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Pulp Culture
'House of 1,000
Corpses' doesn't
deliver on hype

April 17, 2003
By Franklin Harris

For almost two years, I put up with fanboys online and in print telling me that musician-turned-director Rob Zombie's "House of 1,000 Corpses" would be the best, most intense horror film of the last 30 years. That it would save the horror genre from endless teen-oriented slasher flicks like "I Know What Jason Screamed Last Halloween." That Zombie was a true horror fan, and he wouldn't compromise or disappoint.

Of course, no one telling me this had seen the movie.

Universal, which commissioned "House," dropped it after studio executives sat in on a test screening. MGM picked it up, but eventually passed as well. Finally, Lion's Gate Films bought "House" and opened it in limited release last week.

So, after many months and three studios, is "House of 1,000 Corpses" everything Zombie's fans claimed it would be?

Are you kidding?

Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig) serves up fried chicken and murder in ''House of 1,000 Corpses.''
Photo © Copyright Lions Gate Films
Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig) serves up fried chicken and murder in ''House of 1,000 Corpses.''
After all the hype, "House" is no better than any number of low-budget, straight-to-video horror movies. It certainly isn't in the same league as the several excellent horror films to appear recently — "The Ring," "Session 9," "Ginger Snaps," "The Devil's Backbone," "The Others" — all of which Zombie's fans seem to have missed.

"House" is this year's version of "Fear Dot Com." Both movies were made by people with a clear love of the genre, and both borrow heavily from earlier horror flicks.

Both also prove that having a love of old horror movies isn't a sufficient qualification to make one.

"House" starts well enough, opening with a robbery sequence that plays as if written by Quentin Tarantino's less-talented brother. That's not a ringing endorsement, but the scene works because of Sid Haig.

Haig, a character actor whose credits include numerous '70s exploitation films and one Saturday-morning TV show ("Jason of Star Command"), plays Capt. Spaulding, the clown-faced curator of a roadside attraction that provides passersby with gasoline, complementary fried chicken and a history lesson on serial killers.

Haig's performance is threatening, yet laced with a likable, down-home charm. Unfortunately, the movie isn't about his character.

After taking Capt. Spaulding's "murder tour," two couples go off in search of the site where a local serial killer, Dr. Satan, was hanged years earlier. Instead, they find themselves at a run-down farmhouse inhabited by a ridiculously over-the-top clan of murderous psychos.

The head of this happy family is Mother Firefly, played by Karen Black, who hasn't looked this bad since after she tangled with a killer doll in 1975's "Trilogy of Terror." She insists that the couples stay for dinner, but she doesn't tell them what is on the menu.

What follows is a tiresome series of not-quite escapes, as our heroes try and fail to get away from Mother Firefly's brood.

"House of 1,000 Corpses" is a horror movie without tension or scares. It's filled with jump scenes, but they're all telegraphed so far in advance that they could frighten only small children.

There is some gore, but most of it is hidden behind Zombie's MTV-style edits and art-house camera tricks. After a while, the grainy, overexposed shots, reminiscent of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," get old.

Apart from Haig's turn, the only memorable performance comes from Sheri Moon as Mother Firefly's psycho daughter, Baby. And Moon got this gig only because she is Zombie's girlfriend.

But perhaps film simply is the wrong medium for this material. Maybe it would work better as a heavy metal song. I understand Zombie knows something about music.

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