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Rob Zombie's lurid homage to '70s gore flicks is exactly what it claims to be... and why would anyone who chose to watch it in the first place expect it to be anything less? The film isn't inept or unprofessional. But it is nasty, glorying in its own extreme imagery and parading its gory credentials with a ghoulish grin.

A fan of the genre, as evidenced by his output as a rocker with the band White Zombie and on his solo albums, Rob Zombie the film-maker has, in House of 1000 Corpses, taken a generic plot-line bloody with inbred white-trash carnage and woven around it a freak-show montage of associated images from the cultural edge. As a celebration of trash cinema (or at least, one segment of it) and the appeal of the ghoulishly bizarre, the film is spot-on: its design is gaudy and calculatedly backwoods-decadent, its sounds are horrendous, its plot is unremittingly violent and drags you into the nightmare with an irresponsible giggle that leaves you feeling both thrilled and disturbed, and it combines medical deviancy and hideous torture with careless aplomb. Back country deviants? Roadside freak shows? Violence and mutilation? Sinister clowns? Gruesome back story? Cronenbergian melange of obscene instrumentation and ripped flesh? Death cults and demonic undead? They're all there, forming an effective encyclopedic revisiting of hundreds of old horror film tropes. Generally speaking, Zombie pulls it all off with greater finesse than many of the films he references, and he certainly makes you react, one way or another. Check out the Internet Movie Database critical reviews. Despite some protestations to the contrary, it's hard to see that volume of response as indifference!

The fact that I was entertained by something so extreme (and, yes, I am familiar with the work of Romero, Fulci, Argento and their less talented protegy) is why, perhaps, I felt a little disturbed after watching the film. Joking all the way, Zombie had taken me, along with his fatally curious victims, into the dark interior of an unnatural world -- one that we normally experience through a sort of detached curiosity that keeps us at a safe distance. (The metaphor of the demonic underworld, representing our fear of death and/or immersion in the sinisterly abnormal, is realised in House of 1000 Corpses as a dark and deadly labyrinth of caves accessed through a grave ... and is particularly apt in this regard!) A catalogue of human depravity and cruelty is on display in the film, no excuses offered, no prisoners taken. As such outré horror films as these witness, there often exists in humanity a fascination for the possibility of outlandish physical and mental torment, at least when it is viewed from a safe distance through the unrealities of fiction. With the drawing-power of a road accident, it tweaks our fear that we are never really safe and feeds an awareness of our own inevitable mortality. In some ways it even mocks that fear. The characters in Zombie's film are literally plunged into the world they've been toying with on an intellectual level up until then -- they're researching a book on roadside freakshows and gruesome urban/rural legends -- and, for them, it suddenly becomes somewhat less theoretical and decidedly less fascinating. We, the audience, watch safely from the wings, as usual: entertained -- perhaps; involved -- hopefully; and in some cases scornful. But at least safe.

But do we really escape unaffected? Despite the essential unreality of it all (and the fact that the plot is one we've re-visited many times), I found that the film's imagery haunted my consciousness for some time afterwards. And it made me wonder if the critical scorn it has provoked is in fact another way of dealing with the same feeling -- that though this is clearly a self-indulgent and exploitative fiction, it is done well enough to lure us into its reality and thus remind us that, as living beings in a world that is essentially indifferent to morality and justice, neither we nor those we care about are ever really safe.

That is something we don't like to be reminded of.


Note: the inbred psycho characters are all given the names of characters created by Groucho Marx (Captain Spaulding, Rufus T. Firefly, Otis B. Driftwood). Now what does that mean, I wonder?



Year: 2003

Country: USA

Language: English

Sound: Dolby Digital

Aspect ratio: 16:9

Running time: 88 minutes (105 at the Mar Del Plata Film festival apparently... yikes! Bring on the Director's cut!)

Studio: Universal Pictures

Director: Rob Zombie

Written by Rob Zombie


Sid Haig
Bill Moseley
Sheri Moon
Karen Black
Chris Hardwick
Erin Daniels
Jennifer Joslyn
Rainn Wilson
Tom Towles
Walt Goggins
Matthew McGrory
Robert Allen Mukes
Dennis Fimple
Harrison Young
William Bassett

Executive Producer: Andrew D. Given

Producer: Andy Gould

Music: Scott Humphrey/Rob Zombie


Rating: 7.5/10

Internet Movie Database entry
copyright©Robert Hood 2004

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