FANGO Flashback: “HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
The progression of Rob Zombie as a director is actually rather fascinating, especially considering his reputation as a gritty, extreme horror filmmaker. While the filmmaker has indeed at least embraced his perhaps prematurely bestowed title as a modern goremeister with his latest film, 31, the fact is that only a select few of his films are explicitly twisted, and even they seem relatively tame by today’s standards. In fact, by his track record, Zombie has made just as much slow-burn, surreal fright fare (such as THE LORDS OF SALEM and HALLOWEEN 2) as he has made gritty bloodletters (such as HALLOWEEN and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS). And yet, somewhere in the middle of those two points is a weird little film that, in retrospect, feels like an unholy mix of ‘80s-era Tobe Hooper and H.G. Lewis: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES.
Now, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES was Zombie’s first film, evoking a midnight movie feel while doing some genuinely experimental filmmaking skills that had not necessarily been used in mainstream contemporary horror at the time. But beyond that, it’s important to note that even with all the weirdness that HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES gets away with, the film is still a studio effort from Universal (who later sold the film back to Zombie for a fraction of the production cost) and Zombie’s complete, restored director’s cut still has yet to be seen. And while some aspects are definitely rough around the edges, especially in terms of Zombie’s approach to storytelling which is effectively style over substance, there’s still a refreshing lack of self-awareness in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES that gives the go-for-broke film charm.
While Zombie’s more surreal work contains ambitious, surreal and even sometimes grandiose visuals, the stylish visuals of CORPSES still remains Zombie’s most encapsulating of his oeuvre. With bright, polarized colors painting many of the night scenes in sharp red, blue or green tints, the film is much more gorgeous than it really gets credit for, especially when the film goes subterranean in the last act. But even beyond that, Zombie’s mix between 35mm, 16mm and Shot-on-Video footage gives the film a more chaotic feel, especially the twisted Manson-esque rants shown interspersed through the main narrative.
Speaking of the main narrative, it’s perhaps an underrated move on Zombie’s part to keep the common storyline fairly minimalist, considering the true stars of the films are his colorful antagonists. While it’s fairly fun to see the likes of Chris Hardwick, Rainn Wilson and Walton Goggins before Nerdist, THE OFFICE and THE SHIELD made them celebrities, Zombie more-or-less gives the floor to the likes of Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Dennis Fimple and Karen Black to let out their inner psychopaths throughout HOUSE. However, the strongest writing remains with Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, and for everything Rob Zombie has done throughout his filmmaking career, the revival of Haig’s career may be remembered as his truest stroke of genius.
Yet HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES stands out among Zombie’s filmography as also being among the most fantastic of his films, even more so than the truly barebones LORDS OF SALEM. The backstory about the Firefly family patriarch- and the eventual payoff to said backstory- goes into supernatural territory, as does the water-dwelling creeps, the sacrificial sequence and, of course, Dr. Satan himself. Even by Zombie’s own admission is the film much more spookshow than reality, going so far as to essentially remove all mentions of the subterranean netherworld beneath the Firefly house in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, including a shot sequence involving Dr. Satan and a cameo from Rosario Dawson.
But even watching the film over 10 years later, there’s something indeed refreshing about HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, and while the film may be a sum of its influences, there’s still something original about the film especially considering its production in the time of J-Horror and teen slashers. HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES does have its bits of nastiness, especially when Otis wears a human’s face as a mask, the film is much more nightmarish and otherworldly than many give it credit for. In fact, to be honest, if Zombie is stuck in the genre for the rest of his career, one would hope that he returns to the heightened horror storytelling of HOUSE sooner rather than later.