I saw House of 1000 Corpses in the theater, and hated it. It was just an incoherent mess of “in your face” nonsensical images of people acting really, really craaaa-zeee. The only thing that kept me there was the hot, hot sheriff played by Tom Towles, and when he died, I walked out.
When this movie, the sequel, came out, I had no intention of revisiting that experience, but it kept getting such good reviews, and I heard personal recommendations as well, so I put it on my rental list and was eager to see it. Although the filmmaking skill has certainly come a long way in the meantime, and we didn’t have such an incoherent music video feel, the general ugliness and pointlessness of the proceedings left me very cool on this one as well.
The movie begins with someone in what struck me as a silly voice reading the titles on the screen out loud, a la Alone in the Dark. This seems to me pretty much a direct admission that you think the audience you expect for your film can’t read very well. We then see a guy dragging a nude female corpse through a woods. One gets a sense of the sexual sadism this movie is asking its audience to participate in as we get several loving shots directly at the corpses’ breasts, and up her cunt and ass. And we’re only just beginning…
We then join our antiheroes as they sleep in a farmhouse, with police swarming all around outside. There’s Baby and Otis from the first movie, and their mother. There is a big shoot-out, shot with direction that does a good job of conveying the messy excitement of the whole thing, and Otis and Baby escape, while the mother is caught and brought into custody. We are introduced to Sheriff Wydell, the brother of the Tom Towles character from the first movie, who is on a personal mission to avenge his brother’s death and kill the psychopaths in his midst. The “badness” of the main characters is boosted by repeatedly using overlayed snippets of news reports that talk about how very, very evil these people are and all the mangled bodies they’ve left in their wake. It’s a little bit like Con Air in how desperately it’s trying to be really, really bad and in-your-face.
During this time we have a lot of evocation of 70s horror techniques and shots. Which didn’t work for me. You know, a lot of the “techniques’ of the revered horror films of the 70s weren’t so much accomplished technique as they were lack of filmmaking skill and lack of budget. So to purposely make your film look like a poorly-made, low-budget film, to me is a little disingenuous. It’s like those $200 jeans that are supposed to make a person [who can afford $200 jeans] look like they’ve been working in [or have ever come into contact with] dirt.
Around this time you also notice that this film has a very dark, sadistic sense of humor. There is a funny juxtaposition with Captain Spaulding [the clown guy] having sex with a hot whore, then waking up with a fat old woman. He then goes into the bathroom to take a piss, and there’s a funny juxtaposition when the next thing we see is coffee pouring into a cup.
So the killers go on running and escaping, killing and holding various people hostage along the way. This is when the movie slows down to invite it’s audience to vicariously participate in the extreme sadism of its heroes, as they sexually humiliate, rape and kill their hostages. I was holding up to it, but the movie lost me when Baby started having her female victims hit each other and then kiss her. You will know that this film is willing to try anything to be as badass and nasty as it possibly can when they have one of the victims wear her [former] boyfriend’s carved-off face. But you know, who really wants to be nasty and violent for its own sake? Traditionally, 13-year-old boys, and those who never grew out of this phase. So if that’s you, go for it.
It must be said that one of the complicating factors [for me] is that I found Bill Mosely as Otis to be absolutely, stunningly gorgeous. With his beautiful full beard and crinkly blue eyes [along with that whole roadside psychopath vibe, so alluring…which is part of what this movie is banking on]. It made me feel a little ambivalent about my reaction to the whole thing, especially the extremely sexualized killings. Anyway, let it be said that for those who are turned on to rednecky guys with mustaches and macho attitudes and police uniforms, etc… this movie is chock full of ‘em.
Even this, however, goes a little too far into silly cliché land when we have a redneck with his shirt up over his fat belly [below], and when Sheriff Wydell kicks a simpering film critic out of his office for insulting “the king” [that's Elvis]. Oh, and we DO have a not-so-subtle dig at movie critics inserted quite conspicuously front and center of this film. Could it be that Mr. Zombie did not appreciate the reaction to his first film? Seems that way. But you know, a 13-year-old boy calling you a jerk [for not liking his piece-of-shit film] really is not the most devastating insult an adult can endure, and I suspect that Roger Ebert was able to make it through this film without feeling his entire career called into question.
Zombie has said that this movie is not about glorifying violence, but to show how awful violence is, and that we shouldn’t sympathize with the killers. Is he just outright lying? Or does he actually believe this? I am tempted to believe that he is just outright lying, and that’s something his publicist told him to say, because even he can’t be so stupid as to think that a 90-minute movie detailing several forms of sadistic torture detailed with considerable erotic excitement—which becomes the only reason an audience comes to see the movie—is somehow about how BAD all that torture is. People don’t need to see a movie like this to know that violence is bad, or even how bad it is. Furthermore, people don’t need to see a movie at all to know that someone carving your boyfriend’s face off and making you wear it as a mask… I don’t know, I ask you, dear reader, do you know that that kind of thing is bad? Or do you feel that you would need to sit through a 90-minute movie about it in order to know for sure? Furthermore, I hope he’s being completely disingenuous when he says that the point of the film is not to glorify the killers. Even he must know that when you present the killers striking poses in homemade armor and laying waste to a bunch of cops in cool slo-mo, that the 14-year old-boys in your audience are NOT thinking what terrible people these are. When you give the female killer’s body extensive leering coverage—and when she’s as hot and hillbilly-glamorous as she is in this film—you aren’t showing how very terrible this all is. And when they all go raging out in a slow-motion blaze of glory to an extended rock song about being “free as a bird,” it’s NOT about how horrible these people are, and how we should all be glad that they’re dead. Is he just lying? Is he just stupid? Or is he just in even less control of his film than it seems?
Suddenly the infantile swipe at film critics makes a lot more sense.
It goes on. About 50 minutes in I suddenly became utterly bored. So the fast-forwarding began. I didn’t miss much, as the entire film is essentially protracted scenes of torture interspersed with the family of killers bickering. There was nothing here I found scary, just unpleasant. At the very end, we get the big, shocking point that the man of the law is every bit as sadistic as the killers themselves. Woah dude, take a second to get your head around THAT! Fuck man, that is some deeeep shit.
I wouldn’t. But if you did you wouldn’t be completely wasting your time. And you know you’re going to anyway.