In the 1980s and 90s, Rob Zombie emerged as a successful musician equally as a solo performer and as a component of his heavy metal band, White Zombie. The man was born Robert Cummings, later changed to Robert Straker. In Rob's early days he dwelled on a diet of comics, heavy metal music, low-budget horror and science fiction. Low-budget horror was observably his foremost influence when he completed his directorial debut.
House of 1000 Corpses is irrefutably the work of Rob Zombie as his prime inspirations are palpably noticeable while examining the film's style. Rob's extraordinary and unique visual style is instantaneously identifiable and this film indubitably exhibits a number of the elements he has employed in the past. Writer/director Rob Zombie aimed to return horror back to its low-budget roots: back to the glorious halcyon days.
The film opens on the date of October 30th (Halloween), 1977. Local news communiqués are dominated with reports in relation to five missing cheerleaders who are presumed dead. Their disappearance was under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, it's a dark, cold and rainy night as two young couples are travelling together: driving to random locations with the intention of noting and researching roadside attractions for a book they are determined to publish. Practically out of petrol (aren't we all used to that in this day and age...) the four stop at the bizarre, curious establishment of "Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen". Upon arrival, they discover that it is extremely to their liking and style: the kind of peculiar roadside attractions that they are out searching for. They are openly greeted by the enthusiastic, quirky and eccentric Captain Spaulding (Haig). Much to the dismay of their female companions, the guys indulge themselves in the wacky attractions on offer. Spaulding then tells the group of the local legend of Doctor Satan, and the guys believe that it would be a splendid subject to cover in their book. As they continue their travels that are welcomed by an unusual family who turn out to be an insane horde of psychotics. The four are set upon by these psychotics, and are now forced to endure the horrors of the house of 1000 corpses and its dark secrets.
As a first-time director, Rob has succeeded in generating an authentic and credible comedy-thriller, with an undeniable 70s feel throughout the film's duration. To his credit, House of 1000 Corpses flaunts a virtuoso filmmaking debut for Rob that wears its influences on its sleeve and makes no secret of the fact that it is paying tribute to a genre that is in urgent need of resurrection.
Although there are a number of admirable traits on exhibition, there is also an abundance of unneeded elements. For example, Rob splices the footage he's shot with footage from old horror movies. There are also a lot of titles created in true 1970s style: the kind of thing you'd expect to see at the drive-in cinema. Even some of the footage Rob had filmed has been made to look dated and grainy to add to the established authenticity. Unfortunately, these edits are jumpy and fast; ultimately leaving the audience with a sense of gross disorientation. The editing is particularly abysmal as a whole. Rob could have achieved something much more if his cinematography techniques more closely followed its inspirations. Low-budget horror films of the 1970s contained steady and concentrated cinematography that allows the audience to understand what is going on.
Rob's cinematography is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre style (shaky cam) mixed into the MTV-quick-cut style of the contemporary horror genre. With this fatal trait in place, the film becomes nothing more than an excuse to showcase some appallingly gory scenes of torture and mutilation that have been filmed dreadfully! These gory scenes will have you closer to vomiting because the shaky cam and fast cutting will make you feel queasy, while the torture on display will make you violently hurl everything in your stomach. The prosthetic effects are disturbingly effective. The editing flaws could have been a lot worse, but with these implemented flaws the film cannot reach the standard that Rob was probably aiming for.
House of 1000 Corpses is also radically dissimilar to all other horror films due to the distinct lack of likable characters. It's impossible to empathise with any of the characters as they are all despicable. On that note, the script is a dismal piece of material. Rob Zombie also penned the screenplay himself. There is a short supply of witty dialogue; instead going for disgusting dialogue mainly consisting of profanity and people using embarrassing terms.
The performances are mainly quite hollow and sometimes the actors will actually hurt your ears! As this is a homage to the early low-budget horror movies, bad acting can be forgiven. But this is another thing that detracts from the overall film value. The only performance I found good was Sid Haig as the suitably quirky clown who owns the bizarre roadside attraction. Unfortunately, Haig is criminally underused. This is the single good actor in the whole film...and he receives roughly 20 minutes of screen-time! Most of the females are there to squeal and swear. Sometimes their feisty nature is a little disturbing.
As director Rob Zombie's early days were in the music industry, we must expect an interesting array of music on display. It's hard to describe the music. It's catchy but occasionally unsuitable. I guess it supplies the film with an almost laughable atmosphere at times. There are a few shootings that occur to typical redneck music while events unfold in slow motion...this is just one example of the peculiar music employed heavily by the filmmakers. Some of the music is moody enough to suit the film; however at other times...not so much.
Overall, House of 1000 Corpses is an interesting directing debut from one of the music industry's most popular names. Rob Zombie proves that with a modest budget he can create a slab of unique torture porn that will be happily devoured by horror fans. If you enjoy low-budget horror of the 1970s, this film is probably for you. The film is unsettling and atmospheric, and to be frank it's quite excruciating during the final act. The film sets up an interesting host of characters that are also very disconcerting. Rob Zombie is seemingly determined and creates a visually engaging production. Apart from being torture porn with a bit of catchy music and interesting characters, the film is nothing more. Currently this film balances comfortably on the fine line of "barely watchable". I'm happy I saw it, but I'm in no rush to revisit. Followed by The Devil's Rejects.
"It's all true. The bogeyman is real and you found him."