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House Of 1000 Corpses
House Of 1000 Corpses
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House Of 1000 Corpses
cast: Sid Haig, Billy Moseley, Sheri Moon, and Karen Black

writer and director: Rob Zombie

89 minutes (18) 2004 widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
'Gas, Food, Murder' declares one of the lurid neon signs outside Captain Spaulding's garage and 'Museum of Monsters and Madness', all of which seems to set a tongue-in-cheek tone for Rob Zombie's homage to the horror film at its mid-1970s' zenith of visceral cinematic excess. The Captain's first visitors, a pair of armed robbers, fail to appreciate his invitation to eat fried chicken and view his carny-from-Hell. "I don't like chicken, and I hate clowns," one of the robbers screams. But they are soon dispatched by one of his sidekicks, and the Captain complains: "They got blood on my best clown suit!"

Then follows a devilishly brilliant credits sequence, a succession of images alternating between the alluring and the queasily unsettling, a pounding industrial rock-blues theme song composed by the writer-director himself, we are introduced to four the unwary travellers who are to be the Captain's next visitors. The two nerdy men are researching book on "offbeat roadside attractions," and drag their long-suffering girlfriends into the sideshow, which mentions the local bogeyman Doctor Satan. After leaving, their car breaks down and they are 'rescued' by a dubious female hitchhiker, whose murderous family observes the Halloween festivities a little too religiously...

The two couples' subsequent ordeal of mutilation and torture is often peppered with similar flashing negative images of unspeakable acts like the ones that accompany the memorable opening titles. It is stylistic flourishes such as these, rather than the plot, which make House Of 1000 Corpses a film that makes up for what it lacks in originality with visual panache and sheer Grand Guignol.

The story is an unashamed retread of every 1970s' cult horror classic you can think of: John Carpenter's Halloween saga, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (the family of white trash crazies). House Of 1000 Corpses is even set in the 1970s. With its lurid red and blue lighting scheme, Captain Spaudling's museum however reminds me not so much of TCM, as of another Tobe Hooper picture, Funhouse. The bravura touches in this sequence, such as split-screen and multiple mirror images of the Captain, are also reminiscent of other genre luminaries of the era, such as the Brian De Palma of Carrie and the Dario Argento of Suspiria. As well as sharing the latter's heady sadism and knife-twisting ratcheting up of tension, Zombie even pays homage to a homage, by showing a minor character watching not just one but three Universal horror classics on a 'Doctor Wolfenstein' Halloween TV special, in the manner of Carpenter. These clips all echo, and are echoed by, the time honoured scenarios presented in House Of 1000 Corpses: The Old Dark House (the benighted motorists stranded on a rain-soaked night), The Wolfman and House Of Frankenstein (both feature carnival sideshows).

As this suggests, House Of 1000 Corpses sets up something of a referential overload, which almost lulls the viewer into a false sense of security. It almost seems like too much of a pastiche for anything really nasty to happen. However, some really nasty things do happen, but when they do the sense of parody come dangerously close to undercutting the sense of menace. For one thing, the two male travellers elicit little audience sympathy, with the more irritating one of them first seen commenting that, "some of these Manson chicks are really hot." When these geeks and their chicks pay the horrifying price for their ghoulishness, there is a sense that even the most cruel and grotesque acts of torture are presented to their victims as a kind of performance. In some ways, the tone of the film reminds me of Stuart Gordon's pulpy Lovecraftian splatter epics Re-Animator and Dagon, rather than say the matter-of-fact, vérité style of TCM, whose skeletal furniture is echoed in the d�cor of Dr Satan's catacombs. Leatherface's rampage is more wordlessly deadpan than that of the central psycho, a Manson-esque patriarch who uncannily resembles Richard O'Brien's character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, another 'old dark house' horror comedy. But if this is a Carry On Screaming for the 21st century, its jokes could not be grimmer; its laughter could not be more maniacal. Rob Zombie, you certainly have one sick sense of humour!

If you've managed to stomach House Of 1000 Corpses' high gross-out factor, you can sample the delights of the DVD extras: trailer and weblinks.

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