“House of 1000 Corpses” is a massively unpleasant film, full of ceaseless vulgarity and horrific images. I have seen movies with more gore and carnage — sorry, Rob Zombie, you have failed to break any records there — but I don’t know that I’ve seen it done with more distastefulness than this. It is so crass that even fans of crassness may find it unenjoyable.
I admire the ambition apparent in Rob Zombie, frontman for heavy-metal band White Zombie, for making a film at all. It’s a lot of work, and this particular one — shot three years ago and just now released — had an arduous journey to the multiplex. If Zombie had just given up somewhere along the way, no one would have blamed him. Some of us would have been grateful, it turns out.
Inspired by such films as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left,” “House of 1000 Corpses” has a plot that is strictly formulaic: teens’ car breaks down in the backwoods; they are tormented and killed by the people at whose house they seek refuge. The teens are bitter and stupid and unworthy of sympathy; their captors are ugly, vile persons unworthy of being feared.
What’s notable about Zombie’s script is that it is full of tangents and sidetracks, including the opening sequence, in which a store robbery goes awry. None of the events in this scene are relevant to what occurs later; you could remove it altogether and do the film no damage whatsoever. The teens’ visit to Captain Spalding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen is pretty useless, too. Perhaps all the dawdling is because Zombie knew his story only added up to about 60 minutes otherwise, and that it was an overly familiar story besides.
As with many first-timers, Zombie’s directorial style is over-done and amateurish. He randomly cuts to violent and/or sexual images every now and then, evidently just for shock value, and he permits some of the worst acting I’ve seen in a good long while — even by horror-film standards — to occur while cameras are rolling.
Simplistic writing? Of course. In this movie, which takes place Oct. 30 and 31, 1977, Halloween is apparently a legal holiday, as businesses close and streets become desolate. Also, when Halloween falls on a school night, the kids in town go trick-or-treating the night before. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
When movies like these are fun, they are fun because they introduce clever or amusing ways of killing people, or because some level of wit is exhibited by the filmmaker. “House of 1000 Corpses” has none of this. The deaths are unoriginal, and the dialogue is puerile. The lone exception is a scene in which people are killed in slow-motion while a Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You” plays on the soundtrack. “The X-Files” did this better in the episode called “Home,” when the inbred brothers murdered a sheriff while Johnny Mathis played on their car stereo, but at least Zombie had the right idea of showing some flair. Too bad it didn’t extend to any of the rest of the movie.
In short, just because a man has resources to make a film doesn’t mean he ought to. This is a hateful, vicious piece of work that is best left ignored.
F (1 hr., 28 min.; )
In 2011, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.