In the opening scenes of House of 1000 Corpses we’re introduced and reintroduced to a grimy, messy, horror themed, roadside attraction. It’s filled with mangled bodies and objects meant as references and reminders of murders and crimes. It’s run by a manic man in clown paint, and the back end of the shack leads to a rollercoaster ride with leering random scares; it’s basically House of 1000 Corpses in microcosm. It’s a deliberately grimy movie filled with horror references directed by an individual easily described as a living B-movie himself, and the last act turns into a fairly random series of jump scares and monsters. It’s incoherent and jumbled and filled with hicks.
I didn’t hate House of 1000 Corpses, just to be clear. At the very least it’s trying to do its own tone and style with relative success. Granted its tone and style are largely cobbled together homages and randomly intercut snippets of home video and thermal vision, but still. It’s trying to be a grimy redneck murder shack, and it inarguably succeeds fairly well in that. (I haven’t seen Devil’s Rejects, which I universally hear is the better of the two.) How much you respond to the murder shack vibe is largely a matter of taste.
The problems, and there are problems, many of them, are less about the tone and style and more about the messy plot structure. Characters get introduced and knocked off in insanely short periods of time, ideas seem to be brought up and forgotten again in a few minutes. It’s a little like a redneck’s pick-up truck collided with a massive pile of horror genres and tropes. House of 1000 Corpses was then assembled from the mangled remains of the car accident. There’s no discernible rhythm or cadence to the movie, no pacing, and a rather confused notion of character to boot.
Although part of the problem with the characters… well there are a lot of problems with the non-murderer redneck characters. They’re certainly poorly written little characters, feeling like they wandered in from a substantially worse movie. The cast is also largely irredeemable. I obviously like Rainn Wilson, just look at the first review I did in this series for proof of that, but he gets offed so quickly that he’s largely a non-component to the film. As much as I like Chris Hardwick, he is not main character material. I don’t think I’m offending anyone when I say that there’s a reason Chris Hardwick is now content with his little media empire and has more or less given up on serious acting. Then there are the two female leads, one of whom actually survives the longest, and thus is probably the character we’re meant to connect with. Well personally I could barely tell them apart, because they have no discernible characteristics on the page. I legitimately had to keep reminding myself which one was Chris Hardwick’s girlfriend and which one was Rainn Wilson’s girlfriend (that really is the extent of the characterization) before I eventually realized it didn’t matter at all and gave up.
The murder-folk are definitely the redeeming part of the movie. Sure they’re goofy and regularly kind of obnoxious, but they’re well performed and at least inject some character into the movie. They’re certainly reflective of the tone. That grimy murder shack tone this whole movie is built around. They’re loud and garish and gross and southern. That’s basically all they need to be, but they still manage to keep a few scenes more entertaining. They help distract from the plot too, which is a pretty integral service.
One of the weirdest chunks of the plot is taken up by the almost immediately concluded police investigation. They get the case. Drive to the murder house in the next scene. Then die. That’s literally it. Why is that necessary? It also commits the greatest crime of all – wasting a Walton Goggins performance. That’s just unforgivable. There’s a whole opening scene where Captain Spaulding kills a dude trying to rob his roadside murder ride that never, ever, ever gets brought up again. There’s a random third act “reveal” of an underground tunnel filled with murder cannibals and also the leader of the murder family? At one point the murder family puts on a Halloween variety show, which seems to be weirdly well attended by the locals. This is never mentioned again, explained, or important to the proceedings. There are flashbacks (this actually does lead to a reveal) and weird video snippets everywhere, which is at least sort of fun. Rainn Wilson gets made into a fish man, but then it’s still like an hour before the movie actually reveals the guy with the shack full of stitched together people knows the murder family. It’s all kind of aggressively gibberish.
The production is pretty hilarious. Zombie shot a terrible ending in hopes that the studio would fund a better one, which apparently they did (the final scene is pretty garbage). There are a few quotes that show Zombie really only cared about the kids being murder victims. He also said the movie initially wasn’t suppose to be comedic, but became that during the shoot, which is mind boggling. He shot two versions of most scenes and longer versions of a few gore scenes. Stuff was shot on a lot that was being used for studio tours at the time, other stuff was shot in Rob Zombie’s basement, and at one point someone almost got axed in the face for real. It all sounds like the exact kind of clusterfuck I’d imagine as being behind this film.
That being said I’d rather watch a mess of a movie with an interesting vision and some personality than a plain old bad focus-grouped piece of trash. There might not be much that isn’t in some way compromised in this film, but it’s still very much that signature Rob Zombie tone evident in his music and music videos. It’s not quite good, but it’s hardly terrible either. Just interestingly bad.