With all the news trickling in about the upcoming sequel to The Devil’s Rejects, 3 From Hell, I thought it was a good time to re-visit Rob Zombie’s filmography. Admittedly, I have been a huge fan of Zombie’s music from his days with White Zombie. To date, Astro-Creep 2000 and Hellbilly Deluxe are among some of my favourite albums. Given his obvious affection for horror and exploitation cinema, Zombie seemed like a natural fit for directing horror films.
In the 15 years since the release of House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie has sat in the director’s chair for six feature length films. I recall reading somewhere that Zombie was “the filmmaker to have never made a good film”. Critical acclaim has largely alluded Zombie over the course of his film-making career. He certainly makes an interesting horror case study – I can’t think of another director whose work is equal parts frustrating and watchable. Certainly, there are few filmmakers out there who understand and appreciate the aesthetics of horror like Zombie.
6 – 31 (2016)
Rob Zombie and killer clowns! With such an off-the-wall premise, 31 should have been a gonzo film for hardcore fans. Instead it was a big step backwards for Zombie as a director. In addition to being a dark and ugly-looking film, 31 is crammed with all of Zombie’s worst excesses. Its characters are uniformly foul-mouthed, unlikeable hicks. Brutal and mean-spirited violence replace tension and scares. Sadly, despite Zombie’s usual flair for orchestrating his carnage, even the violence in 31 falls short as much of it is lost due to jerky camera work and poor lighting. Richard Brake, as Doom-Head, is the lone bright spot. His psychopathic killer is equal parts charismatic and menacing.
5 – Halloween II (2009)
In many ways, Halloween II is everything frustrating about Rob Zombie’s films. There’s so much to like for horror fans; I want to love Halloween II. Free from John Carpenter’s original blueprint, Zombie had a wide canvas to work on for his sequel. On one hand, he crafts a wholly unique mythology in his re-interpretation of Michael Myers. In the first 10 to 15 minutes, Zombie also creates some truly suspenseful moments that are well balanced with the brutally explicit violence. His use of Moody Blues song Nights in White Satin is haunting. Tyler Mane makes the role of “The Shape” his own. And scream queen Danielle Harris’ arc in the sequel is heartbreaking
Unfortunately, Zombie’s excesses derail the film. Much of the violence in Halloween II is excessively ugly, even by Zombie’s standards. Zombie’s Haddonfield is populated with mostly unlikable characters (see the criticism of 31 above). Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis isn’t just despicable, but he’s almost an entirely different character from the previous film. As the film plunges into its climax, it buckles under the weight of its own convoluted logic. Halloween II is a strange case of an utterly watchable film that just isn’t that good.
4 – Halloween (2007)
Poor Rob Zombie. You could certainly argue that regardless of what creative direction he took, Zombie was going to take flak just for re-making John Carpenter’s Halloween. No one was ever going to make a Halloween film that would eclipse Carpenter’s masterpiece. Nonetheless, Zombie managed to make at least half of a pretty good movie with his Halloween. While the decision to spend the first half of the film exploring Michael Myers’ origins does directly contradict everything that makes the character frightening it also serves as a completely compelling narrative on its own. In fact, Zombie’s Halloween only falters in its second half when he’s pigeon-holed into a straightforward remake of the original. As its own film, for that first half, Zombie gives audiences a brutal, unflinching look into the birth of a monster.
3 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Zombie’s directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses, is a mixed bag of a film. Extremely violent and wildly colourful, House is Zombie as a first-time director struggling to shift from making music videos to feature length films. There’s a lot of jarring edits in Zombie’s debut effort that can be quite disorienting. Tonally the film makes some wild jumps from gritty exploitation horror to supernatural nightmare. Zombie also straddles a precarious fence between homage and overt imagination. Yet in spite of its limitations Zombie delivers a visually impressive and haunting horror outing that introduces fans to the scariest clan since Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
2 – Lords of Salem (2013)
Some fans will take issue with Lords of Salem being ranked higher than House of 1000 Corpses. I considers Lords of Salem to be highly underrated and a significant step forward for Zombie as a filmmaker. For perhaps the first time in his filmmaking career, Zombie shows some restraint, focusing more on atmosphere than grindhouse shocks. While he’s clearly cribbing on Ken Russell’s The Devils, Zombie has also built homages into his work. There is some genuinely haunting imagery here and, in typical Zombie fashion, several disturbing scenes. The Lords’ ‘song’ is haunting and the ending is a ‘mind fuck’ that references Kubrick in all the right ways.
1- The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
The Devil’s Rejects still stands as Zombie’s horror masterpiece. If you’re a fan of 1970’s grindhouse exploitation films, you’ll no doubt agree with ranking The Devil’s Rejects at the top of this list. Shifting gears from the colourful, supernatural roots of House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie opted for a grittier vision in his sequel, taking the sadistic Firefly clan on the road. The violence in this film is uncompromising and laced into scenes that are soaked with tension. You would be hard-pressed to find a scene that elicits as much discomfort as the hotel room scene in Rejects. Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Sid Haig effortlessly blend menace with an almost hypnotic charisma in their performances. And it wouldn’t be a Rob Zombie film if there wasn’t an effective incorporation of music. In this case, Zombie weaves Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird into the film’s final bloody massacre.