- Rev Horror
House of 1000 Corpses
Dir. Rob Zombie (2003)
A fucked up family takes a group of teenagers captive a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Rob Zombie has been on the horror scene for decades, largely from the music side of things, but he burst onto the directorial scene with 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses. Little did we know at the time, the film would become such a cult sensation that it produced two sequels, forming the Firefly Trilogy. I’m a huge fan of Rob Zombie in general and these films specifically, so I wanted to give these films a special shout-out and review them all together. We’ll take them in order, starting with his feature film directorial debut. And what a fucking start it was.
With this film, Zombie took us way back to the gritty, disgusting films of the 70’s in his loving homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Somehow he one-up’s the classic, giving us a family that is the most fucked up gene pool since the Sawyer clan. Sheri Moon Zombie is at her absolute best in her portrayals of Baby in these films, and the character fits her personality and acting style more than almost any other role that she’s taken within the Zombie-verse. Bill Mosely as Otis is amazing to the extent that I would have a hard time believing he doesn’t have several bodies in his basement, and Sid Haig puts on a legendary performance as Captain Spaulding, everybody’s favorite clown. These three are in the next two movies as well, so we’ll get a bit into their performances more in the next two reviews. Zombie’s handling of the Firefly Family is just about perfect, and while I think TCM is a better movie, Ho1kC does an excellent job of giving us backstory and a more in-depth look into this horrific family.
Seen here in their Sears family photo.
The movie is a “realistic” portrayal of a psychotic family, and the flashbacks and random shots of 70’s-style carnage is disturbing and disjointedly terrifying, but the film is playful and humorous enough to throw the audience off guard. The Firefly Family is bizarre and extremely off-putting, and even their “regular” lives are ominous, like how they wear extremely unpleasant masks to eat dinner. Usually, when you say that something is “off” about someone, it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly it is. There’s something off about the Firefly Family, and while you can absolutely put your finger on a handful of things that are disturbing, there’s something deeper there you can’t quite get your hands around. Between Otis’ psychotic rants and Baby’s flirtatious friskiness, this is one family who you don’t want to have over for dinner. The reunions must be fucking nuts, though.
Rob Zombie knows what scares us and he knows the things that will make us uncomfortable. The film is a mix of grindhouse, exploitation, TCM-style depravity, and dark humor, and regardless of how you may want to critique Zombie himself, the film is a fucking banger. I’m here to say, whether you like it or not, that House of 1000 Corpses is an all-time great horror movie. No one, and I mean no one, has done a film of this style better (I don’t count TCM because I don’t think it’s quite the same, though you could be excused for viewing it in a similar vein.) While there is a huge tonal shift between this film and its immediate sequel, House of 1000 Corpses is a batshit insane thrill ride from beginning to end. It does lose a little steam going into the third act because of the extremely bizarre turn it takes, but honestly, it doesn’t serve to harm the movie in any way and it only adds to the twisted legacy of the Family. It’s still scary, weird, and downright disturbing, and Zombie wouldn’t have it any other way. Even the house’s décor is delightfully and absurdly bizarre, and it only adds to the grimy atmosphere of the Firefly household.
The film is filled with once-and-future star power. We have the afore-mentioned Haig, Mosely, and (Sheri) Zombie, but we also have Karen Black (Tales from the Darkside), who plays Mother Firefly, and Walton Goggins and Tom Towles as the police officers who are investigating the Fireflys. Every time I watch this movie I forget that Rainn Wilson is in it, and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s playing Dwight finding himself in a horrible situation. The fact that this was two years before The Office is just insane. By the time he gets turned into a weird fish-man, he’s a long way from Scranton, that’s for sure. The scene in which he is tortured and killed is legitimately hard to watch, especially with the happy Brick House musical overlay.
Get you a girl who stares at you like this.
On a side note: a piece of Ho1kC that I notice again every time I watch the film is the shot in which Otis kills Naish. The slow pan up before Otis shoots him in the head, the silence before the gunshot, and the almost firework-sounding shot with the birds flying away… it is hands down the best shot Zombie has filmed in his career. It’s absolutely brilliant, and while the film is great and filled with terrifying scenes of violence and mayhem, Zombie manages to make this particular scene horrifyingly beautiful.
Who this movie is for: All horror fans, Movie fans who don’t mind a bit more gore than they’re probably used to, People looking to get fried chicken and gasoline in the same place
Bottom line: House of 1000 Corpses is excellent. Zombie gets a lot of shit for trying to take on Halloween, but Ho1kC is great and is well worth the adoration it receives. In 2003, we were a year past The Ring and the supernatural-style horror that Americans were in love with. The fact that he managed to make a film like this at the time in which he made it is indicative of his immense talent and eye for horror. It’s an outstanding movie that is a must watch for any horror fan, and its as disturbing as it is genuinely fun to watch. If you haven’t seen House of 1000 Corpses, it’s not only worth your time but its worth owning. Gives yourself a fun weekend and binge all three films, you won’t regret it.