Fright Fest: House of a 1000 Corpses (2003)
Growing up, I developed a love very early on for movies. I loved the magic of the visual experience and the big, grand storytelling on the screen at the theater. I felt a strong connection to the narrative form and from a very early age, I had a sense that this was something that I would want to do. And for as much as I loved movies in general, there was one particular genre, one type of film that reached out and took my by the collar, forced me to sit back and pay attention.
I love horror movies.
I think that early on, this largely came from the feeling of taboo I had while watching the movies. You really felt like you were watching something that was bad for you, something you shouldn’t be allowed to see. This was augmented quite a bit by the most prevalent use of practical special effects. This was a pre-digital age in which everything on the stage had a physical presence. If you wanted to show someone being shot or hacked to pieces, that action had to be shown while the scene was filmed. You couldn’t just add it in post-production, it had to happen right there. And as a result, I think that movies had a more intimate and immediate feeling of danger and dread to them.
This is not going to be a diatribe on why I think CGI is awful, it’s just a different kind of filmmaking. But I have always felt a particular fondness and affinity for the style of horror movies in the eighties as the place where I got started.
It was with this mental framework going through me that I saw House Of 1000 Corpses for the first time.
I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think modern horror movies are scary. There have been plenty of examples of horror done right. But I do often feel like horror movies in the digital era have a feeling of looking too clean, almost sanitized. It’s ironic because digital effects make it possible to show things that would have been inconceivable twenty years ago, but there is an art form to using that technology effectively. The more extensive and intrusive the effects get, the more separated I tend to feel from the story.
House Of 1000 Corpses had none of these problems. I was taken in, pretty much from the start and I was not turning off that film for anything. There haven’t been many of the newer horror films that have held my interest as much, and taken me right back to that place where I was at the age of eleven.
The story of the movie is simple enough, which I think is essential for good horror. I think it’s a common pitfall to think that you have to be constantly re-inventing something and striking out to find new ground. Any story told well is going to be good, regardless of how stale you might find the form it takes. In the film, two couples are out on a road trip, exploring local urban legends and locals when they end up being drawn into the clutches of the worst kind of backwater sadistic family you could imagine. All of these are devices that have been used before, to be sure, but Rob Zombie still manages to take them and turn it all into a hell of a film.
One thing that really got me was the characters of the film. On paper, characters like Captain Spaulding, Mother Firefly, and Otis might come across as silly or stereotypical. But on the screen, those actors transformed them into something fresh and amazing. I loved the sense of dread that the film evoked from the opening scenes, a feeling that held true all throughout. In a way, there are moments in the film where I found myself more engaged by the monsters than I was with the heroes. Oh, and as a side note, for those of you who get a kick out of seeing famous actors in roles before they hit it big, you get a chance to see Dwight Schrute from the office in a pretty radically different role.
House Of 1000 Corpses has an incredible feeling of danger, of foreboding that the heroes of the story are clearly oblivious to. It’s the kind of film that has you wincing the whole way through, mostly in anticipation of what you fear is about to happen. And while there are some bizarre elements to the film, there was no point where I felt like Zombie lost control over the direction of the story. It all felt extremely tight and well-crafted to me.
This is the kind of movie that makes you feel like you need to take a shower after you see it. It is an intense and gritty film and while tons of studios will use language like that as a tagline, in this case, I feel that it is actually well earned. Personally, I think that the true home for horror films is in the low budget, independent film industry. To each their own, but the big budget glossy horror flicks just don’t work as well for me. They can be entertaining for what they are, almost like summer blockbusters with some jump scares added. But what I really love is a horror film that grinds into you and forces you to keep thinking about it, long after you leave the theater. As far as I’m concerned, this is what any great art should do. It should challenge you and make you think. This film has all of that and more.
It’s interesting that as Rob Zombie’s film successes have led to him getting larger budget productions, I have actually come to like his work less and less. I was excited to see him do a sequel to this film, The Devil’s Rejects but in the end, I wasn’t really blown away by it. I enjoyed it but much less so than the original. I actually enjoyed his re-boot of Halloween but I couldn’t make it through the second. For me, my feelings for Rob Zombie’s films are always going to be tied directly to this movie. If he had never made it, I don’t know if I would feel the same about his overall body of work. Regardless, what I do know is that House Of 1000 Corpses stands for me as one of my favorite horror films of the last twenty years.
Chad Clark – Has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945). Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.
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October 4, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: Chad Clark, dark, fiction, fright fest 2016, guest authors, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, horror fest, horror movies, horror reviews, House of a 1000 Corpses, low budget, movie reviews, Reviews, Rob Zombie, scary | Leave a comment