Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween 2013: Road Trip Horror: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre & House of 1000 Corpses

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and House of 1000 Corpses (2003) are two very different films yet have many similarities.  They both start out with a road trip and end with the maniacal actions of a deranged family. So it's kind of a demented daily double, if you will!

In Tobe Hooper's film, Sally Hardesty, along with her boyfriend Jerry, her brother Franklin, and a couple of other friends, are driving to a cemetery in east bumfuck Texas to check on the grave of Sally's grandfather. There have been reports of vandalism and grave robbing so the group makes it a road trip with intents to check out the previous home of the Hardesty family while there.  On the way they pick up a hitchhiker - as was common back in the 70's - but soon find that the hitcher is a bona fide freak-show. He blabbers about working at the local slaughterhouse and how his family likes to make and eat head cheese...until everyone is about as uneasy and disgusted as you can get.  When he lights a photo on fire inside the van and then cuts himself with a razor, the gang throws him out of the van.  It's not going so well..

Already the road trip from hell, when Sally & co. reach the old homestead, the couple of the group decides to explore the grounds and end up finding a house. Once they venture inside, the most gruesome of fates await them in the form of one Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and the rest of the hitchhiker's deranged family.  When the others come looking, they too are subjected to various horrors-- not the least of which is a bloody chainsaw.

The vision of final girl Sally, hopping into the back of that pickup and making her escape from the insane family, is one of sheer terror - and her laughing echoes through the head of anyone watching it.  It seems fairly unlikely that Sally will be taking any more road trips any time soon.

In House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie introduces us to the Firefly family, a psychotic bunch of loonies that take great pleasure in kidnapping unsuspecting travelers to their house of horrors and treating them to a rousing visit with the infamous Dr. Satan.

When Jerry, Bill, Mary, and Denise are traveling around looking for additions to a book of weird roadside attractions that they are compiling, they come across Captain Spauling, the proprietor of a gas station that doubles for a museum of monsters and mayhem, which boasts a "murder ride".  Naturally Jerry and Bill drag the girls on the carnival-type dark ride, getting a tour of various famous murderers including Ed Gein, Albert Fish, Lizzie Borden, and local legend Dr. Satan.  After the ride, the quartet leave the gas station, invigorated by its bizarre atmosphere. As in Tx. Chainsaw, they too pick up a hitchhiker, this time in the form of the beautiful Sheri Moon-Zombie, playing the giggling Baby Firefly.

Soon, as in most films of this type, they get the obligatory flat tire (I'd love a count of how many road horror films have the car actually break down - has to happen in 75% of them!) and Baby offers her brother's assistance. He lives right down the road...just a little ways.

At the Firefly residence, again as in Tx Chainsaw, the group is subjected to horror after horror by the madcap (and totally unbalanced and murderous) Fireflys.  Baby's brother, Otis (Bill Moseley), has designs that don't just border on bizarre, they are completely crazy. He enjoys making weird works of art out of body parts and screaming in their faces about Dr. Satan finishing the job.

Both these films are cautionary tales in their own right, meant to scare the shit out of people and hopefully keep you from 1) picking up hitchhikers  2) exploring places that you should just leave well enough alone and 3) hitting the road to look for trouble.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a genuine classic, banned in several countries upon its release, yet not nearly as bloody as other films of its time.  It's a road trip to hell from which there is no return. And House of 1000 Corpses is a psychedelic trip to the outer reaches of sanity, complete with clowns, mermen, and a murder ride. Not exactly the vacation you were hoping for...

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