Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) runs a carnival house of horrors in the middle of nowhere as a roadside attraction, and he knows how to handle himself: when a couple of would-be robbers drop by, they are quickly dispatched by the Captain and his two assistants. Soon after, a car containing four twenty-somethings pulls up outside, because the house of horrors doubles as gas station. The two boys are researching a book on attractions such as these, and persuade their reluctant girlfriends to go on the grand tour. But it's the night before Halloween, and there are more dangerous people than the Captain around...
A love letter to American exploitation cinema, the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) House of 1000 Corpses was scripted by the director, Rob Zombie, and it's obvious from the opening that this film will pay homage to the likes of Freaks, Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Blood Sucking Freaks in its own hyped-up way. When we hear that five cheerleaders have gone missing, we know that whoever kidnapped them will have a close encounter with the four travellers, and it's uncertain how many will survive until November the first.
Zombie knows his audience, as evinced by the two book researchers being obvious fans of the kind of film they're playing roles in (by contrast, their girlfriends are seriously unimpressed). Captain Spaulding's house of horrors is in the form of a ghost train, graphically outlining the careers of real-life murderers like Ed Gein and Albert Fish. Then there's also "Dr Satan", a local killer who was lynched for his gruesome experiments - yet his body mysteriously disappeared. What are the chances that he'll show up before the end, too?
But before the grand finale, we have to meet the family of unlovely psycho killers who have kidnapped the cheerleaders. Judging by the pace, the story appears to be aiming for that rollercoaster experience, and grainy, old footage of horror movies, newsreels and a liberal sprinkling of new stuff featuring various characters is frequently edited into the action, as if to comment on it. However, this is more distracting than anything else, especially as there's not much of a story in the first place.
The trouble with House of 1000 Corpses isn't that there aren't 1000 corpses to be seen, because the film tries hard to be nasty, but that it's simply a mishmash of odds and ends, references to other, more potent benchmarks that have become part of the cultural landscape. It's just not its own film, it's like watching a tribute act. While it's great to see Sid Haig hamming it up, the film is satisfied with redundant, phoney outrageousness when it should have found innovations of its own. A few arrestingly bizarre moments aside, such as the murders committed to the sounds of Slim Whitman, this shocker is too pleased with itself and operates on a one-note level. Music by Mr Zombie and Scott Humphrey.
American musician turned horror director. Born Robert Cummings, Zombie fronted cult metal band White Zombie for a decade, before making his first movie in 2003, the gaudy shocker House of 1000 Corpses. A sequel, The Devil's Rejects, was released in 2005 after which he contented himself with two reimaginings of the Halloween franchise. His Satanism-themed next film was The Lords of Salem.