When Rob Zombie’s first feature film made its way into theaters in 2003, the state of horror cinema was in decline. Studios were busy pumping out sequels to past hits like Scream and Final Destination, but House of 1,000 Corpses was a new and different beast.
The film is gritty; it doesn't care if you like its main characters, and practically begs the audience to root for the villains. Viewers accustomed to the defanged horror of the 2000s didn’t know how to handle it, much to the delight of Zombie.
The making of House of 1000 Corpses was a tumultuous three-year roller coaster. Before filming wrapped, Zombie ran out of money, and the movie passed through multiple distributors before the director found a company brave enough to release it. This uphill struggle set the stage for the trials and tribulations of Zombie's followup films, and judging by how the director talks about the experience, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Zombie Bought The Film Back From Universal For Almost Nothing
Once a project has been funded, the creator is rarely able to buy their intellectual property back from a studio or distributor. Zombie understands this, so when Universal told him they wouldn't release his film, he knew he had to convince them it was "incredibly worthless."
In a 2010 interview with the Nerdist podcast, Zombie claimed Universal initially wanted their $14 million investment for the movie; a far greater sum than Zombie could afford.
After sitting on the film for a while, however, Universal changed its tune. Zombie said negotiations went something like, "We'll take 12, we'll take 10, we'll take seven, but as the months went by and two years later they said 'How about one hundred grand?'"
The director snatched up his movie and "immediately sold it to Lionsgate."
Zombie Didn't Tell His Actors About The Film's Money Problems
Even though Zombie was well aware of the film's funding problems, he allegedly did his best to make sure no one on set - especially the actors - knew everything was on the verge of falling apart. Zombie says he was "totally stressed out" while filming but "kept it hidden."
In his mind, the deception was necessary to ensure everyone stayed motivated and enthused:
My big thing was protecting the actors. Keeping them happy, because I think they were doing a wonderful job. I wanted them to stay focused. Whenever there were problems, I’d never let them know. I told them once we wrapped, and they were like, 'Oh, my God! All that was going on? I had no idea.' I find that people work harder when they’re happy. You can’t start yelling and screaming at them.
Zombie Tricked Universal Into Paying For A Major Reshoot
As Zombie's first film, he didn't particularly have a knack for budgeting. Because of this, he ran out of money before filming the movie's big finale. Instead of freaking out or turning in a lesser film, Zombie came up with a plan. He showed Universal the movie with the original ending in hopes they would suggest reshoots with an extended budget, and that's exactly what happened.
I knew the ending sucked, so I let it suck and they said, 'The movie's great but the ending sucks' and I know. So they gave me more money and we shot a more elaborate ending... Movie people are fairly vague when you talk to them... But my agent said if they're still writing checks, that's how they tell you they like it... Everything was good; they saw every frame, I wasn't trying to get away with anything. In hindsight, it looks like I was up to some crazy thing at Universal and they caught on.
There's Little Hope For A Director's Cut
For years, rumors have swirled about the possibility of a transgressive, even more in-your-face director's cut of the movie. Unfortunately, this extended edition seems to be little more than an urban legend. While Zombie's all for the idea of releasing a cut that's closer to his original 105-minute version, he doesn't know where the footage is.
In 2016, the director explained:
I don’t think it ever will [be released], because I don’t think anyone knows where any of it is, truthfully. Even when they put together the DVD, which was 13 years ago, we couldn’t find anything because they had shot two hundred interviews in the time since the shoot. We had behind-the-scenes stuff, make-up tests, all these different things, and nobody could find it. It was all lost. That’s why I think whatever exists is all that’s going to ever exist.