Some horror films succeed thanks to a carefully constructed atmosphere of dread, conveyed through a minimalist soundtrack and disconcerting cinematography. Others succeed with nuanced, subtle performances in a bare-bones, unsettling story.
House of 1000 Corpses isn’t one of those films.
Its cinematography is all over the place: Zombie knows where to place a camera, but his editing rhythm is erratic and he jumps between palettes and styles spasmodically, often within one scene. It’s difficult to have any sense of coherency, to know what’s actually happening in a particular scene. Consequently the film simply isn’t scary.
But scary isn’t exactly what the film is going for. Instead, it’s a loving pastiche of countless horror films, thrown together with a punk-rock, anything-goes mentality. Sure, it might be jumpy and hyperactive, but it’s an experience rather than a coherent story; absurdist horror imagery paired with aggressive, thumping soundtrack (like a music video stretched to feature length) and featuring transfixing performances from Bill Moseley and Sid Haig. There’s just so many ideas here… and quite a few of them are good.
House of 1000 Corpses has many shortcomings, born of excessive ambition and insufficient ability, but I found it interesting enough to forgive them.