Directed by Rob Zombie (Yes, the musician.)
Written by Rob Zombie
We've been waiting for this film for years. Rob Zombie has fought with the studios, the MPAA, and distributors to get this film released. So far, no dice.
Horror fans and Zombie fans alike have been drooling to see this piece of celluloid. You'd think that if the film ever was released, the rabid fans would seek out the film and eat it, Red Dragon style.
Earlier this year, I was at a Rob Zombie concert with Rick and Sharon. When Mr. Zombie announced that the film would be in theaters by Halloween 2002, the cheers from the audience were deafening. Or, they would have been if I hadn't already been deafened by his music... but I digress. He played the title track, accompanied by a video track that featured clips from the film. It looked like it would be some sort of funhouse ride through the usual slash-and-exploit genre. There was a carny sort of twist to it. The images were intriguing, and everyone was very excited about it.
Well, the Halloween release apparently fell through, because nobody saw hide nor hair of the film by the time the holiday rolled around.
Then, I went to the Butt-Numb-a-Thon. Sometime around 3 AM on Sunday morning, the eighth mystery movie hit the screen. Suddenly, I was watching Sid Haig in smeared clown makeup.
I turned to Jay Knowles, who was sitting next to me. "Is this what I think it is?!?" I whispered in reverence.
"It could be," he said with a sagely smile.
"Is it... House of 1000 Corpses?" I pleaded.
He grinned. "Could be..."
A few minutes later, the title appeared on the screen, and the audience went bonkers. Literally, just about everyone in the place howled with glee when they realized that they were finally going to see this film they waited so long to see.
Two hours later, the movie ended. There was a smattering of reluctant applause, accompanied by boos from the crowd. Literally, this movie got booed off the screen. Harry Knowles had his head in is hands.
It was a crushing blow. This poor movie, a labor of love with a built-in audience, was unfortunately terrible. It played badly to a house full of what should be its most ardent fans.
What went wrong?
I think the best answer is that Rob Zombie doesn't know where his real assets are. I believe that covers almost all of the problems in the film.
Let's take the opening sequence for example. Basically, the film opens at this creepy gas station that doubles as a sort of museum-of-the-macabre tourist trap. There we find Sid Haig in creepy clown makeup, living in this gaudy, carnival-like atmosphere. Everything in the place is brightly colored, yet covered in a patina of cheapness and grease.
Enter the teenagers, who are on a car trip across America. They are somewhat bland and unengaging as characters, which translates to the word "disposable" in the language of slasher flicks.
Haig's character and environment engage and swallow the screen. His banter is fascinating, and as you look at this exciting set piece, you wonder what's going to happen next. What is he going to do? Is he a freind or a foe?
This is where the movie goes wrong. Instead of lingering in this wierd carnival, Zombie instead follows the bland teenagers into the bland rainy night with the bland lightning. They are the leads in this movie, not Mr. Haig. You feel disappointed for the rest of the story.
Sure, the teenagers go off to search for a particular lynching tree and wind up stumbling upon this weird family in an isolated cabin. The Creepy Mother (Karen Black) is moderately interesting, but by this point, you can't help but think of all the other movies that have used this format since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Once the movie hits this road, there's no turning back. Zombie has an engaging visual sense at times, but he doesn't trust it, and winds up instead aping other films, particularly Natural Born Killers. Zombie has a few very talented people in his cast, but he doesn't know how to let them carry the movie, and he turns the camera away from them. And Zombie simply doesn't know how to write plot. The dialogue of the film is actually alright for a B-grade slasher flick, but there is no plot.
(Of course, B-grade slasher "plots" exist only to make the machete meet with the scantily-clad teenager, but I digress. This movie doesn't even work on that level.)
The worst part, though, is that Zombie also doesn't seem to trust in his music. I imagine he wanted to get away from the "big music video" accusations, but in this case, I think more ultra-loud Zombie music would have made the film a bit more tolerable.
In fact, a lot of excesses would have made the film more tolerable. As it is, this film exists neither as a good film in the conventional sense, nor as a good film in the B-grade slasher sense. There's not enough gore, there are not enough wisecracks, there's not enough really loud music, and -- I hate to hear myself say this, but it's true -- there's not enough gratuitous nudity. Either give us a good script, baby, or give us machetes and breasts by the dozens.
Or, at least, give us more Sid Haig in creepy clown makeup.
The film does make some ballsy moves near the end, but by that time, you just don't care. You just want to have the damn thing over with. You're not even rooting for anybody. You just want them all to die.
I hate giving this film a bad review, though, because Zombie obviously does have a genuine love for this sort of material, and there are inklings of a good director hiding in all this derivative schlock. It's actually quite likely he could be a good director if someone else wrote the material.
I do hope that Lion's Gate releases the film soon, even if it does go straight to video. If Zombie could make a few pennies off of this film, perhaps he could make another one about that weird gas station...
As far as I know, there still aren't any release plans for this film, on screen, on video, or otherwise.