HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black
written and directed by Rob Zombie
*/**** Image D Sound D
starring Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook
written and directed by Anthony Hickox
WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME (1991)
ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound C
starring Zach Galligan, Alexander Godunov, Monika Schnarre
written and directed by Anthony Hickox
by Walter Chaw Curiously, compulsively watchable in a grindhouse exploitation sort of way, neo-glam shock-rocker Rob Zombie follows in Twisted Sister Dee Snider's capering footsteps with a derivative flick that mainly goes a long way towards demonstrating how hard it is to make a coherent movie. More Richard Donner's The Goonies than Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses is a shoestring series of hyperactive camera movements and disjointed images culled from what seems too many films to count, from Bloodsucking Freaks to Near Dark to Maniac to The Serpent and the Rainbow to Halloween to Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 and so on, with no reason except to demonstrate how many horror movies Zombie has seen. The only thing missing from the picture--besides actual dread--is a helpful annotation so that youngsters intrigued can check out the real deal.
Four kids are stranded on a dark and stormy night in a house populated by colourful sickos. Without due motive save, perhaps, that Zombie's most familiar genre is music video, the picture cuts away often and erratically to a series of mini-rants shot on different stock or in a sepia scheme, offering the audience the sort of insight that its characters aren't afforded. Its main weakness is that it has no point of view, with the best moment a tongue-in-cheek one where a tribute to the hanging human artifacts of Hooper's splatter classic reveal themselves to be women's shoes.
None of which goes very far in explaining why it is that House of 1000 Corpses is so sticky a picture. The death of a father cuts to a happy Christmas (his last thought, presumably), while a pivotal slaughter sequence is scored by a nostalgic country tune. Its gratuitous nudity (played seriously) somehow more disturbing than the gratuitous gore (played for camp), that the film actually sort of works in an arduous way is a testament to the enduring fascination of redneck roadside attractions. A little like Freddy Got Fingered, the reason that House of 1000 Corpses isn't better is that Zombie pulls back a time or two, likely as a result of the much-publicized struggle to garner the film the "R" rating it had the potential to be denied, particularly had it followed through with the rape of a young woman by an attacker in a suit of her father's skin. Unsavoury at the least, now that would have been something to write about.
As it is, House of 1000 Corpses is that rare film that strives for cult status and will most likely achieve it. An agreeably perverse curiosity if not actually a good film, Zombie's debut is, in many ways, no worse than Eli Roth's much-lauded Cabin Fever--its chief shortcoming that it makes too little of its middle-class heroes, so fond of its rogue's gallery of villains that it neglects to develop the idea of civilization intruding on the homogeneity of the rural savage. The lack of a compelling subtext marks House of a 1000 Corpses as a picture of surprising promise and a laudable lack of traditional morality that hamstrings itself with too cavalier a reading of the movies it apes. It's not the money shots, it's the foreplay, and while I sort of liked it as a reminder of the socially aware horror/exploitation movies of the '70s, the picture is really just Cliff's Notes and noise.
While House of 1000 Corpses is where the Scream school of post-modern horror has come now, almost full circle back to a serious consideration of the seminal scare pics of 1970s and '80s, 1988's Waxwork finds an early iteration of the smirky, self-referential horror that Wes Craven would popularize in about eight years time. Artless and often appallingly bad, Waxwork finds Zach Galligan in the brief period of time between his brush with stardom in Joe Dante's Gremlins and his sudden decline into obscurity in a series of films that didn't disguise his shortcomings as skilfully. Paired with hot Eighties siren Deborah Foreman (you can see through the film on my VHS copy of My Chauffeur), Galligan gives a legendarily awful performance as a blueblood pining for the smutty ministrations of China (Michelle Johnson, the "Me" generation's Kim Cattrall) while ignoring the more modest charms of Foreman's mousy Sarah. Uh huh.
The scene, like Vincent Price's House of Wax, is a wax museum and, like House of 1000 Corpses, a band of teenagers are invited to experience the funhouse thrills before being subjected to, in the case of Waxwork, the literal thrills of its tableaux morte. Convoluted text outlines a plot by evil Mr. Lincoln (David Warner) to feed his waxworks a number of victims for some apocalyptic purpose, the catch being that the waxworks appear to be in a constant recreation of their crimes that "a closer look" beyond the velvet rope awakens. An intriguing premise and a nice excuse to revisit the vampire, werewolf (John Rhys Davies), mummy, zombie, and Marquis de Sade S&M genres, Waxwork is reasonably good in its horror bits and abominable in every other respect. The gore is stupid-looking but sort of fun (the highlight being a man, conscious and sort of chipper, with a de-fleshed leg being snacked on by a cannibal vampire), there's no nudity, and there's almost no profanity--it's a curiously chaste film that by its squeamishness suggests that the filmmakers were looking for a light-hearted tone à la Joe Dante. Doesn't work: With neither Dante's dark undercurrents nor gift for Tex Avary-style slapstick, Waxwork just sort of lays there for long stretches like a dead weasel. When requisite wise old guy Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee) marvels "oh my goodness" as his head is ripped off by a werewolf, it's pretty much all you need to know.
