October 30, 2021

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Grade: 69/100

Director: Rob Zombie
Stars: Sid Haig, Karen Black, Sheri Moon Zombie

What it's about. An inspired version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Disturbed clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) runs a horror tourist ride and gift shop, located in the boonies. Among his ghost stories concerns Dr. Satan, who operates on living and unwilling victims, turning their corpses into freak show personas. Spaulding claims that Dr. Satan's hanging tree is nearby, and if his tour attendees are gullible enough to elicit interest in a visit, Spaulding gives them directions.

There, the hapless tourists are captured by a clan of sadistic murderers, who torture and kill them. The culprits include middle-aged crazy Karen Black, her comely but deadly daughter (?) Sheri Moon Zombie, gangly long-haired albino Bill Moseley, and disfigured giant Matthew McGrory.

The tourists du jour are two young couples, consisting of dufus friends Rainn Wilson and Chris Hardwick, along with their humorless and sneering girlfriends Erin Daniels and Jennifer Jostyn. The four fail to realize their peril in time, and are subjected to terror and torture until, as usual for a horror movie, only one remains alive. Though not for long.

Meanwhile, Daniels' establishment dad Harrison Young hasn't heard from her, and presses two local cops (Tom Towles and Walton Goggins) into an investigation. They soon find the tourists' wrecked car, and pay a visit to Karen Black's house, with disastrous consequences.

The running time for House of 1000 Corpses is 89 minutes. A "director's cut" version is 105 minutes long and includes all of the gory footage that Rob Zombie was obligated to prune to secure an R rating. I have not seen the director's cut.

House of 1000 Corpses was Rob Zombie's first feature film. It was eventually followed by two sequels, The Devil's Rejects (2005) and 3 from Hell (2019). The first sequel is as unexpectedly good as the present film, but I have not seen the 2019 movie.

How others will see it. The relatively low budget film was made mostly on the Universal back lot. It sat in the can for more than two years until its release. It drew predictably mixed reviews, but promptly achieved cult status. It hardly played in theaters, but video sales were undoubtedly good, given the film's 82K user votes at imdb.com. The user ratings are less than stellar, but more than dire, at 6.0 out of 10. About 30% of viewers give it an 8, 9, or 10.

The user reviews are mixed, with many concluding 'Ho hum, seen it before.' A minority, though, are pleased with the film's intensity, and the surreal characters, art direction, and story.

How I felt about it. It's quite good, and the same can be said for The Devil's Rejects. The performances are good across the board, and that includes Sheri Moon Zombie, the writer/director's wife and (at the time) a completely amateur actress. We like Sid Haig best, but Karen Black comes a close second.

It is obvious that Rob Zombie put everything into the feature. He even composed and performed much of the score himself, along with Scott Humphrey. We do feel sorry for the victims, for the most part, though the two young women are so disaffected that they deserve their fate more than do the better-motivated (but none-too-bright) men in their lives.