Horror review: House of 1000 Corpses

house-of-1000-corpses-2003

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 17, 2003

By Steve Newton

That Rob Zombie is one sick puppy. Of course, anyone who’s ever listened to the L.A. shock rocker’s CDs or seen his grotesque concert act already knows this. But with the release of his film debut, the depth of Zombie’s depravity is unearthed for all to see. House of 1000 Corpses takes you right to the centre of his black, horror-loving heart, and it’s not a place for the squeamish or easily offended. This in-your-face homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the most unrelentingly sadistic flick to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The fun starts when four weary cross-country travellers stop for fuel at the Museum of Monsters and Madmen, a gas station/roadside attraction on the outskirts of Hicksville, USA. The proprietor of the place is Capt. Spaulding, a demented, clown-faced carny type played by character actor Sid Haig, whose lengthy career has seen him portray every evil bastard imaginable, from pirate to pimp. At the start of the film, in a fairly riveting scene, the good captain is shown giddily blowing away two inept would-be robbers, so you know he’s not someone to mess with.

But our two unlucky couples aren’t aware of Spaulding’s psychotic tendencies, so they go for a ride on his funhouse-style Murder Ride, which depicts the gruesome crimes of various killers and cannibals. One of them is Dr. Satan, a local plastic surgeon who used his own primitive brain-surgery techniques on the mentally ill before being hanged from a nearby tree. Intrigued by the Satan legend, slacker Jerry (Chris Hardwick of MTV’s Singled Out) talks the others into taking a quick swing by the site of the doctor’s demise, but on the way there they pick up hitchhiker Baby (Sheri Moon, the blond bombshell from Zombie’s “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl” videos), and that’s when their troubles begin. She lures them to her family home on the pretext of getting their flat tire fixed, but they’re never allowed to leave. Instead, they have to suffer through Karen Black’s trademark over-the-hill sexpot/mental-case routine and Moon’s pouty performance of the Betty Boop ditty “I Want to Be Loved by You”.

The real torture starts once bad-ass albino Otis gets his hands on the new houseguests. Played with inspired derangement by Bill Moseley—noted for his role as psycho Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2—Otis is the chief bringer of pain, the one bent on having House of 1000 Corpses live up to its outrageous name. He takes a break from tormenting the bound cheerleaders upstairs to practise his axe work on bespectacled Bill (Seattle’s Rainn Wilson), who winds up as some freaky, dead buffet centrepiece. Then he turns his evil attentions to Mary and Denise (Focus’s Jennifer Jostyn and One Hour Photo’s Erin Daniels), but I’ll spare you the gory details.

Suffice it to say that this House is best visited by hard-core horror fans who don’t care much for plot but can appreciate the cult-star casting, grisly makeup FX, occasional moments of spiralling terror, and imaginative sets. Others may feel the need for a long shower after viewing Zombie’s down ’n’ dirty drive up Exploitation Avenue.

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