Horror Movie Marathon: Day 28 – House of 1000 Corpses

[SPOILER ALERT]     House of 1000 Corpses     [SPOILER ALERT]

agatha-crispies
“Two teenage couples traveling across the backwoods of Texas searching for urban legends of murder end up as prisoners of a bizarre and sadistic backwater family of serial killers.” IMDB

It’s day 28 of the Horror Movie Marathon! We’re getting close to the end of our marathon, so we’re starting to panic about getting all the interesting movies in. This one was chosen mostly because an analysis of our selections to date shows a shocking lack of straight up gore-fests. Today, we remedy that. 

House of 1000 Corpses is rated R and is available on Fandango ($1.99). At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:

IMDB 6.0/10

Metacritic 31/100

Rotten Tomatoes 19% critics, 65% audience

It’s a beautiful autumn day. I wear my shades to watch, as my eyes are still being stubborn about the healing thing. I figure I’ll have ample time to close them to block out the blood and guts I’m expecting. We both take notes throughout the movie. Afterward, we conduct a simultaneous interview/discussion via Google Docs.

*****

Solee: Today’s movie was one I went into with equal parts trepidation and curiosity. House of 1000 Corpses, written and directed by Rob Zombie, promised to be a gore-fest and it kept its promise in a big way.

Mikey: Not nearly as big a way as I expected! I’ve been watching Ash vs. Evil Dead on the side, and I have to say it’s about 100x as gory as anything we watched for these reviews. This movie really surprised me with how reasonable it stayed, in terms of torture and gore. I’m not sure I even averted my eyes at any point. I was surprised by a lot of things in this movie, not the least of which (in fact, the most of which) were outbursts by my own wife during and after it…

Solee: THEY PEELED THE FACE AND CHEST OFF A GUY AND WORE IT AS A COSTUME TO TALK TO THE GUY’S DAUGHTER.

Mikey: Oh come on, who doesn’t do that at a family event?

Solee: I’m not going to any more Hommel family gatherings. Period.

Mikey: I think the gist of my thought here is that this movie wasn’t nearly the insane grotesquerie that I had been led to believe by the mass media. It’s kind of like hearing about GTA turning our kids into killers and then finding out how lame it actually is (man, I hate that game – the shooting controls are scarier than this movie).  

Not that this movie was lame. It was a ton of fun. I think it’s worth pointing out that two of our “heroes” in this movie are played by Chris Hardwick and Rainn Wilson. This movie is completely filled with intentional comedy, and we laughed a lot (though it’s pretty far from a horror-comedy).

Solee: Seeing Chris Hardwick totally made my day. He played the role of someone who is obsessed with “freaks” and is excited about the strangeness of it all when he should be terrified perfectly.

It was the intentionality of the humor that really grabbed me, I think. Seeing this movie makes me think that Rob Zombie must be pretty freaking smart. You can’t hit all those right notes by accident.

Mikey: I’ve seen him discuss things, he’s definitely a smart guy! Artsy. Half the fun of this movie was just, as somebody who has watched hundreds of episodes of @Midnight, seeing Chris Hardwick being this ridiculous guy. It was like watching your buddy act like an idiot in a movie.

That was kind of where the fun came from in general: all the characters were so over-the-top and wacky.  Captain Spaulding was this charming, affable guy who just gets along with everybody (in a kind of nasty way). With great fashion sense. Not at all the mass murderer he actually is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a murderer portrayed in that way, just so personable. And all the Firefly family each had their own crazy way about them which was unique and a little out of left field. Except maybe Tiny.

About halfway through the movie, Rufus shows up and says “Okay, your car’s fixed, you can go.” and I half-believed they really were going to let them go, because everything was just so off-kilter instead of traditionally evil.

Solee: Off-kilter is the perfect way to describe it. And the editing was designed to keep you that way. Much of the story was told in montages of still shots between scenes. Or with family movie style footage. This family was so NORMAL if you removed the murdery bits. They bickered and had their traditions and defended one another from outsiders.

I, too, loved Captain Spaulding. He was a jerk, but I’ve met lots of people who are equally abrasive without being serial killers (I think…). From the very first mention of chicken, I was terrified that we were going to find out they were serving their victims, battered and fried, to passers-by. But that didn’t happen. What do you think of that? Missed opportunity, or normalcy that accentuates the wierdness?

