Rob Zombie (born Robert Bartleh Cummings) is an acquired taste. The singer, songwriter, record producer, filmmaker, and actor has been polarizing audiences for decades. He’s come a long way from being a production assistant on Pee-wees Playhouse in the mid-1980s. Zombie’s writing and directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses (2003), wasn’t intended to be a ‘cult’ film. However, in the ensuing decades, that’s exactly what it has become.
Twenty years on, Zombie’s horror/black comedy gets a new and fancy SteelBook re-release, courtesy of Lionsgate. While not in 4K, this is by far the best version of this now classic film that you will likely ever get, and it’s replete with loads of extras to keep you entertained and grossed out for hours. It’s become the stuff of legend that the film could not be released due to its graphic gory nature. Zombie spent three years going back and forth with the MPAA, who were demanding massive cuts to the movie. It was all worth it for fans of the genre.
Much like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the film that House of 1000 Corpses pays all sorts of homage to, the story is simple and largely unimportant. Set in 1977, two young couples (Chris Hardwick, Rainn Wilson, Erin Daniels, and Jennifer Jostyn) travel across rural Texas, in search of ‘roadside attractions’ that they can use as material for a book that they are working on. As is a common trope of films of this genre, the group inevitably gets lost and stumbles upon Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen. Spaulding (Sid Haig) tells the group about the legend of Dr. Satan, a murderous surgeon.
As they search for the tree from which Dr. Satan was hanged, inevitably and predictably their car soon breaks down and the group finds themselves at the home of the Firefly clan. This includes Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Mother Firefly (Karen Black), the gigantic Tiny (Matthew McGrory), Rufus (Robert Allen Mukes), and Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple). After a bizarre family dinner is prepared for the Firefly clan’s new guests, a Halloween show is put on. Some unwarranted flirting takes place between Baby and Bill which leads to threats and all hell breaking loose.
If the synopsis of this film is a bit on the short side, that’s because there really isn’t much plot, and it’s not needed for this type of film. Much like The Evil Dead (1981), after the first twenty minutes or so, it’s just one horrific scene after another, strung together by the loosest possible thread of an actual coherent story. However, who needs a story when you’ve got, arguably the most intense and over-the-top gore in cinema history? Scalpings. Mutilations. Cremations. Stabbings. Vivisections and buckets of blood. It’s all there for the taking in House of 1000 Corpses and the gore hounds that worship this cult classic film.
Rob Zombie has always been in it for the shock value, Anyone who has listened to his music or attended his live shows, knows this. However, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make good films. While they are tonally and stylistically different, Alfred Hitchcock also sought to ‘shock’ audiences. Films like Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) are prime examples. During his time, Hitchcock never received the recognition from his critics and peers that he deserved. It wasn’t until much later that he finally was seen as one of the great filmmakers of all time. One can say the same thing about Edgar Allen Poe. Is Rob Zombie on the level of Poe or Hitchcock? No. However, like these masters, Zombie’s films have been revisited and reexamined in a positive light in the ensuing two decades. House of 1000 Corpses is the prime example of this reexamination.
As gory and repulsive Zombie’s debut film is, it’s also a lot of fun to watch. There’s a joyfulness to it that harkens back to Sam Raimi’s legendary Three Stooges horror love letter, Evil Dead II (1987), released fifteen years earlier. Zombie has stated that his film’s, almost slapstick, physical humor, was not done on purpose. Rather, it happened organically, via the brilliant facial expressions and physical performances of Sid Haig and the rest of the fantastic cast. You can’t help but think that everyone was having a blast making the film. Also, like Raimi’s earlier film, the constant laughs in House of 1000 Corpses undercuts the horrific gore. This balance is needed for a film that’s this over-the-top.
The final act of the film ramps up the blood and guts to another level, getting genuinely repulsive. At the time of release, the gore special effects were amongst the very best that had ever been seen up to that point. As such, credit has to be given to production designer Gregg Gibbs and makeup FX creator Wayne Toth. Their work on the film is outstanding. Also, the grindhouse imagery the film’s cinematographers Alex Poppas and Tom Richmond create gives Zombie’s film a real exploitation feel. It’s something he would revisit often. While House of 1000 Corpses received mostly negative reviews upon its initial release, it would gain a large cult following in the ensuing decades. In 2005, Zombie would release a sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, which saw him finally receive recognition from the critics.
The Blu Ray
The 20th anniversary of House of 1000 Corpses unfortunately has not been upgraded to glorious 4K. However, the 1080p HD transfer that has been readily available since the previous Blu-ray release, looks fantastic. The bright colors and vibrant psychedelic imagery that Zombie used in his film, pop off the screen. The closeups are so sharp that you can see the white makeup on Sid Haig’s face, flaking off. The film is presented in 1.78:1. format for this release.
The premium box for the new release features fantastic artwork by Graham Humphreys as well as a poster illustrated by David Hartman. There’s also a photo book curated by Zombie and six art cards illustrated by Hartman. The Steelbook edition also features artwork by Vance Kelly and a semi-transparent slipcover. This newest release comes with the standard DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio mix. This is the same track that was available when the film was first released on Blu-ray and it sounds fantastic, although the lows could be a bit lower considering the head-banging bass heavy music Zombie infuses in the film.
The two-disc set has a ton of extras. Unfortunately, Zombie’s latest audio commentary is only available, on digital, which is a shame. Still, the Blu-ray package has a ton of goodies which makes up for this omission. The second disc includes fantastic never seen interviews from the set of the film. Rob Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, and others all share their thoughts and it runs for over two hours.
House of 1000 Corpses is far from the best horror movie out there. It’s not even Rob Zombie’s best film. That honor goes to The Devil’s Rejects, the second film in his Firefly trilogy. Still, this two-decade-old bucket of blood is something to be appreciated. Coming in at eighty-eight minutes, Zombie throws everything he can against the proverbial wall, to see what sticks. Turns out a lot of it stuck, including fantastic comedy/horror and ridiculously over-the-top performances from Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, and the legendary Karen Black.
Confounded and hampered by countless delays, reshoots, and Universal Studios’ complete lack of support or financial backing, House of 1,000 Corpses was unleashed into theaters on April 11, 2003. The film has been a genre favorite ever since. Rob Zombie expanded on his musical theatrics and pieced together a comedic and twisted horror film that was both gross and surreal. Not for the faint of heart, House of 1000 Corpses is for hard-core horror fans only who can handle the splatter. If you stick with it, you’ll appreciate the inspired casting, trippy sets, camera work, and superior FX and makeup. It’s a horror film you won’t soon forget.
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