Is there a more controversial figure in modern horror filmmaking than Rob Zombie? Eli Roth may top him, but his output has been so minimal recently that he’s basically taken a backseat to Zombie. His extreme and southern-fried brutality was already a point of contention amongst some, as his critics said that was all he had and was nothing more than a shock director.
Things got much worse when he took on the job of remaking the modern-day horror holy grail that is “Halloween”. Reviled and ripped to shreds immediately upon its release, it burned down any goodwill that Zombie had garnered with people on “The Devil’s Rejects”. Following up so soon with a sequel that was even weirder and more divisive than his first outing, Zombie seemed like he was in a very precarious position within the filmmaking world.
However, he then changed things up a little bit, taking the Ken Russell style he had gone with on “Halloween II” and diving in even harder with “The Lords of Salem”. That seemed like a good way to change things up and a sign that he was looking to broaden his horizon away from redneck knife murders. But then he immediately regressed harshly with “31”, a Kickstarter project that represents all the worst of his instincts.
One can only hope it’s a bump in the road for him as he mounts a project that tests him and broadens his scope. But as he stands now, most of the negative criticism around him is very unfair. He’s one of the strongest and most unique voices in horror filmmaking today, working in a hard R-rated setting that doesn’t get much play anymore. Aside from “31”, his movies don’t deserve the extreme hatred they get. Yes, even the remakes. So let’s take a look at his career thus far and rank them according to the one and true opinion.
7. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
The first movie out and it doesn’t really feel like a movie. It’s the rough draft of a movie that he would go on to perfect later on. The unholy trio we would go on to love in the kinda sequel we all love barely resemble themselves in that next movie. Sid Haig is barely in the thing, Sherri Moon is much more annoying than any future performances of hers could have even hinted at, and Moseley is a different kind of intimidating than his later role.
There is no real narrative work here despite Zombie’s best efforts. It plays like a typical slasher movie with a bunch of dumb kids getting trapped in a situation they shouldn’t have been involved in. But it’s so not interesting to watch. The kids themselves are all really annoying and uninteresting to watch.
There’s no real propulsion to the movie, so it just sits there. Scenes come and go with no real connectivity. There’s a definite sense of style to the movie, with Zombie’s work on music videos helping him out on that front.
However, being his first movie, it feels more like a music video than an actual movie. He would immediately evolve from this aesthetic style with his next movie, deciding to land on grimy 70’s flicks as his go-to style. The violence isn’t all that fun to watch, nor is it brutal in the way for which he would become known. And there’s a weird supernatural element to the movie that just kind of shows up and isn’t really utilized perfectly.
He’s going for that feel of a backwoods myth being reality, but it just doesn’t play. It’s not the most impressive of debuts for the filmmaker, kind of standing in really stark contrast to the rest of his work, but not in a way where we wish he would go back to it. Really rough around the edges (reshoots are obvious) and feeling like the rough first draft from someone who had just started writing scripts, Zombie would make an astronomical leap forward after this.
6. 31 (2016)
This is very clearly not a good movie. It’s a real disappointment coming on the heels of “Lords of Salem”, a real winner for Rob and a departure for him. This feels like him deciding to do something really safe and familiar to appease his fans. It’s backwards for him, returning to the dirty ass hicksploitation aesthetic we thought he finally got rid of with “The Lords of Salem”.
The idea, though, isn’t a bad one for him to make as a quick little movie before something bigger. A redneck version of “Battle Royale” in his brutal aesthetic isn’t bad, but it’s executed so haphazardly and with little flair. The movie is just humdrum mediocrity, with nothing really to elevate it to something worthwhile.
Well, there is one element. Richard Brake gives a really electrifying performance in a very Bill Moseley level role as the ultimate psychopath in this game of nuts. When he’s around, the movie gets a jolt. That jolt the best of Zombie’s movies can have, that special something that no one else can deliver.
Nothing else in the movie has that unique something, feeling like leftover bits of “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Corpses”. One can only hope that this is a bump in the road for him and not a sign of work to come.
5. The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto (2009)
Zombie decided to take a break from live-action horror movies that stained your soul with grit and misery to take a swing at something more lighthearted while still dealing with his interests.
A cartoon superhero story that still deals with the horror iconography and tropes that he loves so dearly, this is a light entry into the world of his filmography. It’s not necessarily the greatest movie in the world and it shows that maybe comedy may not be the perfect place for him to be working, but there is an energy and insanity to it that makes it watchable. As does the many cameos from his stable of work buddies and horror icons.