Mikey: That’s totally part of what they were doing… these people were way off, but any time you thought “Oh, they’re going there!” they just wouldn’t. Like they served a big family dinner to the kids they had semi-kidnapped – that was a perfect opportunity for it to be some horrifying slop, or again cannibalist, or full of worms, or something crazy. But they actually skipped right over the majority of that meal, and the implication from what I could see is that it was all perfectly decent food.  The weirdness was always hidden around a different corner than you expected.  I loved that Captain Spaulding just served really good fried chicken. It was another of his interests besides killin’.

Solee: I think the unexpected is necessary for both humor and horror. And clearly, Mr. Zombie understands our culture enough to know what is expected and how to dance away from it like a bull-fighter from the horns.

So this movie takes place in the midwest in the 70’s where all hitchhiking horror stories come from. Seriously, the 70’s are pretty much we why can’t have nice things now.

Mikey: They were certainly an ugly time. That brings me back to a note you made: this movie was filmed in normal high-quality picture (see my amazing knowledge of film technique?), but every few minutes they’d have a cut away to the nastiest, chunkiest, grindhouse 8mm film that had been aged for 20 years – just to show us what was happening in the other room, or flash back to something. It was a really interesting technique- the whole movie was an ode to grindhouse cinema of the 70’s, but rather than subject us to a terrible quality image for the entire movie, he just used it to highlight these little cutaways. It was another great little touch.  I keep being surprised, I just didn’t expect this to be so well done.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 19% of critics thought this movie was good, and their criticisms are absolutely vicious: “Possibly the greatest waste of celluloid since Jerry Lewis was first allowed to stand before a camera.”, “Mr. Zombie’s shameless pilfering, derivative and uninspired writing, and ham-fisted direction result in a chaotic mess.”, and so on.  I don’t get it! This is not just a great movie, but it’s also a very artistic one (in a very low-brow way). They really put a lot into making this, and it makes me wonder that critics completely miss what’s going on here. The same critics who probably applaud everything Quentin Tarantino does, which is virtually identical.  Disapproving of the outsider musician trying his hand at movies?

Solee: I’m sure that’s part of it. But I absolutely DO NOT get “professional” reviews of movies. They are almost always 180 degrees off from what I think. The fact that they couldn’t see the genius in this movie is why I don’t feel bad about disliking movies they rave about. Movie critics are just people with opinions they put on one leg at a time like the rest of us.

The soundtrack selections for this movie were perfectly surreal, too. Baby Firefly lip-syncing to the Betty Boop song was hilarious. And I will never hear the song Brickhouse without shivering again.

Mikey: Hmm, I don’t remember when Brickhouse was in there. I jump right into my opinions with both feet though.

Solee: Baby was doing something horrible as Brickhouse played. It was perfect.

Mikey: Agatha Crispies! Just wanted to be sure we said that in this review.

Solee: I even included them in my picture! I wasn’t sure what I was going to draw until I saw that box. That makes me think about Tiny. Despite having been set on fire by his own father and the injuries he sustained from that, he seemed to be the most mentally stable of them all. I think he was truly going to let the girl leave.

Mikey: Yeah, he was just like whatever. I think maybe more out of obliviousness than mental stability. We didn’t get a whole lot of insight into his thoughts. Whenever I see one of those giant guys in a movie (the actor was an actual “giant”), I always think about how they try to portray them as hugely intimidating and powerful, but they move like they actually are: crippled and constantly uncomfortable. It’s not very believable. Not that he was doing big Andre The Giant moves or anything.

Solee: With characters like that – and with anyone who is cast as grotesquely fat or ugly – I always wonder how the actor feels about being seen as the perfect person to pull that off. Starlets have nervous breakdowns because they start being cast as the older sister when they reach 40. How must it feel to constantly have Hollywoodland tell you that you are the perfect amount of fat to play a guy named “Lard Ass”?

Is it weird that this movie feels almost more respectful? I mean, everyone in this movie was screwed up in some way, but those things were celebrated, not mocked. Or maybe I’m giving it too much credit.

Mikey: It doesn’t feel as bad as a lot of movies in that way. I always appreciate when they don’t include a little person in their cast of “look at these weirdos!” That’s a rough hollywood life – there’s always work for you, as long as you like being portrayed as either a freak or an elf. I think about that stuff all the time. It doesn’t even have to be “grotesque” – it’s “This girl is playing the hot girl the guy is after, we think you’re perfect to play the one who’s not good enough!” There’s a lot of self-esteem issues in Hollywood… but if you want to have somebody play the role of “so ugly the main character makes a face and ducks out of the room”, I guess you have to find somebody to play it. Maybe it’s the script you need to fix.

