Take Your Momma Home Some Fried Chicken: ‘House of 1,000 Corpses (2003)’

As some may know, I was bitten by the acting bug at the age of 14. No wait, disregard that. Not because the statement in itself is not truthful but because I used that old cliched “acting bug” phrase. That implies a level of excitement I can’t really attach to my decision to run about a stage in tights reciting Shakespeare with my Evil Dead t-shirt carefully concealed beneath my armor. Being bit by the “acting bug” conjures up images of that insanely underrated giant squishy monster epic starring Gunnar Hansen of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Mosquito. Or maybe Ticks, starring a young Seth Green. Suffice it to say, the special kind of Lyme disease those suckers would spread is more likely to cause Macdeath than Macbeth.

I’d prefer to dissociate my experience from all oversize mutant insect passion plays righter here, right now, by admitting it was a rash decision made only to appease my teacher, who was head of the drama department. Oh, and to insure my A+ report card that was rewarded with $5 an A and $3 a B from my folks. Looking back on it, a block class structure that meant 4 classes per semester would have earned me a whopping $20. With no bills that wasn’t half bad. That was decent horror flick money in those days. Like on VHS from K-Mart. Now I’m dating myself.

Speaking of which, one of those movies bought with report card money was Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses. How does that tie back into my acting story? Well, after I got the chance to take classes with a Model and Talent company in Akron, OH, I was selected for participation in the International Model and Talent convention in Los Angeles, CA. All based on the strength of my out-of-the-box rendition of  the Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madman TV ad from House of 1,000 Corpses. That would be the first time, as unlikely as that may seem, that Rob Zombie would be involved in a rather big moment in my life. Not the last. In fact, since I needed a monologue to compete with in LA, I raided the Zombie dialogue chambers once more. I selected Otis Driftwood’s deranged incomprehensible cheerleader tirade from his first appearance in the early part of the film. In an announcement that still shatters my universe to this day, it won me 3rd place. My sitcom competition, with a more polished commercial script provided by the judges, won me 1st place but I was more proud of the monologue. I even told Bill Moseley (Otis) as much when I had a chance to meet him at a horror convention a few years later.

What a great monologue it is too. The plot of House of 1,000 Corpses is pretty much the plot of every other city folks lost in the backwoods flick made between 1973 and 1988, which is to say: said city folks do in fact get lost in the backwoods and rather predictably fall prey to a family of dental hygiene-rejecting Southerners with tomahawks, 38s, hunting knives, and a big deformed sibling with inhuman strength. Got all that? Check. Let’s move on.

The most interesting thing about this movie is it was perhaps the first of that new wave of horror flicks to really come home or embrace the conventions and tropes of the genre thought to have been forever ruined by Wes Craven’s brilliant genre dissection Scream (1996). Rob Zombie was obviously unfazed by the media’s perpetuation of the myth that the slasher era was effectively over. This of course, proved to be a terribly premature assumption, and incredible validation on Zombie’s part, with the massive success of Saw the following year. But Zombie got there first. He proved there was still steam in that old  human skin mask engine, so to speak, and gave us what stands today as the last truly great Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff to emerge from the American collective consciousness. A film in all ways superior to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake which debuted the same year.

House was made with admirable conviction. It featured a cast comprised of genre fan favorites (Tom Towles, Karen Black, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Michael J Pollard, Irwin Keyes, and Dennis Fimple) and a spontaneous creative energy that could have only been generated by the collusion of these over-the-top personalities and a writer/director with a serious love for the genre.

This movie has all the necessary pieces of a beautiful nightmare: women in cages, a psychopathic clown, a freak show tourist trap, bunny suits, pit zombies, a mad doctor, Universal Horror film references, an impromptu hillbilly stand up show, spooky underground tunnels, fried chicken, a slime spewing axe-wielding maniac in goggles, and an eclectic soundtrack featuring The Ramones, Buck Owens, Slim Whitman, and a cover of the classic Commodores tune ‘Brick House’ featuring Lionel Richie, Trina, and Rob Zombie himself. Perfection.

Be sure to look out for future stars Walton Goggins (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight) and Rainn Wilson (The Office, The Rocker, Super).

The principle cast would return 2 years later for The Devil’s Rejects and then, sadly, Zombie lost his film-making mojo. Okay, you got me, The Haunted World of El Super Beasto was pretty good and The Lords of Salem was well-directed even if the story makes about as much sense as someone allergic to peanuts interviewing for a position at Jif. Those Halloween flicks and 31 though? Well, I’ll save those reviews for another day. Enjoy this masterpiece now. 4/4 Stars.

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