There’s also kind of subversive a thing he does with the sexualization of the role Sherri plays in the movie. The visuals are nice and poppy, if not a bit obviously cheaper than most mainstream animated movies. It gives it a nice underdog feel to the whole thing, an almost heavy metal-style comic strip come to life. It may not hit the ball too far, but it’s a modest success that is a decent enough watch that is leagues better than the two movies underneath it here.
4. Halloween (2007)
This movie gets an immensely unfair shake. There was no way a movie that was going to remake the iconic John Carpenter movie was gonna be given a chance, especially when it was gonna be done by the idiosyncratic director. His entire tone seemed totally against the aesthetic of the series, so to add these elements up added to a movie already in the red.
And the reactions didn’t disappoint, besmirching it for being a mere carbon copy of the original with a worthless prequel added on to it. But that is an unfair judgement to be labeled against the movie. All movies should be taken on their own terms. Even a new entry into a series should be given a some leeway, especially one that is a remake. Gone is any connectivity to past continuity. A new path can be forged. Should be forged.
So Zombie came in and did what was the only real option. He made his own movie, taking the bones of Carpenter’s classic and doing his own thing with it. Gone is the super grounded approach to death incarnate haunting a small town. Now we got the more human approach, as far as humanity can go to a story like this. Zombie, in his attempt to tell the Michael Myers story in the Rob Zombie world, made a movie more akin to a Frankenstein story.
Michael is our creature here, but he is made and failed by two creators. His mother, brought to life by Sherri Moon Zombie, is the initial creator that failed him. She brought him into this world, a boy with clear issues who maybe could have been saved if not for the horrible world his mother lived in. Dr. Loomis, played here by Malcolm McDowell, is the second creator to fail him.
The man who was supposed to save him was unable to. He couldn’t crack the code and get down to what made Michael tick. All he was able to do was see the humanity slowly leak out of Michael until there was basically nothing left but a gigantic husk of a body.
This is an epic battle between nature and nurture whereas both elements work against the boy to create something special in its monstrousness. So the first half is the setting up of these elements, leading us into the second half which fills the more familiar beats of “Halloween” – the arrival of Michael into the town of Haddonfield where he would stalk our familiar teens. But with the added twist of this movie having the familiar relationship between Michael and Laurie, he isn’t trying to kill Laurie at first.
The last remaining strands of his humanity lays within Laurie, the only person in his life before the original Halloween slaughter to not disappoint him. When she rejects the monster he has become, gone is any humanity. She has to die. The movie ends with Laurie shooting Michael in the head, bloody and hysterical at the horror she has had to endure. We are left with the potential of Laurie carrying on Michael’s legacy, as a broken soul left empty at the familiar horrors thrust upon her. It’s a far more interesting and layered movie than it had any right to be and is given credit for being.
Is the movie perfect? No, far from it. The pacing is a bit off, biting off more than it could chew. Some of the performances aren’t particularly strong, making it feel a little off kilter. Scout Taylor Compton gets the brunt of the complaints here, which is fair. She is very grating, even if it’s too a point. She is supposed to be the amalgamation of Michael and his older sister that we met earlier. So there’s a good hearted nature to her, but also a really annoying personality.
It doesn’t work too well thanks to Compton, who lacks the humanity needed to make the balance work and the tragedy of the ending hit harder. What may be most unforgivable is the force-fed vulgarity and redneck aesthetic he throws into the movie. It gets a bit old hat after a while seeing every guy with long and stringy hair, every girl is a foul-mouthed slut and every environment caked in grime. Especially when it just doesn’t really make sense within the world he has built for everything to be so hick-filled.
Carrying over this material from “The Devil’s Rejects” just does not work and it helps the critics of the movie really go to town on it. But the element he carries over from that movie is the ability to make violence really hurt, brutality on a level that is rarely seen in horror movies meant for mass consumption. It’s a real talent he has and it makes this entry stand out from pretty much every ‘Halloween’ movie that isn’t the original.
The secret weapon of this movie is this new version of Frankenstein’s creature. Tyler Mane’s performance as Michael is great and helps to sell the broken man. A silent killer, only letting out grunts in the time when he is truly alive, which is in the midst of murder. As an actor and stuntman, he is a able to sell the physicality of the role underneath a mask. It’s a great performance and the best Michael since, again, the original. This movie is sadly undervalued, coming at a time when horror remakes were aplenty but lacking in anything resembling personality.