Still, Waxwork is high art compared to Waxwork II: Lost in Time, a film that returns only the by-now-hard-up-for-work Zach Galligan while doing the old bait-and-switch with every other character, including poor-man's Lori Singer (herself poor-man's Daryl Hannah) Monika Schnarre for the Deborah Foreman role of stupid bimbo née nymphet. The picture takes the first film's premise of living waxworks and replaces it with a time travel conceit that rips off "Quantum Leap"'s protagonist hopping through time inhabiting different bodies while predicting "Sliders"' idea of blue energy portals leading to alternate realities. The revelation that "Sliders" actually ripped something off Waxwork II is the most disturbing thing about this mess, which, at one point, switches scenario so jarringly, and irritatingly, that I threw the remote across the room. This is a first, and I remark upon it as such.
Like the first film, the sequel apes different films and horror sub-genres to various levels of failure, relying this time around on whimsical cartoon noises and idiot slapstick so godawful that even a fun (bordering on brilliant) cameo by Bruce Campbell fails to do much more than cause one to dream about the places this piece of shit could have gone had it actually starred Campbell. Alas, 'twas not to be, and Waxwork II, between mortal bouts of boring and a terminal case of the pathetics is--slightly better production values and bald rip-off of Goblin's Suspiria score aside--the very definition of an interminable, insufferable ordeal. As a villain gets his eyes comically popped out (boing! pop!) by an admittedly nifty-looking Frankenstein's monster, it's telling that I felt a little envious. Sharp-eyed viewers--hell, what else do you have to do?--will note cameos by Old Hollywood royalty David Carradine, Drew Barrymore, and Counselor Troi. For the curious: gore = low; nudity = nil; Alexander Godunov receiving second-billing = first warning. By the end of the pic, the whole mess isn't about time travel anymore so much as jumping around in different movies that are, to a one, much better than it.
THE DVD - HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
House of 1000 Corpses arrives on DVD from Lions Gate in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The image pops and crackles in keeping with Zombie's frenetic direction--in other words, it looks as good as Zombie allows it to look. The attached Dolby Digital 5.1 mix makes good use of all channels and booms itself through every orifice in aural simulacrum of the onscreen atrocity. A feature-length commentary reveals Zombie to be extremely articulate and personable, confessing that it took four hours to light a shot into a mop bucket and that he based the character of a key bad guy on "Johnny Winter and Charles Manson...mostly Johnny Winter." Too many offhand "I don't cares" in his narration, however, leaves me not caring much, either. (Funny, that.) Nonetheless fascinating is the revelation that many of the inserted cutaways in the film were shot with a camcorder in Zombie's basement in the year between filming ended and distribution was finally secured.
Interviews with actors Bill Moseley and Sid Haig in addition to F/X man Wayne Toth would have been better if the questions weren't like, "What's it like having an action figure of yourself?" The interview with Sheri Moon is an exercise in frustration, as not only does she not take her clothes off, she talks. A short "Making of" featurette is no more than what you'd expect while a "Behind The Scenes" featurette is apparently five minutes of unedited (and boring) B-reel stuff. "Tiny Fucked a Stump" features Haig, Moon, and Mosely taking turns telling a knock-knock joke that ends with the title of the bit; casting and rehearsals segments show casting and rehearsal footage; and trailers include the teaser and theatrical previews as well as a radio spot, with an Easter Egg under the Lions Gate symbol unveiling previews for Cabin Fever, May, and Godsend. Rounding out this fan-friendly presentation, packaged in a cardboard gatefold, is a useless and difficult-to-navigate stills gallery. The real star of the showmight be an extended one-man routine Haig does over the main menu, special to the disc and brilliant in its improvisational scatology.
THE DVD - WAXWORK/WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME
Artisan packs both Waxwork flicks onto one side of a dual-layer disc. The respective full-screen video transfers are cruddy (with the newer Waxwork II having a slight edge) and outfitted with equally awful Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks. The selling point is clearly to introduce the flicks to the format with a minimum of effort and a maximum of, "Hey, it's two bits of garbage for the price of one good film, why not buy it?" No supplements adorn this disc, and thank God for it. Originally published: October 16, 2003.