Solee: Hollywood needs to fix a LOT of their scripts, that’s for sure. Game of Thrones has put a dent in the little person in film stereotype, though. Actually, Peter Dinklage has consistently played characters that challenge that stereotype.

Mikey: Yes, that seems to be his thing! I hope it’s making a dent. Really, all the freaks of this movie other than Tiny were just ordinary people who had really bad thoughts in their heads. And bad teeth. And bad hair usually. Pretty reasonable, and kind of shows the rest of Hollywood that you can do that. But then I suppose the people who do have deformities are then out of a job. Heaven forbid they get cast as normal people.

Solee: I like that we’re slowly moving in that direction. There’s a lot of road to cover, still, but I think the voices of all sorts of minorities are being heard more clearly and one of the things they are saying is “I want to see people like ME on my television.” Gradually that sentiment is overtaking the “Eww, seeing two boys kissing or a person who looks different than I do makes me uncomfortable!” voices.

I’m not sure what more I have to say about this movie. It was amazing. There are too many clever little bits to mention them all. You really have to watch it to appreciate the artistry.

Mikey: I have this to say: I was surprised by the movie, sure, but I was blown away by the reaction it got from you!  This was not the kind of thing I thought would be rocking your socks off, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you happier with a movie in your life! It was quite a thing to witness, especially considering this is a grindhouse gorefest about people being tortured to death. It’s just like a Halloween miracle.  So, I guess we should get to your rating, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise at this point.

Solee: I was pleasantly surprised by my reaction to it as well. I am not sure what caused me to feel so positively about this flick, but I really did like it. I think there’s a very dark and scary part of me that doesn’t get to see the light of day very often, but every once in a while something with the right combination of depth and darkness and unexpectedness comes along. Or maybe I’m just a fan of Rob Zombie. I tend to react positively to his music even though it’s well outside my normal Beatles-Pink-Taylor Swift-Creedence Clearwater Revival rotation.

I am giving this movie a 5 out of 5. I loved everything about it. The writing, the acting, the set design, the soundtrack, the editing… literally everything about it. The critics are idiots.

Mikey: There’s a real difference for me between a movie I’m enjoying and one I’m not. When a movie is fun, I get lost and will suddenly ‘wake up’ and go “oh hey, I’ve been lost in this movie for a while!” When a movie is not, it’s just pictures on a screen and I’m using my mental energy to keep the plot and characters straight in my head (or I’m ignoring it instead…).  I’m surprised how often this month I have had lots of fun, not just with the high rated movies. This movie was of course very engrossing. I was hooked from the first scene, watching Captain Spaulding just do his jabbering (and by the way, the guy who robbed him was practically Yosemite Sam, that’s a note I made).

As far as downsides, I think there were too many characters in the movie – it’s weird that Dr. Satan was a whole different thing and we had to find him down there (along with a random ‘zombie monster guy’ of his), instead of being one of the family, and there were just an awful lot of family members. Plus Captain Spaulding and his buddy. And the three cops.  And the four victims. That’s a lot of characters, which could have been condensed.  But they were fun characters.

I want people to watch this movie. I was really torn beforehand over whether we should see this, or the sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which gets much better reviews from both humans and critics. I’m really glad we went for the original. Hope you all don’t mind seeing a skinned face (I had forgotten about that, it really was the grossest thing in there)! I grant this the official 5 out of 5 from Hamumu.

Solee: It was the grossest… but there was also some skeleton hanky-panky. That was pretty disturbing, too, in a whole different way.

So, next we watch a movie I’m a little nervous to review, Intruders. We’ll talk about why it makes me nervous tomorrow.

Mikey: For those watching along, be aware that there are like 100 movies named Intruders or similar. The one we are watching is a 2015 (or 2016, according to some sources) movie starring Beth Riesgraf and Rory Culkin, and the cover art for it is a house floating in the air with knives and axes hanging down from it. It is also known as Shut In, which conveniently is also the name of another 2016 movie. Check it out!

*If you have comments to leave specifically for Mikey, you can see this same interview/discussion posted here, on his website.

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