Rob Zombie is, upon consideration, an unlikely person to have become a star. He was raised among carnies, became obsessed with TV and horror movies at a young age, and eventually formed a respected heavy metal band called White Zombie. When Rob went solo, he began incorporating more electronic technobeats to his horror-themed metal songs, creating a unique and strangely infectious form of terror-pop. In 2000, Zombie decided he wanted to take a crack at filmmaking. Inspired – and deeply informed – by films like Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombie wrote and directed House of 1000 Corpses, a film that was so gory and gross, that it was infamously shelved for three full years, with the studios fearing the all-dreaded NC-17 rating.
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House of 1000 Corpses was eventually released in 2003, complete with a tie-in soundtrack record mostly composed by Zombie. The film was filthy, confusing, unpleasant, terrifying, creative, and fitfully stupid. Most audiences and critics were ambivalent. They responded to the film’s originality and striking visuals, but were turned off by the extremity of violence and torture as well as the bad scripting. At the very least, however, Zombie bothered to record several new songs for the film, and it was only natural that a tie-in OST should also be released.
Here in 2016, 13 years after the release of the film, said record may still hold up as an album that just may prove to be a seminal Halloween record that can easily fall into the rotation of your late-October listening rosters. SoundTreks will listen and see.
Track 2. “House of 1000 Corpses” – Rob Zombie
The title song for House of 1000 Corpses may be the best thing about it. Zombie’s blues guitar, spooky haunted house piano, and lyrical exploration of ghoulish slaughter feels instantly dusty, as if it had been waiting to be discovered by Halloween junkies for the last 40 years. This is the house/Nobody lives. Indeed, the song is evocative of a movie even scarier and more disturbing than the one we got. There is dark cruelty in the song, and nothing to hint at the dumber stuff in the movie, i.e. turning someone into a Feegee Mermaid.
Track 4. “Everybody Scream (Theme from Dr. Wolfenstein’s Creature Double Feature Show)” – Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie’s music is a fascinating blend of ideas. He often sings about cult TV, classic movies, sex workers and strippers (his wife is a former stripper), all usually within a palpable white trash milieu. Although his music is ultra-produced, there’s an undercurrent of the podunk about it. You can hear his impoverished, traveling-around-the-country-as-a-carny life in most of his songs. Here, he’s a death-obsessed adolescent paying homage to a cheap TV horror host of yore. It’s an homage that is needed and appreciated.
Track 7. “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?” – Buck Owens
Although it’s hard to hear it, Rob Zombie definitely takes his musical cues from good-ol’-boy Americana like Buck Owens music. Buck Owens was a country musician from Bakersfield, CA who also famously hosted the hayseed TV show Hee Haw. Segueing from the metal of Zombie to the friendly American Owens flows incredibly well.
Track 8. “Run, Rabbit, Run” – Rob Zombie
Zombie was not immune to musical trends, and the noisy dancebeats in “Run, Rabbit, Run” – which are directly evocative of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” – bring to mind other, tonally different movies of the early 2000s. This song is Zombie trying out something, rather than playing to his interests.
Track 11. “I Wanna Be Loved By You” – Helen Kane
Helen Kane’s voice is well known to any and all fans of Betty Boop, as she provided the speaking and singing voices for Betty back in the early days of her cartoon shorts. In the context of the film, this song is, of course, an ironic one. It is lip-synced by Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) as a means of taunting one of her potential murder victims. The old-timey sound on the recording does give the song an ethereal quality, but it’s otherwise a perfectly sweet little sing. Its horror only comes from its association with the tracks around it.
Track 12. “Pussy Liquor” – Rob Zombie
Zombie’s themes of white trash appear again, this time in full force. Nothing screams filthy hick like the phrase “We like to get fucked up and do fucked up shit.”
Track 15. “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” – The Ramones
Although The Ramones have influenced just about every rock band that has come after them – they are perhaps one of the most important rock bands of all time – many modern musicians no longer try to emulate the sound or attitude of The Ramones. It’s a relief that Zombie elected to include one of the group’s hits, rather than try to do a cover. Oh wait. Rob Zombie did do a cover of The Ramones. He performed “Blitzkrieg Bop” on a Ramones tribute record. I like it, but your mileage may vary.
Track 18. “I Remember You” – Slim Whitman
Rob Zombie is not afraid to shy away from country, and although Zombie likely wouldn’t necessarily call himself a Slim Whitman fan – Whitman is most often used as a joke or a punchline; remember when his yodeling was the only thing that could destroy the Martians in Mars Attacks!? – he’s likely heard a lot of Whitman in his life, and appreciates the down-home sound of the record, even if he loathes the super-corny tone.
Track 21. “Little Piggy” – Rob Zombie
“Little Piggy” is a good bar song. It has a bump-and-grind appeal that a stripper could easily groove to, but also possesses some of Zombie’s trademark haunted house melody. Can a song be repellent and seductive? Sure. Listen to “Pussy Liquor” again.
Track 24. “Brick House 2003” – Rob Zombie, feat. Lionel Richie & Trina
So this one may divide some people. Zombie covering The Commodore’s “Brick House” – handily one of the best funk songs of all time – seems like an unlikely match, and the result, although possessed of the aid of Lionel Richie and Trina, may still strike a listener as somewhat misguided. Zombie’s sound doesn’t necessarily lay well over the well-known funk melody, although the addition of fake orgasms from porn films helps matters along. I find myself deeply enjoying this cover in spite of myself, although I understand if you find it to be annoying or disrespectful. Although a song about a stacked woman may not be high-faultin’ art to begin with.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The movie is a filthy nightmare that has a few interesting scares, a striking aesthetic, and some interesting characters that would be explored in a more interesting venue with Zombie’s follow-up film The Devil’s Rejects. The film also – if we can just come out and say it – sucks. It’s a dumb story, a confusing myth, and featured a blood-soaked android named Dr. Satan. It’s less a film than a pouring out of Rob Zombie’s unchecked id. That may sound fascinating, but it’s actually a bit of a chore to actually watch.
The soundtrack, meanwhile, is a pretty excellent tone exercise that functions much better as a horror story than the movie ever could. There is more left to the imagination, and Zombie clearly had just as much passion for the record as he did for the movie. At the very least, he gave us a record that was meant to be a cinematic footnote, and actually just gave metal fans a pretty awesome metal record, punctuated by old-timey tracks to keep the entire endeavor grounded and connected to history. The soundtrack wins by a substantial margin.
Top Photo: Lionsgate
Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.