Rob Zombie reopens the ’70s drive-in with the twisted House of 1000 Corpses

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT ON APRIL 10, 2003

As a first-time writer-director, shock-rocker Rob Zombie delivered just the type of movie you’d expect from a guy who writes tunes like “Scum of the Earth” and “Demonoid Phenomenon”, then performs them while looking like Charlie Manson’s homeless brother. His film, House of 1000 Corpses—which opens in Vancouver next Friday (April 18)—rocks hard, thanks to Zombie’s ear-bustin’ soundtrack.

And it shocks pretty good, too.

The story of a group of young travellers who are taken captive, tortured, and then killed by a family of demented backwoods bumpkins, it is not a film for Driving Miss Daisy devotees. Featuring a cast of cult-status character actors that includes Sid Haig (Spider Baby), Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), and Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie and Clyde), it brings to mind the brutal horror/exploitation flicks of the ’70s, in particular The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But Zombie doesn’t see his House as a love letter to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 take on the legend of real-life Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein.

“I never really looked at it that way,” says the filmmaker, on the line from his Hollywood office. “I mean, I just always really loved movies that had at the centre of them a really twisted family unit. Chainsaw’s probably one of the most famous for that, and other movies like, say, Spider Baby or Mother’s Day; any kinda weird family. Or even real-life things, when you get something like the Manson Family, even though they’re not related; just that weird idea of them all functioning together as a unit, and everything that they’re doing that’s so insane makes perfectly good sense to them.”

Although it doesn’t come close to offering up a thousand dead bodies for your viewing pleasure, House of 1000 Corpses was still deemed too dark and disturbing for Universal Studios, which backed out of releasing the film upon its completion in 2000. Two years later, Lions Gate Films—known for uncompromising flicks like Monster’s Ball, Frailty, and Secretary—stepped into the picture.

“They’re not a company that’s worried about having a wholesome image,” Zombie relates. “And the only stipulation that Lions Gate had with picking up the film was that it could get an R rating, so we had to edit the film until it could get an R rating, which was somewhat difficult.”

So what kind of a reaction does Zombie expect to get from his heavily trimmed but still decidedly nasty little film? He’s learned through his career in music, as both a solo artist and the leader of multiplatinum rockers White Zombie, that it’s best just to release your work and see what shakes.

“All I know is that… you put out a song that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written, and nobody cares. Then you make another song that you don’t even like that much, and it becomes a big hit. It’s the same thing when I show people this movie. One person will cite what is definitely their favourite scene, and the next person will say that is absolutely their least favourite scene. So who the hell knows?

“But I did show the movie to these guys who run that Anchor Bay Entertainment. They rerelease everything on DVD—all the old Hammer [horror] stuff—and they made a comment that I took positively. They said, ‘It seems like some weird cult movie that’s been locked in a vault for 25 years.’ And that was like the best compliment, because that was sort of the feeling that I was going for. You know, in a perfect world you could watch this movie at the drive-in.”

Indeed, it might feel strange to some folks to watch a movie as relentlessly depraved as House of 1000 Corpses at the local multiplex and then just saunter out into bright sunlight. And does all the military horror currently unfolding in Iraq cause people to be repelled by films like this, or are they attracted to it as an escape from the idea of cruise missiles landing on kids?

“It’s always hard to say,” Zombie replies, “but it seems as if in the past, horror movies have done good business during wartime. On the surface that doesn’t really make sense, I guess, but you know…

“I remember after 9/11 a lot of the heat that I was havin’ to deal with with this movie went away, ’cause I think sometimes when real-life events take over, people aren’t really that worried about horror. People go, ‘Okay, it’s just a movie, it’s not real.’

“It’s unpredictable, but I think people who like horror movies pretty much like ’em, no matter what the hell’s goin’ on in the world.”

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