Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – An Undeniable Modern Classic

Hohuse of 1000 Corpses - Captain Spaulding
4.5 out of 5 stars

My love for horror films spans many decades and Malevolent Dark serves as a testament for this lifelong obsession. Titles like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) formed the foundation of that love. For the most part, modern horror films have a uphill battle to insert their names among the classics. The endeavor, while not impossible, is fraught with difficulty. One of the few horror films of the modern era to burst into that elite space is Rob Zombie’s 2003 masterpiece, House of 1000 Corpses.

On the record, Rob claims that he dislikes House of 1000 Corpses. When he watches it, all he can see are its “flaws”. Nobody can take away his right to critique his own work as he sees fit. And let’s be honest, the film has a lot of flaws. However, fans of the movie see it in another light. House of 1000 Corpses stands as on of the few modern movies that felt like a Hollywood producer understood me as fan of horror movies.

Rob Zombie understands where I had been and what I have loved. In that moment, Rob Zombie knew better than anyone else how to make a perfect movie for people that share that love.

House of 1000 Corpses - Dr. wolfenstein
Dr. Wolfenstein – A relic of a bygone era, the weekly Creature Feature Show

The bygone era of the local horror television show

From the opening seconds with Dr. Wolfenstein, House of 1000 Corpses takes the audience back to the days of the weekly local horror how. In my days it was KPLR 11 and the Saturday Night Shockers. Young people today will never understand what is was like. We waited for an entire week to see the latest horror treat. Televisions offered no menu to flip through. Nothing was available on demand. You started making the popcorn at 10:00PM because your butt had to be firmly planted on the couch by 10:30 PM for the start of the show. You watched whatever they served up, and you loved it.

Even as early 2003, the year House of 1000 Corpses was released, the local horror show was a remnant of a bygone era. By including Dr. Wolfenstein, Rob Zombie demonstrated that he understood the exact importance of the weekend horror ritual.

Hohuse of 1000 Corpses - Captain Spaulding
Sid Haig as the killer clown Captain Spaulding

Rob Zombie’s Secret Weapon – Casting

Rob Zombie, being an obvious fan of a foregone era of movies. Dusting off the best talent from years past, Zombie provides threads to the past that make his new film feel as comforting as a warm blood soaked blanket.

For starters, Rob Zombie makes the brilliant decision to cast horror icon Bill Moseley. Moseley portrayed Chop-Top in the Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Bill’s portrayal of Chop-Top goes down as one the greatest supporting horror performances of all time. In House of 1000 Corpses, he spearheads the role of Otis Firefly, resident psycho and de facto leader of the murderous Firefly family. Rob Zombie clearly allowed Moseley paint the character in Bill’s own insane vision. Moseley channels the insanity of Chop-Top while defining a completely new character.

House of 1000 Corpses - Otis Firefly
Otis Firefly – “The Boogyman is real and you found him!”

Sticking with horror pedigrees Zombie enlists the services of an old-school horror veteran, Karen Black. Karen Black’s resume includes classic horror films like Burnt Offerings(1975) and Trilogy of Terror(1975). Black assumes the role of Mother Firefly, matriarch of the Firefly family. Keeping with here 70’s roots as a sex symbols, Karen Black exudes sexy overtones in the most repulsive ways.

Another name that had fallen way off of the horror/sci-fi radar is Sid Haig. In the 70’s Haig was a mainstay in low-budget sci-fi/horror and exploitation films. To credit a few of these films, he starred in Galaxy of Terror(1981) and The Aftermath(1982). Zombie supercharged Haig’s late career by casting him as Captain Spaulding, owner of Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. His museum includes the world famous Murder Ride where every rider a bag of complimentary fried chicken. “It just tastes so damn good”.

In an interesting aside, in Zombie’s sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, the character Charlie Altamont refers to Spaulding as “Cutter”. This is the name of the character that Haig played in The Aftermath (1982). It’s just another example of Rob showing respect for horror and sci-fi nostalgia. Take my word for it, this by no means is a call to search out The Aftermath unless you have a hankering for shamelessly bad horror movies.

 

Houseof 1000 Corpses - Fish Boy
Otis Firefly’s handiwork, Fish Boy

Rob’s wife, Sheri Moon plays the role of Baby Firefly. Her character is totally sexy, seemingly innocent yet completely ruthless. In other credits, Tom Towles from Night of the Living Dead(1992) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer(1986) plays Deputy George Wydell. Dennis Fimple plays Grandpa Firefly. Unfortunately, Dennis would not live to see the release of the film. The towering Matthew McGrory plays a behemoth oxymoron, “Tiny” Firefly. Finally, Chris Harwick, Rainn Wilson, Walter Goggins would launch their careers from Zombie’s film debut.

Otis Firefly protecting the homestead in towering boom shot
Rob Zombie orchestrates fantastic camera work in this scene featuring Otis doing Otis things

The Hunt for Dr. Satan

The story begins with a small group of people traveling across country to capture the roadside oddities of rural America for a book. They stop at a gas station run by a crazy old clown named Captain Spaulding and his roadside attraction, Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. After riding his famous Murder Ride, Spaulding clues the group in on a local legend named Dr. Satan. He then proceeds to tell them of the tree where the “Vigilante Justice” stretched Dr. Satan’s neck. Insisting that they must see the tree, their journey leads them into the sick and twisted world of the Firefly family.

House of 1000 Corpses – As funny as it is flawed

Black humor plays a huge role in the genius of House of 1000 Corpses. It all starts with Captain Spaulding. Haig lays down one of the best horror clowns ever. In standard fashion, Moseley brings his own hilarious insanity to the table. Rumor has it that Rob did not intend for the movie to fall so edge-long into humor, but turned out inevitable considering the cast. Rightly so, instead of fighting against it, Rob Zombie takes full advantage of it.

Intentional or not, had it not been for the humor, the whole thing could have fallen on its face. A serious movie may fallen victim to the lack of focus, pacing issues and the general schizophrenic feel of the film. The laughs lower bar by letting the audience sit back in their chairs and be entertained. Additionally, the comedy assists in providing a soft landing for a crazy ending. The ending is super wild, even by 1000 Corpses standards, and may have jumped the shark otherwise. By the time the audience reaches that nexus, they have been fully assimilated into the wacky satire of the film.

House of 1000 Corpses - More fantastic camera work
Rob Zombie showing more skill behind the camera in his debut

Many Critics Miss the Point

Over the years, many reviews have been written about this film. It appears that the critics either get this film or they don’t. Those that fail to understand this film say very few positive thinds about it. From the outside, the film appears erratic and it lacks focus and cohesion. Some go as far to say that it offers nothing new.

However, if the viewer happens to represent the 1% of people that live and breath horror, House of 1000 Corpses carries a whole new meaning. House of 1000 Corpses pays tribute to the “We’re just here for the kills” club. It is a film created by a horror movie fanatic for horror movie fanatics. Zombie created an ode to all of the weirdos of horror and sci-fi. He penned a love letter to those that obsess about serial killers. House of 1000 Corpses is a grand mural dedicated to oddballs that would stay home on a Saturday Night to catch the Shocker. It’s a film for people that feel alive on Halloween.

Some critics completely miss the fact that House of 1000 Corpses plants its tongue firmly in cheek. The gore and violence soars over-the-top in areas, but only to accentuate the comic book madness of the film. House of 1000 Corpses works much better as a tribute to the genre than a well formed horror movie. House of 1000 Corpses is a masterpiece of horror pop-art.

Critics often overlook the technical execution of this film. It’s fantastic. For a man who rose to fame as a rockstar, this film seethes with fantastic lightings, cool filters and awesome cinematography. Again, at times the film feels a bit schizophrenic as Rob Zombie tightly edits the film. Unquestionably, House of 1000 Corpses possesses style and it’s a fantastic debut effort for Rob Zombie.

House of 1000 Corpses - Dr. Satan
They finally found what they were looking for – Dr. Satan

House of 1000 Corpses – The Legacy

Modern horror suffers a serious disadvantage when compared to the greats of the past. Very few films ever improve on well proven formulas. Breakthroughs are rare, but when they finally happen they are a big deal. 1000 Corpses achieves that breakthrough. Yes, it has a host of problems, but all of the “flaws” are overcome by the ingenuity of the director and the fantastic performances of the cast. The film proves extremely re-watchable and is an absolute must in the annual run-up to October 31st.

In his debut effort, Rob Zombie created a modern classic by simply being himself. The studios hated it. Critics continue to bash it to this day. Regardless, true fans of the genre know art when they see it and House of 1000 Corpses embodies the art of the horror movie.

Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003) - An Undeniable Modern Classic - Malevolent Dark
House of 1000 Corpses Captain Spaulding

Director: Rob Zombie

Date Created: 2003-01-01 00:00

Editor's Rating:
4.5

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