Tiffany Bradford has reviewed the Region 1 release of House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie’s controversial masterpiece that took three years to find a Distributor. Lions Gate has given the film a fantastic-looking DVD treatment.
October 30, 1977
Bill (Rainn Wilson), his girlfriend Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) and their best friends Jerry (Chris Hardwick) and Denise (Erin Daniels), set out on a car trip across country to research offbeat roadside attractions for a book.
Low on petrol, they come across Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen, which, as luck would have it, also sells fried chicken and gasoline. There they meet Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), the middle-aged, bald redneck proprietor, who also makes commercials for his museum in full clown dress and make-up. He talks them into going on his Murder Ride; a wannabe serial killer-themed carnival ride built into his museum. He provides the gruesome commentary for each of the exhibits and then piques their interest further with an urban legend about Dr. Satan, a local man.
Dr. Satan was an intern at an insane asylum who performed horrific brain surgery on mental patients in order to create a master race. He was hanged from a tree by vigilante townspeople, but when they returned the next day to claim the body it had disappeared and has never been found.
At the request of an excited Jerry, Captain Spaulding draws them a map and sends them on their way to locate Dr. Satan’s Hanging Tree. On the drive there, they encounter a sexy Hillbilly hitchhiker (Sherri Moon), who takes them home to meet her family… and it’s there the nightmare begins.
Rob Zombie has long been a fan of the horror film genre and decided to flex his directing muscles with the now infamous House of 1000 Corpses. The film finished production in 2000, but was subsequently dumped by Universal and MGM studios for “dark, disturbing and visceral content” – three years later it was finally picked up by Lions Gate Home Entertainment and released with an R rating.
It is a slick, smart and truly violent gorefest, which pays homage to 70’s horror films with affectionate nods to cult classics The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. With stunning use of colour, clever MTV-like editing, and a fantastic soundtrack, the film succeeds in updating and improving upon the newly-rediscovered Cannibal film horror sub-genre.
Wayne Toth deserves much of the credit for his amazing make-up and effects. The characters of Fish-boy, Dr. Satan and the Professor are as fascinating as they are repulsive. Exquisite attention to detail is paid to the contents of Captain Spaulding’s Museum, and the Firefly home presented a huge challenge. Creative use of home movie cameras provided the grainy, realistic look used in the serial killer footage, and the flashbacks for Baby and Otis. Rob Zombie contributed five tracks and a cover of Brickhouse to the soundtrack, which also includes sound clips from the film.
There is no shortage of blood, yet the film is not excessively gory. But it does deserve the “deeply disturbing” label it received from Universal and MGM. Just when you think the film can’t get any more bizarre… it does… big time.
The characters are intentionally over-the-top and do a great job, but Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding) in particular is excellent and a real joy to watch. His profanity-spouting, redneck clown steals every scene he is in, and his cameo pairing with veteran actor Michael J. Pollard (Stucky) was an inspired move on Zombie’s part. Pollard ad-libbed most of his lines, and Haig never knew what was going to come out of his co-star’s mouth, which meant a lot of genuine reaction from Haig.
Bill Moseley as Otis is creepy. Pale, and almost albino-looking with long stringy white hair, he orchestrates the carnage as the patriarch of the Firefly clan and sacrifices everything for his art (literally).
Rainn Wilson and Chris Hardwick are likeable as best friends Bill and Jerry. Hardwick has excellent comedic timing and is funny in his scenes with a flirtatious Mother Firefly. Rainn Wilson’s Bill is sweet, naive and easy-going – their girlfriends on the other hand, are U.S.D.A. certified bitches. Five minutes into the film you will be on the side of anyone causing potential hurt, suffering or death to Mary (In his commentary, Zombie acknowledges the unlikeability of the girlfriend characters).
Karen Black plays mother Firefly, an aging, yellow-toothed nympho who adores her children.
Sherri Moon, wife of Director Zombie, makes her acting debut as Baby. Donning a curly blonde wig and affecting a high-pitched giggle (yes, it was really her doing that laugh) she hits the mark with a convincing blend of innocence, anger, sexual appeal and sadism… the perfect femme fatale.
The late Dennis Fimple rounds out the cast as Grandpa. He sadly died in August 2002, before the film’s public release.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the transfer is beautiful. The house contained a lot of neon lighting, and brilliant red and blues lights were used in some of the more violent scenes. There was no noticable artifacting (except the intentional grainy look given to the serial killer footage and the flashback segments) and despite the darkness of much of the film, skin tones were natural-looking and black levels were excellent. Love the film or hate it, the picture is absolutely gorgeous and clear.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is more than effective for a largely dialogue-based film. The dialogue is clear, natural and hiss-free and the rock soundtrack, using full dynamic range, sounds great and showcases the dialogue rather than overpowering it. English and Spanish subtitles are included along with an isolated Stereo 2.0 (music only) track option available.
Menus/Chapter Stops – The menus on this disc are fantastic and unique – they feature an actual set from the film with one of the characters standing there live talking to the camera asking the viewer to make a choice – if the viewer doesn’t make the choice fast enough, the characters get annoyed or pissed off – Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding greets the viewers on the main menu and is pleasant at first, but resorts to profanity and abuse if you don’t pick something to view. I love it. There are sixteen chapter stops and the scene selection menu features Bill Moseley as Otis standing in a graveyard reading – the chapter stops are animated scenes from the film presented four at a time to his right.
Making of Featurette – A four-minute ‘making of’ featurette that includes brief clips of the actors and scenes from the film accompanied by a commentary from director Zombie.
Behind the Scenes – A short feature which has cast and crew standing around chatting while technicians resolve a problem with a winch needed for a key scene in the film.
Director Commentary – My favourite extra, hands-down. Rob Zombie is very down-to-earth and really enjoyable. He jumps right in and makes a predominantly scene-specific commentary entertaining. It is no-holds barred and he has a great, sarcastic sense of humour. He discusses post-production editing done in his basement, staff he didn’t like, cast member anecdotes, locales, etc…
Tiny Fucked a Stump – A mind-boggling waste of an extra, it features cast members, Haig, Moon and Moseley telling different variations of the same Knock-Knock joke (in spanish too), each ending with the punchline “Tiny Fucked a Stump!”
Casting – A short feature with Dennis Fimple’s audition that involves the telling of a vulgar joke.
Trailer – An Early Teaser trailer, a Theatrical trailer and a Radio Spot.
Still Gallery – An awesome collection of stills from the film involving make-up effects and cast members.
Rehearsals – Exactly what it says, with cast members Moseley and Jostyn in one segment, Wilson, Hardwick and Daniels in another and Hardwick and Daniels in the last segment.
Interviews – Interviews with Moon, Haig, Moseley and Wayne Toth – the same questions are asked of each one and the actors appear and answer the questions in-costume.
Lions Gate Trailers – If you click on the Lions Gate logo on the main menu, it will play trailers for Cabin Fever, May and Godsend.
The biggest critics of the film are die-hard fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre who have labeled it a music video-styled rip-off. It never claimed to be a remake of TCM and can stand on its own merits. It is clever, visually stunning and the DVD’s picture and sound are worth the purchase price. The extras fall a little short, but Rob Zombie’s commentary picks up the slack and entertains as well as informs. Lions Gate really came through by having the guts to pick it up when others distanced themselves and they deserve a lot of credit. House of 1000 Corpses will never be the cult classic TCM is, but it’s highly-entertaining and a class act. Oh yeah… the soundtrack kicks-ass too!
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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