House of 1000 Corpses Review
Films are funny things. Some of them have social significance, deep subtext, and an important message. Others are meant simply to be enjoyed as complete trash. This is what I like to call the phenomenon of the Shitty Movie: a movie that is so truly awful that it can actually be enjoyed for no reason other than its sheer terribleness. House of 1000 Corpses is one such film: right from the opening frames it makes absolutely no bones about its sleazy nature, appealing to the audience's appreciation of all things bad. Without an understanding and at least a passing appreciation for the low budget horror cinema of the 1970s, House probably won't mean very much. It is an extremely self-referential piece of work, evoking the atmosphere, situations and storytelling of 70s slasher flicks, although not in the deliberately plain, winking manner of Scream. Characters in House of 1000 Corpses don't casually remark about how it's as if they're in a horror movie: instead, they scream, run around and swear a lot: just like the real thing.
The plot is essentially a carbon copy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a nice dose of The Last House on the Left thrown in for good measure. Halloween, 1977: a group of four hopelessly stupid teenagers, driving across the USA to research material for a book they're writing on bizarre off-road attractions, stumble upon Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen, an attraction run by a foul-mouthed clown of endless good cheer (Sid Haig). After being enthralled by his tales of Dr Satan, a maniacal surgeon with a penchant for hacking up patients, they decide to go and find his house. On their way down a deserted country road, they pick up a hitch-hiker, the infuriatingly cheerful Baby (Sheri Moon), only to have their tyres shot to pieces. Baby invites them back to her family's house, which is of course the abode of Dr. Satan. Then the fun begins as annoying teenager after annoying teenager is subjected to a thoroughly satisfying ordeal.
Assuming that the four teens are intentionally written as complete jerks, the film is completely successful in what it sets out to do. It will definitely have you cheering as they scream in pain and terror, proving that blood sports still have significance for modern audiences. All the performers give it their all, and I suspect are intentionally awful. There is not one single character in the mix to actually root for, which makes the film more a spectacle of laughter and bloodshed than anything else. There is something genuinely satisfying about watching the demented Firefly family terrorizing our stereotypical protagonists.
The atmosphere established by writer/director Rob Zombie is truly commendable. While the overall film texture is too glossy to truly look like a product of the 70s, he otherwise manages to successfully convey the aesthetic. The camera angles, lighting and the look of the cast all evoke the kind of movies that show up at 2 AM on Channel 4. It's very much a nostalgia trip as much as anything. Zombie also throws in a number of bizarre and somewhat unsettling cutaways to video footage showing all sorts of debauchery: madmen hacking up bodies, crazy girls cavorting around in the nude, weird face masks and screaming cheerleaders.
The film's biggest problem is that it doesn't know whether it wants to be a genuinely scary horror movie or a comedy. While the situations that the teens get into are very unpleasant, they are to some extent diffused by the thoroughly annoying nature of the characters, plus the fact that the film continually lurches into bizarre comedy. This is especially true of the Firefly family, who are frightening figures but at the same time hilariously funny. The gore is rather in-your-face, but it is the perverse nature of the Firefly family and the mood of the situations the teens find themselves in that create any real feeling of horror.
Overall, House of 1000 Corpses is a fun enough film if taken in the right kind of humour. I can't defend it as a work of great art or anything particularly clever, so I'd rather just call it what it is: an enjoyable but awful movie.
The framing of this DVD is approximately 1.78:1, reasonably close to the intended ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is anamorphic. Sadly, it is clearly an NTSC-to-PAL conversion, as there are a lot of doubled frames (which you can see quite clearly in a number of the shots I took), and 3:2 pull-down artefacts are prevalent during panning shots and the scrolling credits at the end. Detail is acceptable but not particularly great as a result of the botched conversion, and there are a number of quite visible compression glitches, mostly in the form of large MPEG2 blocks. Tartan's transfers are rarely particularly good, but I didn't expect them to stoop to creating poor standards conversions rather than going straight to the film source.
