House of 1000 Corpses is a 2003 American exploitation horror film written, co-scored and directed by Rob Zombie in his directorial debut. The film stars Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, and Karen Black as members of the Firefly family. Set on Halloween, the film sees the Firefly family torturing and mutilating a group of teenagers who are traveling across the country writing a book. Zombie cited American horror films The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) as influences on House of 1000 Corpses, as well as other films released during the 1970s.
Initially filmed in 2000, House of 1000 Corpses was purchased by Universal Pictures; thus, a large portion of it was filmed on the Universal Studios backlots. The film was made with a budget of $7 million. Zombie worked with Scott Humphrey on the score of the film. House of 1000 Corpses featured a graphic amount of blood and gore as well as controversial scenes involving masturbation and necrophilia. The project was ultimately shelved by the company prior to its release due to fears of an NC-17 rating. Zombie later managed to re-purchase the rights to the work, eventually selling it to Lions Gate Entertainment. The film received a theatrical release on April 11, 2003, nearly three years after filming had concluded. Zombie later directed the film's sequel, The Devil's Rejects (2005), in which the Firefly family are on the run from the police. Zombie directed 3 from Hell, the sequel to The Devil's Rejects, which was released in 2019.
Among film critics, House of 1000 Corpses received a generally negative reaction following its release. The film was critically panned, with critics disapproving of the film's various side-plots and main cast. The film earned over $3 million in its opening weekend, and went on to gross over $16 million worldwide. Despite its initial negative reception, the film went on to develop a cult following. Zombie later developed a haunted house attraction for Universal Studios Hollywood based on the film. This was the final film performance of Dennis Fimple before his death in August 2002, and the film was dedicated to his memory.
House of 1000 Corpses begins with the tale of four youths: nerdy Bill Hudley, his hyper and wise-cracking friend, Jerry Goldsmith, Bill's snotty girlfriend, Mary Knowles, and Jerry's level-headed girlfriend, Denise Willis. On the night before Halloween of 1977, the four of them are driving in the middle of nowhere to Denise's house in a town called Ruggsville. Running out of gas, the group stops at Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen, an unusual establishment that serves as a gas station, museum of oddities, haunted house attraction, and chicken wing fry. Inside, the group (whose male members are enthusiasts of offbeat roadside attractions) meet Captain Spaulding, a foul-mouthed, slobbish, and somewhat psychotic clown. After riding his "famous" murder ride, a cheap dark-ride full of monster props and serial killer exhibits, Jerry becomes infatuated with the local legend of a surgeon known as Doctor Satan for his cruel treatment of mental patients.
Obsessed with finding the tree where a mob allegedly lynched the mass murderer, Jerry begs Spaulding for hand-drawn directions and coerces the group to drive out in search of it in an oncoming storm after Denise rang and told her dad they will be late. On the way, much to the women's reluctance, the foursome pick up a beautiful, but eccentric hitchhiker who later calls herself Baby and claims she lives not far from the tree. She offers to lend shelter to the four when their tire flattens under mysterious circumstances. Inside the isolated farmhouse, the couples meet Baby's equally eccentric family who all love Halloween consisting of Otis Driftwood, a Charles Manson-esque sadist with a God complex, Mother Firefly, a flirtatious old hag who dresses in burlesque outfits, Rufus Jr., a hulking brute in bearskin who has a knack for repairing things, Tiny, a silent and deformed giant with a nonviolent nature, and Grandpa Hugo, a crude and dirty old man of banal aesthetic. The youngsters insists that they get to a phone to call for help but Mother Firefly claims to not have one and takes slight offense that the teenagers aren't into the Halloween spirit, telling them that will change during their stay.
After an uncomfortable dinner involving having to wear Halloween masks, the Firefly family tries to entertain the four bewildered guests, Baby flirting with Bill causes Mary to lose her temper to the point where they are all told to leave but it was only a trick to lure them into a trap out in the storm. Otis beats down Bill while he was opening the gate and Tiny manhandles Jerry who tried to help his friend as Denise and Mary look on helplessly. With nothing they could do, the two horrified women lock themselves in the fixed car hoping the attackers can't get to them, however Tiny would smash his way through a window and drag a terrified Denise out of the car and back into the house while Mary screams in horror as Otis bashes in the windshield. Bill would be killed and bisected by Otis while Baby watched in amusement, Mary is bound to a chair and forced to gaze at the results in horror before being abused by Otis, Denise would be humiliated by being dressed up as a doll for Halloween and tied to a bed for Tiny and Baby would torture a tied up Jerry by scalping him. It soon becomes apparent to the youths that the family intends to use them for a series of grisly Halloween rituals later and while the Ruggsville police and Denise's father, who is an ex cop, begin a vain search attempt, the couples learn more about the legend of Doctor Satan than they would have ever cared to know.
- Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen
- Captain Spaulding's Murder Ride
- Firefly Farmhouse
- Dr Satan's Catacombs
- Willows County Mental Hospital
- Red Hot Pussy Liquors
- Killer Karl and Richard Wick are killed by Spaulding and Ravelli while attempting to steal money from the Museum.
- Bill Hudley is totured by both Otis and Baby and is eventually disected and mutilated. He is then sewn to a fish's body by Otis and dubbed "Fishboy." It is presumed this would be an exhibit in Spaulding's Museum.
- Lieutenant George Wydell is shot by Mama Firefly while asking her questions of the teens whereabouts.
- Deputy Steve Naish is shot in the forehead by Otis in execution style.
- Don Willis, Denise's father, is shot by Otis. His carcass was later skinned and worn as a costume by Otis.
- Mary is stabbed to death by Baby in a cemetery when she attempts to escape.
- Jerry is presumed to be dead from an experiment Dr. Satan conducted on him.
- The Professor may have died when he knocked a support beam down in a tunnel and the ceiling collapsed. It is not known if he died from the incident.
- Denise either died from Otis stabbing her in Spaulding's car when she hitches a ride at the film's end or by the hand's of Dr. Satan. It is for the viewer to conclude.
- More than 75 murders occurred before, during and after this film. It is reported at the beginning of The Devil's Rejects.
- The film was originally given an NC-17 rating, and several minutes of footage had to be cut to earn an R-rating. Contrary to popular belief, the running time of the footage that had to be deleted was not 17 minutes.
- The film spent several years shelved, trying to find distribution after Universal balked at the rough cut, which they feared would get an NC-17. It was reportedly completed in 2000, but was not released in cinemas until 2003.
- The film's opening weekend in the United States was $3,460,666
- Total box office revenues are $16,829,545 worldwide ($4,194,583 of that amount foreign box office), and the final production costs totaled $7 million.
- The names of the villains, such as Captain Spaulding, Otis Driftwood, and Rufus Firefly, were taken from the names of Groucho Marx characters. While this was left as a subtle allusion in the first movie, the sequel The Devil's Rejects brought it out into the open, with the names becoming integral to the plot.
- Various portions of the film were lifted from "Faces of Death", the famous pseudo-documentary on death.
- Rob Zombie composed the score himself (together with Scott Humphrey), being his first film music. It is isolated on the DVD as a separate audio track.