Wednesday, September 10, 2003

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I've written before about how much I loved monster movies as a little kid. My parents, thank God, were open-minded enough to trust me to know the difference between make-believe and reality. I was assisted, of course, by reading such invaluable magazines as Famous Monsters of Filmland, which often showed pictures of Karloff and the like sitting in the makeup chair, or Ray Harryhausen bending over a tiny Ymir figure, which just kinda took away the illusion for me. And the Nashville and Louisville TV stations were my enablers. I got my monster movie fix at first from the Big Show, Channel 5 Nashville, showing classic horror flicks from the 30s-60s almost every weekday afternoon, then Channel 4's Creature Features with the great Sir Cecil Creape, and Louisville's Fright Night on Channel 41 and the Late Show on Channel 32 in the 70s. Also, I read the Monster Times faithfully in my teenage years, where I also learned that there was a sub-genre of horror movie, the gore film. I was curious about these (mostly) low-budget wonders, and managed to catch many of the seminal films at the local drive-in, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left. Three big turning points, as I became a young man: first, the 1982 publication of Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, a mother lode listing of obscurities both good, bad, and good-bad; second, the rise of VHS, enabling me to indulge my new gorehound instincts, especially through the auspices of Sinister Cinema; and third, R.R. Donnelley, the printing company where I worked for 15 years, printed the gorehound's bible Fangoria magazine for several months, piquing my interest and leading me to collect it for a year or two. Heck, sometimes I was the only one that would work on it- we had several people that refused to strip it or plate it! Anyway, eventually my interest waned as the years went by, as horror films became more and more formulaic and unimaginative...but I've never lost my interest in low budget horror obscurities (mostly, I must admit, 50s sci-fi and giant-monster films) from the 20s through the 70s.

Rob Zombie's childhood was similar to mine, I think, in this respect anyway. Zombie has made a career out of working drive-in double feature roadshow spookhouse imagery and fright film sound clips into his music, album packaging and stage image, and he made, a couple of years ago, a movie of his own. Its theatrical release was delayed for a long while, and it's just now been released on DVD. This film is titled House of 1000 Corpses, and I had the opportunity to watch it last night. I wish I could tell you that it's freakishly good fun and a blast to watch, but I can't. Sure, it's bursting at the seams with nightmarish gore imagery, horrible depraved creatures and screaming people...but it somehow manages to be completly derivative and totally unoriginal, and is extremely dull because of it. Zombie tries to be Herschell G. Lewis, T.V. Mikels, Ray Dennis Steckler, Al Adamson, and Andy Milligan all at the same time, and it just becomes too much after a while. There's not a single thing you haven't already seen in this film, if you've seen the likes of (to name but a few) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shriek of the Mutilated, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Bloodsucking Freaks aka The Incredible Torture Show, The Corpse Grinders, or (just to pull one more out of my ear) The Ghastly Ones. Such blatant unimaginitivity is extremely disappointing, because Zombie obviously has good intentions...but apparently is just too determined to wear his influences on his sleeve. He tries to liven up the procedings by using a number of MTV video-ish visual tricks, but it just adds to the disjointed nature of the proceedings. Hopefully next time (if he gets a second chance) he'll be a little less inclined to give us a Cliffs Notes version of the gore films he loves and obviously knows and more interested in coming up with something fresh.

The film's not a complete disaster, though- these less-than-fresh goings on are convincingly staged and the gore effects- while nothing elaborate- are good, plus there are a couple of attention-getting performances by veteran Z-movie actor Sid Haig as a braying cross between Steven King's Pennywise, Foghorn Leghorn and Zippy the Pinhead, and Shary Moon, in her film debut, coming across as a psychotic Kate Hudson type who lip-syncs Helen Kane singing "I Wanna Be Loved By You" in a demented stage show put on by her nutjob family. She's pretty sexy walking around with her ass cheeks hanging out of what seems to be a pair of bellbottomed pajamas. Karen Black, who has "I coulda been a big star" written all over her face and her collagen-swelled lips, has a role as the matriarch of the family. She can take consolation, I suppose, that such luminaries as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles also starred in low budget horror films at the end of their careers.

If you are disposed to like this sort of thing, and are curious, check out House of 1000 Corpses. You won't be disappointed if you don't expect much.