House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
With House of 1000 Corpses, rocker Rob Zombie set out to make his first film a balls-to-the-wall, insanely over-the-top splatter fest of depravity and, despite the best efforts of Universal, MGM and the Motion Picture Association of America, he did just that.
While you have to admire Zombie's persistence, unless you fall into the small but loyal following of the sadomasochistic horror subgenre, House of 1000 Corpses isn't very good.
Which certainly can't be blamed on Zombie the director, who proves adept at visceral carnage and stylish camerawork. However, Zombie the writer leaves much to be desired.
Stealing almost the entire plot from the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies (even casting Part 2 crazy Bill Moseley as another backwoods nutjob), the movie opens with a quartet of youths on a lonely stretch of backroad.
Two of the road-trippers (Chris Hardwicke and Rainn Wilson) are researching a book on out of the ordinary roadside attractions and, along with their girlfriends (Jennifer Jostyn and Erin Daniels, both much too hot to be with these two sci-fi geeks), they decide to stop at a run-down sideshow called Captain Spaulding's, which boasts the irresistible combo of a death ride, gas and fried chicken.
While partaking in the Captain's gruesome ride, they become acquainted with the legend of Doctor Satan, a local physician who performed grisly experiments on his patients before being hung by a lynch mob. The good Captain (Sid Haig) is nice enough to draw the doomed travelers a map to Doc Satan's hanging tree, and all hell predictably breaks loose when they pick up bumpkin hitchhiker Sheri Moon and end up at the house of her cannibalistic, satanic and generally psychotic family.
As if Zombie's plot weren't full of enough homages,the director fills the cast with a bevy of schlock icons, including Karen Black as the family's sex pot matriarch, the always-weird Michael J. Pollard as one of Spaulding's bizarre buddies and, in what qualifies as the film's only half-way decent performance, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Tom Towles as a curious local cop.
Though it fluctuates between derivative and incomprehensible, it isn't the inane plot that prevents Zombie's film from achieving the cult status it so desperately strives for.
It's Zombie's increasingly tiresome preference for disturbing titillation over tension and terror that sinks the film, with the violence in the same vein of the demeaning perversity of Wes Craven's still repellent Last House on the Left.
Despite Zombie's reverence for the genre and calculated attempts to craft House of 1000 Corpses in the image of the 1970s splatter fests he so loves, the movie never approaches the fright or campy fun of the films it wishes to emulate.
But it's good to know that somebody is out there trying.