Rob Zombie Week: Andy Burns on ‘House of 1000 Corpses’

Every Halloween I have a tradition.

I watch Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses.

Now, so you know, this isn’t a longstanding tradition. It’s about 10 years old, and it began when I bought the triple-disc DVD set of House, The Devil’s Rejects, and 30 Days In Hell. I do remember having a guys night around the season at the house I once shared with my ex-wife. But mostly, my revisits have been solitary experiences. Which is really how I like it.

Rob Zombie movies are personal affairs, in my mind. He’s a divisive director – some people are right into his gritty and violent tendencies, while others can’t see past them. Some aren’t down with his scripts, but I’ve never had an issue with them.  To each their own, right?

I do remember the controversy that House of 1000 Corpses brought with it in the dawn of a new century. Universal refused to release it because they feared it would be rated NC-17. Lions Gate eventually put it out in 2003, and it managed to make roughly $17 million. The movie was poorly reviewed by critics, who came down on the violence and the movie’s grindhouse vibe. I’m pretty sure I covered my eyes quite a bit when I went to a screening around the time of its April 2003 release. I don’t recall loving House of 1000 Corpses at the time.

But something happened over the ensuing years; I developed a serious love for the film. It helped that I thought Zombie’s 2007 Halloween remake was outstanding; from there I became eager to revisit his catalogue. When I watched House of 1000 Corpses for the second time, I wound up finding it really, really funny. I mean, yes, the story of the four twenty-somethings journeying through the South looking for quirky and weird attractions and their ultimate demises (sorry if I spoiled it for you, but the movie is 16 years old), IS violent. And it IS disturbing. But is House as violent as some of the subsequent films that have come since? Not even close. I’m thinking of films like Hostel or Bone Tomahawk, with what I feel were exceptionally hard to stomach scenes, at least for me. Even the Saw films, in my humble opinion, were harder to take than what Zombie put on film. I’m not a torture porn guy, and while some may think House heralded the era, I think its because of the implications rather than explicit use of violence that its roller coaster/funhouse ride and sense of humour is overlooked.

Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) give us the (serious) creeps, but Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is pretty funny at times. His riffing with the soon-to-be-victims (Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn and Rainn Wilson) is classic not-quite-misdirection. These days, I spend a lot of time laughing out loud about the absurdity of the characters and the house and the fact that the victims are kinda/sorta/pretty fucking unlikeable. I mean, they’re so rude when the Firefly family has taken them in as guests, even before the shit hits the proverbial fan.

House of 1000 Corpses was the first acting gig for Sheri Moon Zombie, and for a lot of horror fans, Sheri the actress is as divisive as Rob the director. She’s not classically trained, and apparently, Sheri never had a desire to be an actor until her husband cast her as Baby. For my tastes, she does great work in front of the camera in every film she’s been in. She may be Zombie’s wife, but he never goes easy on her characters. She’s the perfect compliment to Rob’s narratives, and even if you don’t love her or Zombie’s work, I don’t think you can disagree that Baby has become part of horror culture.

Ultimately, House of 1000 Corpses isn’t for everyone, just like Rob Zombie’s films as a whole aren’t for everyone. I don’t see him as a mainstream director, especially having heard directly from the man about his Halloween experiences. The best Rob Zombie is the pure, untethered one, who isn’t answering to anybody. You can see that artist on display in his first, now classic movie.

Don’t miss Rob Zombie’s new film, 3 From Hell, screening exclusively in theatres for three nights only, September 16th, 17th and 18th through Fathom Events. Get the details here

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