By Doug Brunell | June 11, 2003

When I finally got the opportunity to see House of 1000 Corpses, I was prepared for a massive disappointment due to the reviews that had surfaced. I originally had high hopes for the film, and those were only re-enforced when studio after studio rejected the movie for various reasons. Lions Gate picked it up and ran with it, though, and that’s when the bad reviews started. Even horror fans hated the film. The movie I almost gave up on ever seeing was starting to sound like a waste of money and time, but I wanted to find out for myself.

The critics were wrong.

Rob Zombie’s debut movie came to Humboldt County a few weeks after opening in select cities. I dragged my newly pregnant wife along with me to the mall to see the first Saturday morning showing and braved some reject with a lazy eye begging me for fifty cents as I stood in line waiting for the box office to open. Once I purchased our tickets, my wife and I entered the theatre, where I told her I wouldn’t be upset if she left (she’s not a huge horror movie fan). She decided to stay, but probably regretted that decision when a few rednecks straight out of the movie sat behind us. These smelly disasters of humanity apparently didn’t leave the shack much, as witnessed by their extremely loud conversation during the opening of the movie. They pretty much shut up, though, once the blood began to flow.

Make no mistake, House of 1000 Corpses is not a perfect movie. There is a lot of filler stuff in between scenes that was there to heighten the mood, but only served as a distraction. In my opinion, however, the film works. It’s inspired by late ’70s and early ’80s horror movies, and my first reaction (and my wife’s) was that it seemed a lot like “Tourist Trap,” which I think is a great film. (Incidentally, my wife really disliked House of 1000 Corpses. At the final scene, she screamed, “F**k! That’s it?” Then she bolted from the theatre.)

Hours after watching the film, I kept asking myself, “Am I wrong? Are the critics correct in panning this? Why did I like it?” I eventually came to the conclusion that I felt positive about the movie because it did what it set out to do, and it did it well. The harsh criticism it has received just may change Zombie’s sequel — if he decides to listen to the critics.

Writer/director Zombie had a lot of problems getting this film distributed; studios didn’t want to deal with it. Universal, for which Zombie originally made the film, wiped its hands of the whole thing because it wouldn’t release a movie so “disturbing.” Then, once it did get released, the film garnered nothing but bad reviews. When Zombie films his Lions Gate sequel (due in April 2004), he just may go with what he thinks horror fans want to see and avoid giving them what he thinks they deserve. That would be a mistake.

Mainstream audiences want to feel comfortable with a horror film. They want a few good scares (where somebody jumps out from behind a door or pops out of the shadows). They want sexy girls wearing little or no clothes. They want some blood. They want CGI in place of latex. They want happy endings that let them go home and safely fall asleep. This is why “Scream” did so well. They don’t want House of 1000 Corpses because it’s messy and it doesn’t exactly let you rest easy at the end. Director David Fincher had similar problems with “Se7en.”

When Fincher did screenings for “Se7en” with its various endings, people left the theatres expressing the belief that whoever was responsible for the film be shot. They didn’t like the grim conclusion (and the original climax Fincher wanted was even darker than what we got), and it didn’t fit in with what audiences have come to expect in a film. Zombie’s film doesn’t fit what horror audiences expect in their genre of choice, either, and that can only be a good thing.

If horror fans want movies as predictable as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” then they should stick with the Jason and Freddy franchises. You know what you’re getting going in, and there isn’t a lot of thinking involved. If they want something more, however, they need to start judging films on their own merits. There are valid criticisms of Zombie’s first feature, but it didn’t deserve the rough treatment it got in the hands of many critics (most of whom didn’t even understand what he was doing). If Zombie takes the bad reviews to heart, we can be assured his sequel will be a financial success and a colossal failure. Whose fault will that be? If you answered “Zombie’s,” you still don’t get it.

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