Where the UK release gains points over the US version is in its inclusion of a DTS track. While it doesn't sound substantially better than the Dolby track, it does have better bass and a slightly crisper feel to it. Unfortunately, all three audio tracks are somewhat descynchronized from the picture. It's not enough for it to be a huge problem, but it's definitely noticeable. I've no idea whether or not the US release contains this problem, but I'm willing to bet that this is a problem introduced by Tartan.
There are no subtitles whatsoever.
Update: We have been informed the synch problem was caught at the check stage and rectified for the retail release.
The menus are fun if a little repetitive. Basically, characters from the film great you on each menu, urging you to make a choice. Captain Spaulding is responsible for the main menu, and if you linger around for too long he showers you with every expletive under the sun. Amusing, but after a while I found myself wishing there was some way to turn it off.
It's really interesting to compare the cover of the UK release with the US version. Whereas the US packaging sells this as a serious horror movie by using an image of a partially decomposed skull, the UK cover focuses on the more whimsical nature of the movie, with a large image of Captain Spaulding's visage in all its cheerful delight. For once I actually find myself preferring the UK artwork. My review copy didn't come with any packaging, however, so I am unable to comment on the rest of the cover artwork.
Music only audio track - The film's soundtrack in isolated form, presented in Dolby Surround 2.0.
Making of featurette - This brief four-minute featurette interviews various members of the cast and crew, most of them talking about their experience working with Rob Zombie and their appreciation of horror films.
Behind the scenes - Clocking in at two and a half minutes, this is essentially a behind the scenes montage of a night of shooting.
Director's commentary - Rob Zombie's feature length commentary is a little more docile than I was expecting, but it is a pretty interesting affair with lots of behind the scenes information. The film was actually left on a shelf for quite some time after it was completed, so Zombie's memory is a little patchy in spots, but he manages to keep going throughout the film's running time. By the way, the commentary is completely out of sync with the picture. Zombie keeps referring to shots that should be on screen, only they aren't. I'm not sure how this happened, but it's very irritating because it detracts from the screen-specific nature of the track and just makes things all-round confusing. What has happened is pretty clear: the commentary track has been sped up for PAL, but since the film itself is an NTSC to PAL conversion, there was no need to do this. Eventually, things become so desynchronized that the commentary is virtually unwatchable if you want to hear Zombie's comments on specific scenes.
Update: It seems that Tartan is aware of this problem and have rectified it for the release version. However, having only had a chance to see the review copy, I am unable to comment on this.
Tiny fucked a stump - Without a doubt the most baffling extra on the DVD, this features actors Sig Haig, Sheri Moon and Bill Moseley telling various jokes over and over, the punchline of which is always "Tiny fucked a stump". This affair goes on for over three minutes, believe it or not. If anyone knows the meaning of this, please let me know. I'm genuinely interested.
Casting - This is the audition tape of Denis Fimple, the actor who played the grandfather character in the film. He died before the film was released and this feature makes for a nice (and amusing) tribute to him.
Trailers - Three trailers are included: an early teaser, the theatrical trailer, and a TV spot. Of these, the most interesting is the teaser. Sadly, they are presented cropped to 1.33:1.
Stills gallery - A reasonably large collection of behind the scenes and production photographs, with a focus on the prosthetics.
Rehearsals - Rehearsal footage is included of Bill Moseley and Jennifer Jostyn; Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick and Erin Daniels; and Chris Hardwick and Erin Daniels, acting out various scenes from the comfort of a studio or house of some sort.
Interviews - Interviews are provided of actors Bill Moseley, Sid Haig and Sheri Moon and prosthetics designer Wayne Toth, taking the form of various text-based questions being presented on-screen, followed by their often amusing answers. The most substantial interview, however, is a 20-minute UK exclusive discussion between Rob Zombie and (off-screen) Billy Chainsaw, where Zombie discusses his childhood and influences, as well as his plans for a sequel.
A bizarre movie with a very schizophrenic nature is released on a technically flawed DVD. There are a number of problems with this release which prove to me that Tartan remains the king of badly-authored DVDs. It would probably be wise to assume that the US version, released by Lions Gate, does not have these problems, and therefore I would suggest it as an alternative to this, which features so many problems that it becomes somewhat difficult to enjoy the movie.