Shock-rocker Rob Zombie's loving homage to flat-out nasty horror films of the 1970s will leave many post-SCREAM (1996) horror fans cold because of what it's not. It's not slick or glossy. It's not funny or self-referential. And it's not much fun, just as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978) both clear influences on Zombie's...read more
Shock-rocker Rob Zombie's loving homage to flat-out nasty horror films of the 1970s will leave many post-SCREAM (1996) horror fans cold because of what it's not. It's not slick or glossy. It's not funny or self-referential. And it's not much fun, just as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978) both clear influences on Zombie's movie debut really aren't much fun. It is ugly in the distinctively washed out, grainy, slightly burned manner of low-budget '70s films gory and single-mindedly mean, none of which is a criticism since that's exactly what it wants to be. Two young couples, Bill and Mary (Rainn Wilson, Jennifer Jostyn) and Jerry and Denise (Chris Harwick, Erin Daniels), are on a road trip, scoping out off-the-beaten-track roadside attractions. At an isolated gas station/museum of macabre curiosities, they persuade the clown-faced proprietor (Sid Haig) to take them on the murder ride, a carnival-car trip through dioramas devoted to infamous killers Ed Gein, Albert Fish, Lizzie Borden and local luminary Quentin Quayle, better known as "Dr. Satan," who tortured patients at nearby mental hospital. Dr. Satan was hanged by an angry mob, but his body disappeared and was never found... What's more, the hanging tree is just down the road a-piece, and Jerry insists they visit it, even though it's late and pouring down rain. They pick up a giggly hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon) and wind up at her ramshackle place, where it's always Halloween, if the freak-show decor is anything by which to judge. Baby's kin include blowsy sexpot Mother Firefly (Karen Black), hideously burned giant Tiny (Matthew McGrory), brawny Rufus (Robert Nukes), Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple) and raving head-case Otis (Bill Moseley); their family activities lean to kidnapping, torturing and murdering unwary cheerleaders, children and numbskulls who think creepy stuff is boss. The inevitable unpleasantness ensues. Born out of Zombie's 1999 stint designing the Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Night maze, the film feels like a low-rent spook house ride, its seediness an essential part of the experience. Universal originally bankrolled the picture but got cold feet because of its "visceral tone and intensity." MGM later briefly picked it up and dropped it Universal and MGM being the studios that made the glossy cannibal picture HANNIBAL (2001) before Lions Gate finally put Zombie's creepshow in theaters a full two years after it was completed.
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