House of 1000 Corpses, for all its gore, its fairly silly storyline, and its near unwatchability for many people; is veteran director and rock musician Rob Zombie's homage to the horror genre. More specifically it is his homage to the splatter film and B-movie sub genre as the films that inspired this movie are more along the lines of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Tom Savini's Maniac than Richard Donner's The Omen or Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
House of 1000 Corpses - Come On In
House of 1000 Corpses opens with a murder committed by the clown suit wearing Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), a scene which lets the audience know right away that it is in for a bizarre ride over the next ninety minutes or so. The story really gets going, however, when a group of college students arrive at Spaulding's tourist-trap gas station and novelty shop in the middle of the night. The group is writing a book about bizarre killers in US history and are immediately attracted by the collection of macabre oddities in Spaulding's shop.
The highlight of Spaulding's attractions is the "murder ride" - a hokey trip through US serial killer history provided by Spaulding and his flunky in cheesy amusement park fun house style. The climax of the murder ride is the story of "Dr. Satan", a supposed local serial killer legend in the area. Wanting more information about this infamous local legend, the group asks Spaulding for directions to the place where Dr. Satan was supposedly lynched some years before. Spaulding and the audience both know that none of the group is likely to return from the outing.
Meet the Family
Along the way to the site, the group comes upon an attractive young woman who is hitchhiking her way home. They pick her up, much to the chagrin of the women in the car, and notice right away that there is something not quite right about this woman's behavior. The woman turns out to be Baby Firefly (billed Sheri Moon, she is now known as Sheri Zombie after marrying the director), the youngest of the Firefly family. She invites the group to her home because, inevitably, car trouble has now prevented the group from leaving.
In the Firefly home we meet Mother Firefly (Karen Black in a sublime performance) and realize she is as strange as her daughter, perhaps stranger. Tiny Firefly (the late Matthew McGrory of My Giant and Big Fish) is set to work on repairing the group's vehicle.
Just as everything gets as strange as it possibly can and the group is starting to fear for their lives, Tiny announces that the repairs are complete and the group piles into the car to get away. They don't get very far, however, because Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) shows up and the real carnage begins.
More Than a Movie
The plot elements of House of 1000 Corpses borrow heavily from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the plot (which is easily forgettable) is not the reason to watch this movie. This is a horror movie made by a horror movie fan for horror movie fans. Individual scenes and shots will bring back memories of other films, reference classic B-movie moments, or even resemble movie poster and VHS/DVD box art. While people who are not fans of these sorts of films will miss these references and likely dismiss Zombie's movie as trash, others who get the references will appreciate the precision that went into recreating those elements.
It is difficult for a reviewer or even the average person to recommend this film to others, no matter how much they may have enjoyed it. It simply is not a movie for everyone, The gore factor will turn off a lot of people, as will the story, subject matter, and even the reputation of Rob Zombie for being "shocking". He may not be Marilyn Manson, but he's an odd duck for sure.
If you're not a fan of classic B-movie splatter fests, you may want to stay away from House of 1000 Corpses and instead see its sequel, 2004's The Devil's Rejects which is a much more traditional film in many ways and is also a much better film in most respects.