“House of 1000 Corpses” 20 Years Later – A Movie The World Wasn’t Ready For in 2003

The mere mention of Rob Zombie’s name among horror circles automatically conjures up divisiveness.  Some enjoy his incredibly grotesque and intentionally unlikeable characters, while others think he goes way too far and despise what he did with the Halloween franchise.  But few horror fans will deny that his earlier work was amazing for what it was.

Known previously as a heavy metal musician, Rob Zombie first dabbled in filmmaking while directing music videos of his own songs like “Living Dead Girl” and “Dragula”.  After seeing his success with these music videos, Universal gave him a budget to make a film based on a title alone “House of 1000 Corpses” and the results were infamous.

So in honor of its 20th anniversary, we wanted to look back at House of 1000 Corpses, understand why it was so controversial upon release, and why horror fans still love it today!

Nostalgic Before It Was Cool
To be fair, we did have TV series like That 70’s Show in the late 90s/early 00s that took us back to the 70’s.  But the complete obsession with nostalgia hadn’t quite taken over yet.  So for Rob Zombie’s first feature film to be a call back to grindhouse pictures of decades past was less following a trend, and more him expressing his love for these kinds of films.

Set over Halloween weekend in the 1970s, House of 1000 Corpses is a love letter to all things Rob Zombie loves.  The entire Firefly family’s names are filled with references to Groucho Marx characters, and the whole thing is filled with extreme violence, gore, and pretty despicable characters that you come to love.

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Like Fast and Furious, it’s all about family.

In interviews promoting the film, Rob Zombie admitted that his goal was to bring horror back to the days when “it was one step above porn” in terms of prestige and grittiness.  The film’s overall gruesomeness is as nihilistic and chaotic as Otis’ worldviews, which he won’t stop talking about.  It was never really meant to be fun or lighthearted, just disturbing and horrific, and in that regard, he very much succeeded.

Another reason House of 1000 Corpses really stands out is in the experimental nature of its filmmaking style. We get random cuts to low quality footage of Otis and family torturing people, along with a random scene of a man shouting to camera that we’re all in hell.  It doesn’t all make logical sense, but it all feeds into this underground aesthetic, as if this movie is a snuff film we weren’t supposed to find.

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It’s bizarre, but unique.

The goal was to create a feeling, and that it does with endless visual creativity.  The production design conveys a hostile, violent world, but one that has an affinity for old fashioned movies, TV shows, and music.  Together this blending of the “elegant” past with extreme gore, violence, and sadism makes for something truly unique.

Granted, many prefer the follow up film The Devil’s Rejects.  And while that movie certainly has its merits, it’s much grittier and more grounded in reality.  House of 1000 Corpses has a more surrealist feel, that just makes it stand out more.

Shot in 2000, the movie wouldn’t be released until 2003 due to Universal executives watching the cut and deeming it “unreleasable”.  At the time, most big horror movies were mid-budget studio films that very much played it safe with tone and content.  Gore was starting to get toned down in favor of jump scares and PG-13 ratings that would allow teens under 17 to get it, thus boosting box office potential.

Distribution rights were then sold to Lionsgate, who was an up and comer at the time.  They specialized in all things independent and unusual.  It wouldn’t be until the Hunger Games franchise in the 2010’s that they would finally have a major blockbuster on their hands.  Point being, they understood what it was they had.

Ironically enough, many years later, Universal would finally embrace their connection with House of 1000 Corpses by featuring it prominently as one of their haunted house attractions for Universal Horror Nights.

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Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie visited the attraction and remarked at how Universal had come a long way from disowning the film to embracing it.

It was a movie that general audiences weren’t ready for in 2000, but in the wake of the post 9/11 era, films like Saw and Hostel ushered in a trend of “torture porn” which fully committed to brutal random violence with a dash of nihilism.  It was as if Rob Zombie made a movie, and then the horror landscape changed to fit that mold, whether he intended to or not.

Zombie’s Peak?
In the 20 years since House of 1000 Corpses, many horror fans have contended that Rob Zombie’s films haven’t lived up to it (or Devil’s Rejects).  To say that sort of misses the point however.  Whether it was adding surreal dream sequences to Halloween II or doing a corny PG movie like The Munsters, or making Lords of Salem at all, it’s very clear that Rob Zombie makes films for an audience of one: himself.

He never cared what critics said.  These same critics gave House of 1000 Corpses abysmal reviews.  Zombie didn’t care then, and frankly he probably doesn’t care that it’s being praised now either.  Every film he’s ever done was just what he wanted to make at the time, and that’s quite clear from what’s up on screen.

Overall, House of 1000 Corpses was ahead of its time both in terms of its use of nostalgia and torture porn level of violence.  It was and remains unapologetically gruesome and its creator Rob Zombie wasn’t really trying to impress anyone but himself.  The result is a movie that, despite what some studio executives said, is very re-watchable, and feels like a celebration of a long gone era of horror.

What do you think of House of 1000 Corpses?  What are some of your favorite Rob Zombie movies? Let us know in the comments!

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