By Casey Campbell
Zombie’s directorial debut left me sick, though not for the reasons he would have wanted. The story plodded on with no real characters or motivations. The editing was inconsistent and frustrating. The acting was forced and poor. Save an interesting third act, the film lacks heart and quite liberally takes from other, better, horror films before it. I was sick of watching it by the middle of it’s runtime.
From the opening, grainy shots of the film, I was sure I was getting into something that is Zombie’s own vision. Having heard positive things about his debut, it was safe to say I was anticipating a relatively unique work from this musician turned filmmaker. What I found was a sloppily made mess, in which the writer/director took aspects and plot lines of other, more original films, and mushed them all together.
Corpses opens with an advertisement on a TV and introduces Sid Haig, in what is easily the best character in the film. Haig’s clown make-up wearing Captain Spaulding is shown to be the owner and operator of a roadside gas station/monster movie attraction/ fried chicken eatery. After swiftly dealing with an attempted robbery, Spaulding and the audience are introduced to the “protagonists,” if that’s what you would call them. These main characters are vapid teenagers who you wholeheartedly don’t care for, even when the inevitable shit hits the fan. After prompting the most obnoxious of the teens (a longer haired Chris Hardwick) to visit another attraction, the group leaves Spaulding’s store, and the story loses any steam it could have maintained, had Haig stuck around. They are then captured and tortured by a sadistic family. Neither the teenagers nor the family are given any character development, making me question why anything presented on screen is of any importance.
With such poor acting from the rest of the cast, and a plot ripped straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), it is no surprise that I was ready to shut the movie off. I chugged on, though, baring with the choppy and varying styles of editing used throughout. For some reason, Zombie uses far too many cuts to a grainy 16mm style footage, which adds nothing to the action or characters, and simply looks horribly helmed. These aspects aligned to create a rather unfrightening experience. Until the third act, that is.
Though the third act is in no way a saving grace to the film, it surprised me, unnerved me, and excited me. The film had been grounded in realism from the start. It was just a slasher film about a crazy family in the middle of nowhere that decide to have violent fun with their naive teenage prisoners. It was grounded in realism in the sense that supernatural elements were not present. After a bizarre ceremony, the film turns on it’s head, and I had an absolute blast.
Otherworldly elements added much needed tension and surprise. I genuinely had no idea what was happening or what was going to happen, and I loved it. Zombies (I think?) crept out of a muddy tomb, a ghoulish room of creeps were introduced, and a Mad Max-esque creature named Dr. Satan interested the hell out of me. It was such a fun turn of events for this film that had just gotten away with the blatant robbery of Texas Chainsaw and it’s plot.
But even the one great element of the film was soiled by the last scene, which was frustrating due to it’s coincidental nature. We had just seen that character dressed completely differently in one of Zombie’s many cut-aways, so why place that character here? Basically, plot contrivances left me with a bad taste in my mouth, having just enjoyed the final act.
A fun and disarming third act could not save this overall mess of shoddy editing and weak writing.
Buy here: House of 1000 Corpses