HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003)
After directing his own horror influenced music videos, rocker Rob Zombie finally directed his first feature film, House Of 1000 Corpses in 2003. Zombie’s first film is, no surprise, a horror film that is a throwback to the grind-house/drive-in style horror flicks of the 70s like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 1980 Mother’s Day. It tells the gruesome tale of four friends, Denise (Erin Daniels), Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson) and Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) who happen upon a roadside freak show run by redneck clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig)…who we already have witnessed slaughter a couple of would be robbers. They go on his ‘murder ride’ which features a local serial killer named Dr. Satan. Soon the inquisitive teens are off investigating this local urban legend which, through some circumstances that are far from happenstance, leads them to the Firefly house. Inside they become prisoners of the disturbed and twisted Mother (Karen Black), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley), R.J. (Robert Mukes), Grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and Tiny (Matthew McGrory) who treat them to a nightmare of murder and torment, all on Halloween night.
House is a faithful homage to the gritty, gory low budget horrors of the 70s and Zombie shows some real potential, but the film, while deviously entertaining to a degree, is never really scary, suspenseful or shocking enough to truly emulate the films it’s inspired by. The film also has a somewhat uneven tone as it plays it straight for the most part, but then can be borderline goofy at times. The humor doesn’t come across as disturbing as it should, as say in the dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Zombie gives us some interesting characters amongst the Firefly family, though the four teens are fairly generic and only heroine Daniels shows some spunk, and there are some shocking and brutal moments along with some quotable dialogue. It only starts to get really interesting when a hard nosed cop (Tom Towles) shows up looking for the kids and then shows us some twisted originality during the surreal final act when it turns into a sort of dark, nightmarish Alice in Wonderland. The ghoulish visuals here are Zombie’s strong point and while the whole film is visually interesting, it’s here that things get truly bizarre and grabs our attention, when the film takes the traumatized Erin into the underground lair of ‘guess who’. Then it’s over with a shock ending that’s not all that much of a shock. Still Corpses is a fun tribute to a type of exploitation horror they don’t make anymore, nothing groundbreaking though and I don’t think it was meant to be. What it does most is show Zombie’s potential and that he has a passion for this type of horror flick and the film really shines when Zombie forgets his influences and does his own thing.
The cast are fine with veterans like Black, Haig, Fimple and Towles standing out. Moseley is fine too as Otis, but gets some of the movie’s more stilted dialogue and Zombie’s wife does a nice job in her first feature as the sweet and twisted Baby. Erin Daniels is the only one of the four protagonists, sadly, that really shows a bit of spark in her performance.
Despite it’s flaws I like House as I like the type of films it pays homage to and while it could have been much better, it’s black heart is in the right place and it shows that Zombie might yet gives us something to really spill our popcorn over.
A solid 3 homicidal clowns!
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)
Rob Zombie’s sophomore film is technically a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, but the further the film moves along, the less it has to do with that film, except for the three main characters, it’s opening sequence and a few references.
The story picks up with vengeful Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (Willaim Forsythe) laying siege to the Firefly house to avenge the murder of his brother Lt. George Wydell (Tom Towles), who the vicious clan killed in House Of 1000 Corpses. Mother (played here by Leslie Easterbrook) is captured, while Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Spaulding (Sid Haig) make their escape. The film then takes us along for the gruesome ride as the three fugitives flee to a motel where they torment and murder some of the guests and occupants while the revenge crazed Wydell continues his manhunt to track them down.
Again a homage to exploitation flicks of the 70s, this time Zombie creates a savage crime thriller about three deranged murderers on the run from an equally deranged lawman and the group of innocents caught in the middle. This an unflinchingly violent tale that is straight out of a 70’s grind-house revenge flick, or sleazy biker movie. It can be very brutal, gruesome and quite disturbing at times. Gone is House’s goofy humor and uneven tone, Zombie maintains an intensity from the opening shoot-out to the climactic showdown and crafts a lean and mean movie of the kind they don’t make anymore. His expert use of classic 70’s music throughout, ads to the overall effect and atmosphere of the film. You may never listen to Freebird the same way again. One of the things I liked about the film is that it’s three main characters are horrible people who do horrible things, but when Wydell catches up to them, he has let revenge turn him into a far more horrible person and you begin to root for our homicidal trio. Zombie takes a few moments here and there to show what little humanity the three have left, at least in relation to their bond with each other, so when their paths finally collide with the deranged sheriff’s, we clearly see that Wydell has lost all his humanity in his quest to make them pay for his brother’s death, and it makes him the villain. Sure the film has flaws. Did we really need to sit through the torture and torment of the hotel guests for so long and the re-emergence of a Corpses character later on, is a bit jarring as we left that film behind in the first act. Zombie sometimes revels in the trashy nature of the characters a bit too much, but the director/musician also shows growth as a filmmaker and the film does gives us a rousing last act with a really cool shoot-out finale.
Again, not perfect, but Zombie continues to show he does know his source material and does have his own ideas about what to do with his influences. He is a director to watch whether you like his type of films or not. Also stars a who’s who of low budget film icons such as Ken Foree, Danny Trejo, P.J. Soles and Michael Berryman to name a few.
3 homicidal clowns!