House of 1000 Corpses" when former distributors Universal and MGM shied away from what is, in essence, exactly what a horror film should be. That director Zombie was able to achieve this with such maniacal relish is, perhaps, what scared most studios off. It is rare in today's prim, proper, politically correct times to find a motion picture with the sort of pure visceral impact as "House of 1000 Corpses" has. While this is not turning out to be a banner year for cinema, for this lifelong horror fan, "House of 1000 Corpses" is one of 2003's best so far. In other words, it was well worth the three-year wait it took to finally bring it to the screen.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman