Even if you have a semi-strange curiosity about House of 1000 Corpses, don’t bother. The only curious thing about it is how good spin can generate press for a film so loud, trashy and stupid.
To be sure, House is packed with gore, but it’s not that shocking. Reports said the film’s extreme violence caused two studios — Universal and MGM — to drop the project. And as a cinematic debut for shock-rock singer Rob Zombie, it’s derivative and without a spark of freshness.
It has all the blood and guts and none of the subversive, clever wit or even fluid filmmaking technique that could make this movie a hoot. Where it could have gone humorously for the throat, House is instead a dreary time that is not at all scary.
The film opens with as much promise as it can muster, introducing us to the clown-faced Captain Spaulding, an entrepreneur if ever there was one. Spaulding runs a museum of monsters and mayhem along with a side business that sells gas and fried chicken.
As played by B-movie veteran Sid Haig, Spaulding is a crass cuss who’s fun to watch. Along with his choice screen-printed T-shirts, his energy suggests that he knows schlock-shock like this should be funny.
In the opening sequence, yet another cinematic séance channeling Quentin Tarantino, Zombie seems to agree. But the main plot — city folk angering the wrong set of inbred, Satanic cannibals by putting on highfalutin airs — is as deflating as a switchblade to a tire.
With no momentum or sense of dread, Zombie introduces its cast of villain hillbillies. The closest he comes to giving any of them personality is having Karen Black’s Mother Firefly swirling around like a carnivorous Stevie Nicks. And their victims, among them former Singled Out host Chris Hardwick and current Six Feet Under player Rainn Wilson, achieve new lows of blandness.
Zombie used two cinematographers on the film. One of them must have been hired to shoot eight-millimeter film, transfer it to Betamax and dip it in corrosive chemicals before putting it onscreen. It’s a visual retread of the most headache-inducing moments in Natural Born Killers.
A ramshackle look is typical of go-for-broke horror movies such as this. But when directed by someone with passion or talent like Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson, they take on a sort of charm. As directed by someone so clearly in love with bloody horror films of old, House is surprisingly joyless.
Unless its clumsiness and punishing pace are considered, House of 1000 Corpses has no atmosphere. It’s like a Clive Barker gore-fest as interpreted by an idiot carnival showman, robbed of anything that would make it work.