In the television commercial advertising as well as the radio and theatrical trailers for Rob Zombie’s “House Of 1000 Corpses” the narrator describes the film as being “A terrifying journey into hell.” When I first heard that while talking to friend on the telephone who just happened to be tuned into the same channel I was watching I said, “This is the most truthful advertising you’ll ever see for a movie” and then we both laughed because over the years we’ve seen a few commercial films that left us feeling like we were psychically assaulted. The resurrection of the Hollywood slasher film, like “Scream”, diluted the horror genre of the mid 1990s. Now I always felt and still do feel that the popularity of those films was due to the public’s desire to see the beautiful people get killed for a change after years of teenage and twentysomething prime time soap operas that presented an unrealistic ideal that most people cannot possible achieve. I mean no one stays popular forever, bad things and good things happen to everyone seemingly indiscriminate at times and not simply based on the person’s haircut, clothes, and weight. Thus the idea of a bunch of whiny upper middle class rich kids getting diced by one of their own fed the perverse, but human fantasy for all those people who never quite clicked with the “In Crowd” in high school or had to work a crappy job to have money for the weekend while taking out student loans to attend a public college or whatnot. Envy is not a pretty emotion, but it is a natural one that I think the commercial horror films of the 1990s cashed in on. Yet much like the overexposure of certain horror film icons from the 1980s, any thrill that came with these “90210” slasher films quickly dissipated to a point where they became too self referential for their own good.

There were a few exceptions here and there though. In particular I thought “Session 9” was very disturbing and toxic and while not a great horror sci-fi film, I did find “Event Horizon” with the scene where we see what happened to the crew so frightening that my friend and I would tease each other with the Latin words that translate into English as “Save yourself from hell.” It is not easy writing and directing a good, scary, and engrossing horror film. The best ones live on in our imaginations and compel us to view them despite however offensive or unsavory the imagery gets. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” George A. Romero’s “Living Dead Trilogy,” “Hellraiser,” “Last House On The Left,” and “The Exorcist” are just a few scary films that repel as much as they compel. So it is no surprise that regardless of whether or not he consciously put these elements in the film, Rob Zombie’s “House Of 1000 Corpses” has several subtle and obvious nods to various horror films both good and bad. The obvious ones being “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the old Universal horror films we see on the TV screens at times throughout the film. When the car leaves Captain Spaulding’s for a few seconds there is some music cue that sounds a bit like the “kill, kill, kill” echoing associated with “Friday The Thirteenth.” The big brute “Tiny” looks like what one of the cannibals in “The Hills Have Eyes” would look like if he were put on steroids and stretched out so his head and limbs would appear more deformed. While I never quite liked the film, having a character named “Rufus” in a horror film as bizarre as “House Of 1000 Corpses” made me think right away of “Blood Sucking Freaks.” While Zombie notes in the commentary that the grainy video clips where the characters are talking right at the screen were inspired by the super 8 films shot by the Manson family, I found it also reminded me a bit of Oliver Stone’s own twist on serial murderers, “Natural Born Killers,” with the constant changing of film stocks and perspectives intercut with all sorts or visceral imagery that at the time seemed like an assault on the senses too.

So all of these impressions aside, my only regret about viewing “House Of 1000 Corpses” was that I did not see it on a big screen because as big and loud as one can have their home theater systems be, nothing is quite like the experience of seeing a film in a dark screening room with a larger than life screen. I think if I saw it on the big screen my initial reaction would be more visceral than analytical so as a result I found “House Of 1000 Corpses” to be more disturbing than it is scary on DVD simply because of the nature of watching a film on a widescreen TV instead of a big screen. Even being at home automatically adds a comfort factor that being in a dark theater doesn’t have. The larger the image, the more aggressive the soundtrack, and the more unfamiliar the screening location, the more I think a viewer becomes involved within the world of the film and conversely the more familiar the environment, smaller the screen and so on, the easier it is to detach from the imagery and remind one’s self that it’s just a movie.

As a result this might be the first DVD I’ve reviewed where I recommend that viewers see it the film first on a big screen if they can find it playing in one of those urban theaters that shows films six months after they premiere for two or three dollars because I actually felt like I was at a disadvantage seeing the film on DVD without seeing it first in a movie theater. On DVD “House Of 1000 Corpses” seemed to have a disjointed narrative as if the film were like some long music video instead of a movie. The story is kind of thin and I think “Cave Of 1000 Corpses” is more truthful to what the viewer actually sees though “House Of 1000 Corpses” obviously is a cooler title. I think the two most memorable scenes in the film are when the local police come looking for the missing kids and when we finally see the layer of “Doctor Satan” and the protagonist is chased by a character known as “The Professor.” The characters are vividly bought to life as if the viewer has entered some demented fun house, but the two coolest looking creations in the whole film are “Doctor Satan” and “The Professor.” They look so otherworldly and hideous that one cannot help to want to get a better look at the makeup even though it is quite repelling. There’s a lot of sadism in this film that is somewhat reminiscent of the Sawyer family antics in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” So be prepared and note that this is not a film young kids should see unless you want them screaming in fear at night from nightmares and whatnot. By the end of the film I was no longer sure what I had seen and I simply did not know what was real and what exactly was going on and why, but the film left me with a desire to see it again so I guess that’s a good thing (I hope), though I still don’t know why there were some seemingly supernatural beings under the Earth and how the crazy family in the film became involved with them. The best scare in the film has no gore and no hideous monster at all and it occurs in broad daylight. You’ll know it when you see it.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment presents “House Of 1000 Corpses” in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio and I found the picture quality to be quite rich with harsh lighting and bold colors to create a living nightmarish vision of anywhere country USA. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Soundtrack is quite effective with nice use of the subwoofer and I liked the mood music, which can be listened to as an isolated Stereo score soundtrack on the DVD too. English Captions and Closed Captions for the hearing impaired and Spanish Language Subtitles are encoded as options as well. Rob Zombie’s feature length commentary is quite articulate and somewhat screen specific. Sometimes I got the sense that he had a grander vision that he wanted to get across and then quite honestly sometimes he sounds like he doesn’t give fuck. He also has a strange sense of humor, but don’t we all? Zombie also directed the interactive menus that feature the characters of Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis (Bill Mosely), and Baby (Sherri Moon) making comments about the viewers and the menus themselves, which feature full motion scene selections and animated transitions. The interactive menus are quite easy to navigate through too.

The other extra features are a bit of a disappointment with a lot of analog video clips that simply do not show enough about the film to give a larger appreciation for the work that went into producing it. There is some behind the scenes video under the heading “Making Of Featurette” (4:15) that doesn’t really reveal much of anything and then there are some more behind the scenes clips (2:14) that also are rather uninteresting. Those who can’t get enough of “Captain Spaulding,” “Otis,” and “Baby” will probably get a kick out of “Tiny Fucked A Stump” (3:08) and there’s some casting and rehearsal footage with the actor who played “Grandpa” (2:06), Bill Moseley and Jennifer Jocelyn (3:28), Rainn Wilson Chris Hardwick, and Erin Daniels (: 43), and Chris Hardwick and Erin Daniels (: 52).

There are also some interview clips with Bill Moseley (4:30), Sid Haig (5:42), Sherri Moon (1:33), and Special Effects Supervisor Wayne Toth (3:33). The film’s teaser trailer (1:13), theatrical trailer (1:49), and Radio Spot (1:01) as well as bonus trailers for “Cabin Fever” (: 53), “May” (2:04), and “Godsend” (2:26) wrap up the extra features on this DVD release.

“House Of 1000 Corpses” is available on DVD-Video now from Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

-Mark A. Rivera

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