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Make no mistakes about it: Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses is an exercise in sadistic, inhuman, grotesque brutality. It hates all of its characters, and a good argument can be made that it has nothing but contempt for its target audience (who stayed away in droves during its initial run in theaters).

But, unlike, say, the Scream films, it doesn’t attempt to disguise its contempt for its audience with a lot of overly-clever visual gimmicks, trendy film-geek references, and smartass asides. Corpses is up-front about it, as if Zombie was saying, "Okay, you sick, twisted things, this is what you want, so here it is, right in your face and up your nose and down your throats. Gag on it." It fails as an out-and-out horror film, it fails as a black comedy, and it fails in its core intent to be an affectionate homage to the psycho-horror films of the 1970’s such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House On The Left.

But for all the levels on which it fails–and they are legion–there is a raw, primal kinetic energy to the movie that gets under your skin, no matter how much you don’t want that to happen.

All while giving you the finger from first shot to last.

In an odd sort of way, you have to respect a movie this arrogant and condescending. Yeah, it’s garbage, but it’s ingenious garbage that, for about one minute halfway through the movie, actually achieves a moment of genuine sick brilliance: one of the family of psychos which our unlucky quartet of boys and girls has encountered forces a sheriff’s deputy to kneel at gunpoint, then holds the gun in front of the deputy’s face while the camera does this slow, slow, slow pull-back to a distant overhead shot; it takes the camera almost fifty seconds to pull back and then remain still, and while this is happening there’s nothing going on–no movement, no dialogue, no music, no sound, nothing. Absolute silence. And then, once the camera has stopped moving, this silence and stillness continues for almost another twenty seconds before the psycho pulls the trigger and kills the deputy.

Here’s the thing: we know the second that deputy drops his gun and kneels down that he’s toast. We know this, we’ve seen too many horror movies not to know this, and so this unbearable, nerve-wracking, agitating silence is nothing but Zombie’s way of drawing out the dread of the moment; he knows that we know what’s coming, but he also knows that suspense and dread are not created by hyperactive editing (which he’s utilized to alarming effect thus far) but by that most precious and misunderstood element available to storytellers and filmmakers both: hesitation. There is more outright terror in a held breath than in a million deafening screams, and with this single shot, Zombie shows the audience that he knows this–and since Zombie possesses this understanding and skill as a director, you can’t help but wonder why he decided to squander it for most of Corpses 93-minute running time (which feels more like two-and-a-half hours by the time the credits roll).

Rob Zombie–for all the lambasting he’s taken from critics and audiences alike–knows precisely what’s he’s doing every step of the way.

House Of A Thousand Corpses contains almost everything I despise about the modern horror genre–the only element missing from it is that of a heterosexual couple being snuffed immediately following sex.

In short: there was–and remains–no sensible reason for me to like this movie.

But I do.

While I sat there watching it at the local dollar theater, I counted thirteen people who walked out on the movie. I sat there and all around me people were leaving, yet I watched the screen, fascinated, and suddenly found myself thinking about, of all things, the A-word: Art.

And I'll buy that for a dollar.

Movie Information

Rating: R

U.S. Run Time: 93 minutes

Writer/Director: Rob Zombie

Cast:

Sid Haig: Captain Spaulding
Bill Moseley: Otis Driftwood
Sheri Moon: Baby Firefly
Karen Black: Mother Firefly
Chris Hardwick: Jerry Goldsmith
Erin Daniels: Denise Willis
Jennifer Jostyn: Mary Knowles
Rainn Wilson: Bill Hudley
Tom Towles: Lieutenant George Wydell
Walt Goggins: Deputy Steve Naish
Matthew McGrory: Tiny Firefly
Robert Allen Mukes: Rufus 'R.J.' Firefly Jr.
Dennis Fimple: Grandpa Hugo
Harrison Young: Don Willis
William Bassett: Sheriff Drake Huston

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