The road to the multiplex has been a long and exhaustive one for Rob Zombie's directorial debut, "House of 1,000 Corpses." Originally slated for theatrical release during the summer of 2001, the picture ended up in movie limbo when Universal Studios unexpectedly decided to shelve it. Two years later, a deal with Lions Gate has enabled the film to finally slither its way onto the silver screen.
According to Zombie, Universal had deemed his movie "too violent to distribute." Since when is relentlessly torturing four inept teen-agers or dancing around in someone else's skin "too violent"? It wasn't in 1974, when "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" made its theatrical run. Nor were such shenanigans an issue when that film's far more visceral sequel, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," played in the mid-1980s. What's wrong with our generation of censors, anyway?
Yet even though Zombie's debut holds up as an entertaining trip to the movies, it doesn't connect with the impact of its predecessors. To place the blame at the scripted level would hardly be fair: It's clear that this movie isn't relying on a plot for much of anything. The story revolves around a handful of teens whose curiosity leads them into the clutches of a family of backwoods murder junkies. From that point forward, the film is an odd mixture of flashy, new-wave editing and the occasional grainy montage of classic horror images. The obvious intention was to re-create the feeling of uneasiness or uncertainty imparted by a genuinely good genre film.
Sadly, the final theatrical print -- decided upon after much argument and controversy -- just does not dish out the gore to the expected degree. Zombie's target audience has been waiting almost two years to be appalled; instead of something "offensive," they receive a dry retread of a franchise that last saw the light of a projector nearly two decades ago. "House of 1,000 Corpses" pays blatant homage to the Chainsaw Massacre flicks, all the way down to the casting of cult icon Bill Moseley as one of the lead lunatics. You may remember the actor's role in "TCM2" as the boisterous psychopath who was constantly scraping the skin off the top of his scalp with a coat hanger. His presence in Zombie's film is undoubtedly its saving grace.
It isn't often that a horror film with any redeeming qualities makes a theatrical run, and "House of 1,000 Corpses" is not out to redefine its genre. But fright fans can take greater solace in the knowledge that a completely uncut DVD -- promised to Zombie in the course of his negotiations with Lions Gate -- is already scheduled for release. In the meantime, this resharpened Chainsaw is all we've got.
Scott Gabbey is the editor and publisher of Ultra Violent (www.uvmagazine.com), a biannually published magazine for fans of horror and exploitation cinema.