FearTASTIC Vault O’FUN #74
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Starring:Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black
The old adage where you don’t know what you truly had until it’s gone stung a little more in the last month do the passing of Sidney Eddie Mosesian, AKA Sid Haig. Although Sid has had an illustrious career spanning from classic black comedy horror like Spider Babyand his venture through exploitation flicks from the 70s like The Big Doll House, it was his resurgence in the 2000’s that really caught the attention of horror freaks everywhere as the rude, sadistic, often times scary, clown of mayhem; Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejectsand the final flick in the Firefly family trilogy, Three From Hell.
I find myself watching old Youtube clips of Sid Haig’s performance and appreciate more than ever that out of all the characters from the Firefly family trilogy; his character remains the most consistent and has definitely the most impact in the horror culture. First off, to be clear, out of the three films, my favorite is still The Devil’s Rejectsdue to its blend of raw mix of horror and exploitation that blends so many of my favorite horror sub-genres together (CLICK HERE for the full scoop). Having said that however, in Sid’s recent passing, I’ve actually got to appreciate the foundation that was laid out in House of 1000 Corpsesthat set the tone for the Captain Spaulding character more than anyone in the Firefly Family. In time, I realized that I have watched more clips from House of 1000 Corpsesmore than any of the sequels! Not only did I appreciate Sid’s performance even more but I discovered that the often disturbingly cartoonish performances (in the best way possible) was part of a vision that would lend itself to a grittier setting in the sequels.
As most horror nuts will tell you, House of 1000 Corpseswas Rob Zombie’s homage to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, we got that out of the way but I truly believe that Zombie did an excellent job in giving it his own spin as a filmmaker by introducing elements of what I like to call “Horror Indie Cool” in the sense that although we were in a horror flick, the dialog and tone kept in the same level as a cool Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez flick! Take the opening of the flick; you get a montage of old-timey sort of horror commercials very reminiscent of the campy horror movie night on TV from the 50s-60s then immediately cuts to one of the snazziest scene in horror cinema.
You start off at a sketchy gas station/chicken shop/ horror attraction with two folks gabbing about obscene material, one of whom is dressed as a campy, seemingly perverted clown (our dear Captain Spaulding). Both folks get some funny bits in when in an instant, the scene turns into a cool action moment as robbers burst into the store demanding money. What comes next from Sid Haig’s performance is truly magical; the seemingly old pervy clown does not give a damn that he’s getting robbed. In fact, he goes on to berate the robbers in ridiculously humorous ways through gestures and witty comebacks because you see my ghouls, the beauty of this scene is that he and the audience knows something that the robbers do not…the robbers are standing in front of a cold-blooded serial killer who in turn is surrounded by freaks of mayhem. As the tension escalates to a full boil, a freak comes in and smashes the head of one of the robbers while Spaulding proceeds to shoot the other and takes the time to enjoy the wonderful smell of a freshly shot barrel of a gun (so cool, I’m geeking out as I type, I assure you)!
Say what you will about Rob Zombie’s first entry but the level of cool that set the tone for the entire flick was carried out pretty well as we meet the rest of the Firefly family. Sure, the plot revolved around a group of friends that entered the wrong house, but hey, let’s break down the characters that all seem to either talk in cryptic monologues (thanks Otis), freakish baby talk (thanks Baby) or silently stare as their freakish figure lurks behind the scenes (thanks Tiny). The patriarch of the family, Mama Firefly acted as a master of festivities as she set the tone to a nice buildup that leads to a climax of disturbing images and gore that would make Leatherface proud.
After some multiple viewings of scenes on Youtube and actually watching the flick a couple times again; I understand now that if we started out with the gritty exploitation tone of the sequels, then it doesn’t really show how the Firefly Family worked as a unit. I think the bonds that were assumed in The Devil’s Rejectswere solidly established in House of 1000 Corpses. In a way, how well the family worked together in the first flick, as campy as it seemed at times, made you have a better understanding why running away on the road was a big step for all these characters, as random and violent as they seemed, they had a GOOD thing going in the Firefly house and House of 1000 Corpseswas the only movie that they would ever have that routine chaos that they perfected for God knows how many years before they were driven out of their safety net. Not everyone survives; many of the Firefly family died in the sequels so another great point is that the first flick was the only time where you actually saw the whole family work as a unit. Knowing that now makes me wish there was some sort of prequel where we can see the family at its earliest stages (never going to happen, but hey, a freak can dream right?).
Although we eventually see the relationship that Captain Spaulding has to the rest of the Firefly family; his presence in the first flick acted almost like liaison to the upcoming mayhem knowing full well that he was a maniac himself and I thought that was a brilliant move. There are enough scary clowns in the realm of horror but what made Captain Spaulding stand out was that this was a serial killer with no supernatural powers who often used humor as a way to seem like a run of the mill townie until it was time to kill. Sid Haig’s performance as Captain Spaulding had that special touch of going from 0 to 100 within seconds and you had a sense of dread right when Spaulding would give you a dead stare that showed you he was a raging animal behind the clown makeup.
It’s this kind of performance that truly set the tone of Zombie’s full-fledged trilogy of horror entertainment and the reason why Sid Haig is this year’s inductee to the FearTASTIC LEGENDS VAULT! Thank you Sid for creating a character that made an impact on the horror community that made us laugh and cringe simultaneously as we sat in anticipation for you to STRIKE.
FearTASTIC LEGENDS VAULT 2019 Inductee
Sid Haig (1960 – 2019)
Rest in Peace Captain and Tutti F*cking Frutti
Life is FAR more interesting when we take interest in things that scare us.