House of 1000 Corpses
Two young couples on a misguided tour of America's backroads get lost and encounter a bizarre family of psychotics.
''Howdy folks! You like blood, violence, freaks of nature?'' So asks Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) in a TV spot for his Museum of Monsters and Madmen. If your answer to that is yes, then welcome to Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses, in which two young couples writing a book on crazy roadside attractions travel to some of America's scariest back roads in search of, well, crazy roadside attractions. When the teens stop to refuel at Capt. Spaulding's (the place also sells gas and fried chicken), they find out about a local legend known as Dr. Satan and decide to investigate this newly unearthed urban myth--a decision they soon regret. Their misguided adventure leads them to a decrepit house where a family of cannibalistic lunatics holds them prisoner--and from then on the movie is as vile as it can possibly be. The problem is, it's not scary; it relies too much on gore and violence and not enough on tension and suspense. A horror movie should scare you out of your seat, but this flick is more sick than it is scary.
In typical slasher-film fashion, the four teens in the film, played by Jennifer Jostyn, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels and Judith Drake, are irrelevant. They scream and cry a lot, but Zombie's script certainly doesn't emphasize their characters or their dialogue. The most interesting characters here are the villains, and leading the pack is the clown-faced and complex Captain Spaulding. It's too bad this character doesn't have a bigger part in the film, because Haig refuses to give in to the temptation to play the character as a psycho, portraying him instead as a savvy business owner who delivers what curious tourists expect from him. Out of all the insane family members that inhabit the house of 1,000 corpses, the most memorable is the muck-toothed Mother Firefly played by Karen Black. Her character, as opposed to Captain Spaulding, actually is insane, but she's also smart enough to recognize when it's time to act normal--like when she's luring unsuspecting people into the house.
Writer/director Zombie said his goal was to entertain people, not to shock them, which is too bad. If Zombie's aim had been to shock, then at least House of 1,000 Corpses would have succeeded in what it set out to do. He does successfully give the film B movie feel, a sort of homage to '70s teen slasher pics, but it lacks that campy element that made those films entertaining and unintentionally funny. It hardly qualifies as entertainment, even when approached with the utmost open-mindedness. It's abundantly clear why two studios prior to Lions Gate backed away from this project. Zombie subjects his four main characters to sadistic, neverending torture and the prospect of a lifetime wasted in an underground living-dead chamber. The movie is best described as the goriest nightmare you've ever had, without the heart-pounding terror that eventually wakes you or the relief you feel when you finally discover that it's all been a dream.
House of 1,000 Corpses lacks scares and suspense, two vital elements in any good horror thriller. But while it fails to terrify, it successfully nauseates. Make of that what you will.