OHMC 2016: The Warm-Up Post

OctoberChallenge2010

It’s getting to be that time of year again, the October Horror Movie Challenge. As the image above says, 31 days – 31 movies – no excuses. For those unfamiliar with the Challenge, the standard requirements are to watch 31 horror films in the month of October, with at least 16 of those films as first time views (FTVs). Some people go bigger than that, logging a hundred or more (!) films for the month, which I’ve tried and let me tell you: it was not fun. Some people just stick to the 31/16 model, which is what I tend to do these days.

Last year, I started blogging the Challenge, but failed to finish writing up beyond week one’s films. I’m genuinely disappointed in myself for this! I did manage to meet the requirements, though; here was my watchlist from 2015 (particular FTV favorites noted with a *):

Creep (FTV)*
The Monster Squad
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Curse of Chucky (FTV)
Here Comes The Devil (FTV)
The Visit (FTV)*
The Hunchback of the Morgue (FTV)
Brain Damage (FTV)*
April Fool’s Day (the 80s one)
Attack the Block
Freaks
The Thing
Harbinger Down (FTV)
Child’s Play
Demons
Demons 2
Inferno
Deep Red
Unfriended (FTV)*
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Dolls
Curtains (FTV)*
Crimson Peak (FTV)*
Robot Monster
Tenebre
Sinister
The Ring
Re-Animator
The Wolfman (the Benicio del Toro one)
The Wolf Man
Frankenstein
Dracula (FTV) (the original!)
House of Wax (the Vincent Price one)
Goosebumps (FTV)
Cooties (FTV)*
Found (FTV) (fwiw, I HATED THIS MOVIE)
The Sacrament
Son of Godzilla (FTV)*
Godzilla vs. Monster Zero
The Conjuring
Drácula (FTV)* (the Spanish one! I thought it was better than the Lugosi version, even)
Maniac Cop (FTV)*
The Watcher in the Woods (FTV)
The ‘Burbs
Hocus Pocus
Dead Weight
Jurassic Park
Trick ‘r Treat

Overall, it was a pretty good year. A lot of old-favorite-padding in there, but otherwise solid for FTVs. Only a couple of stinkers, which is pretty good considering the horror genre can be a real minefield at times.

I wanted to get a kind of jump-start on writing for the Challenge again as well, since I haven’t posted anything for almost a year, so I decided to revisit Robert Zombie’s first two films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

house-of-1000-corpses-victims
Forget these people, they are in no way relevant to this film.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Director: Robert Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, Karen Black

In this live-action RZ song set in 1977, a group of four road-trippers stop for fuel at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Mayhem-slash-Fried Chicken Shack and Gas Hole. Rather conveniently, they also happen to be writing a book about weird roadside attractions throughout the U.S. Hitting the jackpot with Spaulding’s collection of jarred roadkill and feegee mermaids, the hapless kids also learn about local legend S. Quentin Quale (a pun on slang term for jail bait, ha ha), also known as Dr. Satan. They take a detour to find the tree Dr. Satan was hung from – for the book, y’know – and end up picking up a sexy, young hitchhiker. Surely you’re aware by now that this will not end well?

I remember seeing House of 1000 Corpses in the theater with my brother and thinking there was never a more perfect visual representation of RZ’s audio aesthetic. In retrospect, that’s probably not a good thing in terms of storytelling, because RZ’s songs don’t really tell stories. They tend to throw verbal images at you instead, which brings me back to Ho1KC. There’s the bare whiff of a story – kids go off on an adventure, find a really weird family of killers, get killed, the end – and RZ tries to evoke more classic horror films with nods here and there to the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but he never quite captures the spark of those earlier movies. I’ve since lost the original source for this thought, but it’s clear that with Ho1KC, RZ has watched a lot of horror films, but he hasn’t learned anything from them.

That said, I still enjoyed revisiting the film. It was exactly as I remembered it – goofy and over the top, filled with strange disconnected interludes, and cast really well. I think RZ’s best quality early in his filmmaking career is being able to find the right people for the part. He managed to dig up a handful of 70s exploitation and horror favorites, casting Sid Haig (Spider Baby; literally every Jack Hill film) as the crusty old clown Captain Spaulding, Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror; Burnt Offerings) as the murderous Firefly family matriarch, and Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) as a doomed sheriff’s lieutenant. That RZ doesn’t cast them in just cameo roles as a wink to the audience is refreshing as well. You can also credit RZ for kicking Bill Moseley’s career in the seat of the pants – the last time Moseley was given a role as good as albino Manson stand-in Otis Driftwood was when he was spitting out lines like “Lick my plate, you dog dick!” as Chop-Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

I can’t fully recommend House of 1000 Corpses to just anyone. You have to appreciate Zombie’s musical stylings, or not be too concerned with silly fluff like “plot” and “character development.”  However, if you’re very very forgiving, and enjoy things like broken down haunted house rides, watching old horror films on TV hosted by a washed-up old fart in bad makeup, and decorating your house for Halloween with jars of dead animal fetuses, have I got a movie for you.

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God, take a bath, ffs.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Robert Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe

The Firefly clan is back for more shenanigans, but this time instead of cheeky and fun, the shenanigans are cruel and tragic. Evil shenanigans! In The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie gives us a little more meat and connective tissue between the members of the family – Captain Spaulding (Haig) is Baby’s (Moon Zombie) dad! He’s got a black half-brother, played by Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead ’78)! Otis (Moseley, curiously not albino here) has no relation to any of these people, but he’s still an asshole! RZ also turns the material from the previous film incredibly dark. It seems odd, but there was a kind of…whimsy?…to House of 1000 Corpses that’s missing here. Our director has decided to go straight into stone-faced exploitation territory here, and while there are a couple of lighter moments, they don’t last long enough to matter.

Ah yes, but what about the story this time? Well, remember Lieutenant George Wydell (Tom Towles) from the first film? Turns out he has a brother, Ruggsville County Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), and boy-oh-boy, is he pissed as hell! Nobody goes around killing his brother and gets away with it. Before the opening credits kick in, the cat-and-mouse game is set into motion, and the Firefly family is on the run from someone who might even be more sick than them. It’s safe to say that there are no protagonists here – everyone is awful, even characters who are supposed to have some kind of moral compass. All that gets thrown aside.

What’s left is a dark and troubling film, soaked in grue and long diatribes against God and who knows what else. Once again, RZ is unfettered by the rules of storytelling, getting right to the gristle and bone of horror: the images. Oh, how there are several memorable images here, the greatest being the film’s drawn-out ending, set to the entire length of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” It’s a heady blend of growing skill behind the camera and the deeply masturbatory nature of RZ’s sensibilities. This is why I constantly go back and forth on The Devil’s Rejects: it’s shot really well, put together like a real film instead of a half-assed music video, but it’s alarmingly hollow.

Once again, the real MVPs are the cast, with Haig leading the way and Forsythe putting to film some of his best work. Moseley again gets most of the good dialogue, and Leslie Easterbrook (the Police Academy series) makes a fine replacement for Karen Black as Mother Firefly. The Devil’s Rejects is technically better than House of 1000 Corpses, in the literal sense, but it’s far more difficult to watch. Even so, it’s the more memorable of the two, just unfortunately for some very disturbing reasons.

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