Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, November 27, 2006
      ( 11/27/2006 02:29:00 PM ) Bill S.  

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS – Recently, an acquaintance leant me a DVD of Rob Zombie's premiere horror opus, House of 1000 Corpses (2003). It's not, admittedly, a flick that I'd gone out of my way to see. Not being a big fan of Zombie the Musician (though I do have a collection of Halloween-themed music that has least one Rob track on it), I was wary of his cinematic debut – which I suspected was primarily designed to appeal to metal-addled teens.

So I watched the disc over the weekend and found it to be modestly entertaining, most specifically in the opening sequences showcasing exploitation regular Sid Haig as a crotchety clown named Captain Spaulding (not to be confused with this guy – at least I hope not). It flails around tediously once Zombie's larger clan of boogeyfolk whip off their masks, tho. I've read several reviews disparagingly noting the movie's debt to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I saw closer connection to two lesser Tobe Hooper drive-in features, Eaten Alive and The Funhouse, in the way a seedy setting is used to trap unwary rubes. In House, our quartet of young patsies (among 'em bespectacled Rainn Wilson) winds up prisoners of a family of murderous lunatics who indulge in a hearty round of torture & butchery, freak show taxidermy, Satanic rites and lip-syncing to Helen Kane records.

Director Zombie works overtime to keep it all visually interesting: tinting and solarizing and gritting up the camerawork during scare scenes, periodically inserting old monster movie footage and clips of Bettie Page (for that retro sleaze factor), flashing backward and forward – but the net effect is more messy than frightening. He does pull off a couple small moments: a slowwwww aerial back away as a deputy (The Shield's Walton Goggins) is about to get his head blown off is particularly striking. The camera moves so crawlingly that when my wife came into the room, she thought the DVD player had seized up. When the head shot finally comes, it's practically a relief.

Still, the movie as a whole flubs its material. For a flick like this to work, you need to convince the audience – even if only for a moment – that at least one of its potential victims is gonna get out alive, if only so you can turn that false moment of safety back on the audience. I never once bought the possibility that any of these young idiots would make it to the end credits – and, of course, I was right.

I'm told, however, that Zombie's sequel, Satan’s The Devil's Rejects, is markedly superior to its predecessor. Anyone out there who can confirm this?

UPDATE: Ken Lowery, in comments, notes that Zombie's sequel (which I apparently confused with Satan's Cheeleaders) is indeed a significant improvement.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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