House of 1,000 Corpses Written and directed by Rob Zombie (Lions Gate, in release) Four smart-mouthed college kids stop for gas, visit a creepy roadside museum, break bread with a family that slays together, and learn the true meaning of Halloween. Writer-director Zombie's long-delayed debut film starts out as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the exuberantly sadistic slasher quickies that auteurs like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Tobe Hooper shot on half a shoestring back in the '60s and '70s. But somewhere between the introduction of the cheerleaders-in-bondage subplot and the scene where one character asks another, "Who are youJimmy Olsen, cub reporter for the Daily Asshole?" wit follows coherence out the window. Straining to put his own stamp on this stale-from-the-crypt material, Zombie falls back on the twitchy visual grammar of his videos, splicing in dream sequences and grainy porno-snippets apparently purchased at Bob Crane's estate sale. The violence eventually becomes more inhuman than human, but even the film's goriest set pieces feel pine-box wooden. With a cast of B-movie luminaries (including Sid Haig, veteran of Jack Hill-directed Pam Grier prison flicks, as the museum's proprietor), the voluptuous horror that is Karen Black, and the beautiful music of Mr. Lionel Richie. Alex Pappademas
Ghosts of the Abyss Directed by James Cameron (Disney, in release) "Check this out, bro," James Cameron says as he returns to the site of the real Titanic, armed with robots, a 3-D Imax camera, and the same colossal hubris that necessitated a call for silence as he accepted his Oscar on behalf of those who perished. Startling visuals come early, with old tourist stereoscopic photos suddenly springing to life in the service of this unscripted plunge into macho science. Gum-chomping everyman Bill Paxton is along for the ride, mostly to narrate and offer schlubby observations as he gets in the way of the Russian crew. Aside from his CGI ghostcraft unwittingly co-opting Pat O'Neill's last feature, Cameron is entirely predictable in a marines T-shirt, exhorting, "Next stop, Titanicrock 'n' roll!" If that wasn't scripted, it should have been. Edward Crouse
Venus and Mars Directed by Harry Mastrogeorge (Zenpix, opens April 18, at AMC Empire) Something like Four Couplings and a Funeral, this women-pushing-30 comedy is so derivative the dancing extras in a club look bored. Reconvening for a funeral, four womenconveniently characterized as frigid (Daniela Amavia), thick-headed (Julie Bowen), catty (Fay Masterson), and married (Julia Sawalha)laze around their rural German town chatting about what's gone wrong with the men in their lives. Frigid's mom (a squandered Lynn Redgrave) predicts one of them will fall in love when the title planets align. But the nearer they get to destiny, the more closely the movie hugs established orbital patterns. Painfully contrived, Venus and Mars's dialogue tends toward banal (as opposed to quotably bad), and the rhythm at which lines are read is definitely alien. Ben Kenigsberg
The Hero Directed by Anil Sharma (Video Sound, at the Loews State) Stuffed with innumerable glass-and-fire explosions, rock-'n'-sock, heart- and plot-stopping musical numbers, and Ramboid anti-Pakistani politics, The Hero is nothing if not a scary surge of Indian nationalism. Major Arun Khanna (Allen Garfield look-alike Sunny Deol) works through two women, the impossibly beautiful shepherdess (Preity Zinta) and affluent Indian-Canadian doctor (Priyank Chopra), to thwart Kashmir's acquisition of a nuclear device. The visuals are go-for-broke, affably nutty (first shot: an upside-down chopper flies into a waterfall), and all romance is tied to dutyKhanna confirms his desire for Reshma when she's spruced up in fatigues, bugged with a spycam, and planted deep in enemy territory. Par for the course is the passionate sum-up of this lifelong love: a thumbs-up. The images don't hold together, each shot treated as a separate anything-goes spectacular, and the political sentiment is ominously timed: "Our fight isn't against the people of Pakistanit's against the devils." Don't come unless you're ready to salute. E.C.
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