Since posting the zombie news about his upcoming hockey film, I thought it was time for retrospective. For some unknown reason, horror fans like to bitch about Rob zombie movies. WTF! He makes dirty, violent, interesting films, but for some, that's not good enough. I just don't get it.
Is there any question whether or not he's talented or driven? There is a part of us that feels envious when one of our ilk succeeds. A part of us behind the smile that thinks "Why him and not me?"Lets take a look at the list of usual complaints...
The usual complaint I hear and read is that Rob Zombie is a musician and he should just stick to music. What does that mean? If you work at Wal-Mart should you stop trying to find a better job because that is who you are? People really like to put someone in a box and keep them there, but God forbid trying to do the same thing to them.
Complaint number two. Zombie films his movies with nothing but rednecks and white trash. As opposed to filling the film with a bunch of super pretty teenagers? Every filmmaker has their schtick. Scorsese writes about Italians mostly, and most Rodriguez characters are Mexican. Next stupid complaint...
Complaint number three. The language is too dirty. What the fuck does that mean? I don't even know what to do with that complaint. Moving on.
Complaint number four. He's a complete hack. This usually comes from armchair critics who have never made a film nor have ever worked in the industry. Usually, these are the same people that feel that their script is much better and should have been made instead. Well get your credit cards together, shoot your feature and shut the fuck up.
Complaint number five. He always casts his wife! Judd Apatow, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, Woody Allen, I can go on but what's the point?
As I have said before, Zombie's films aren't perfect, few films are. but I will tell you this, I'd rather see 10 more Zombie films then one more flick about superficially pretty and annoying teen TV stars getting into trouble and falling in love with "monsters" accompanied by a cool soundtrack of forgettable bands of the moment. PERIOD, AMEN!
Let's take a look at his films on a case-by-case basis. I'm only talking about the four live action films here, not "El Super Beasto".
House of 1000 corpses (2003)
Zombies first film set off a firestorm of interest when it was first announced in 1999. People couldn't wait to see what he was to bring to the table, and they loved it. I for one heavily supported the film. I was at the premiere and the after party and it was genuinely a great time.
The film opens up with a powerful introduction to Capt. Spaulding, the owner and operator of "Capt. Spaulding's Museum of Murder and Madmen; Fried Chicken and Gasoline". While talking to a friend, Spalding's is held up by two young punks. The robbery doesn't go as planned, however, as Spalding is not even a little intimidated, and proceeds to blow their brains out with a large caliber handgun. All this while wearing a clown suit. Nuff said.
Soon we meet two couples driving cross-country writing a book about roadside attractions. The levelheaded Bill, his incredibly bitchy girlfriend Mary, her BFF Denise, and her annoying partner Jerry.
While in route to Denise's parent's house, they stopped for gas at Spaulding's. How could you not stop? Jerry keeps pressing Spaulding for information on local legend known as Dr. Satan. After trying to steer the kids clear, Spaulding relents, drawing them a map to the old hanging tree were supposedly Dr. Satan was killed by angry townspeople. They happily head out to their new destination...their first mistake.
Underway to the tree they come across a sexy hitchhiker and make their second mistake, they pick her up. The two couples of actually fallen into a trap set by the murderous Firefly family, who are hell-bent on torture, murder, and cannibalism.
Presented in a very grainy grind house style, Corpses is a mixed bag. It's hard for the film to match the power of the opening gas station robbery, but it does try. Similar to David Lynch's lost Highway, it is an okay film with a few powerful moments. Keep in mind that though that it is the first film, and though that doesn't excuse its shortcomings, there is an inherent respect that comes with that.
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
For his follow-up film, the zombie did what few filmmakers ever do. he took what he learned and applied it immediately to the second film, Jettisoning established plot points that he felt just didn't work the first time around. The Devil's Rejects is an excellent film. It holds up well and is worthy of comparison to any film by Sam Peckinpah to Quentin Tarantino.
The film opens up with a raid on the Firefly house, led by Sheriff Wayell. His brother was killed by the Firefly clan and he wants revenge. Killing some and arresting others, Baby and Otis escape and hookup with Capt. Spaulding. Their only shot at freedom is to find allies and fast, Waydell out for blood and on their trail.
Zombie's second film is very much akin to road pictures like Bonnie and Clyde, Two-Lane Blacktop and the like. We know that they are evil but even evil people were once children that grow up with food likes and dislikes such as some tutti-frutti ice cream. Zombie takes the time to get to know the characters, humanizing them without taking away any other menace. Smart camera, music, and editing choices show what Zombie is truly capable of.
On a final note, the dialogue free capture of the family to the beat of Terry Reed's "To Be Treated Right" is a masterful scene with the power that cannot be ignored.
And now, the Halloween films...
It would seem that these films are the points where horror fans turned on Rob Zombie. I'm not even getting into the plot of the first film, I'm just going to dive into my thoughts.
This project was in production for some time without a director. This wasn't something that Zombie went looking for but rather was an opportunity presented to him. If he hadn't done it somebody else would have, and that's just the plain truth. He is not John Carpenter nor was he pretending to be as many others have. This film is not an attempt to replace the original 1978 classic, it is Zombie's vision and nothing more. This is not a film about what made Michael Meyers scary the first time out, this is a film about how Rob sees him now, in this age. This film is presented as the birth of a serial killer. Michael is not a supernatural entity and Lori is not a Puritan, they are real people in real situations and reacting accordingly.
"This isn't John Carpenter's Halloween". Newsflash, after the original Halloween, none of them are John Carpenter's. The Halloween films had gotten progressively worse and in with the coup de grace that is Halloween Resurrection where Busta Rhymes attacks Michael Myers kung fu style... seriously.
The one complaint I have about Halloween, and mind you I love the original, is a minute long scene that showed up on a workprint of the film and was not released on either the theatrical or the director's cut of the film. In Halloween Michael is a talkative boy and then at one point he ceases to speak. While sitting with Dr. Loomis, Michael asks when he's going to be able to go home and be with his mother. Dr. Loomis replies "I don't think that's going to happen for a long time" Michael pulls down his paper-mâché mask that he's been wearing and makes this statement "then I have nothing else to say". From that point forward Michael does not speak. It's a brilliant little piece of dialogue and I wish it would have made it into one of the final cuts. People sit there and make the statement that the film feels rushed once we get to Haddonfield but I make the argument, it only feels rushed because we're comparing it to the original film.
The one thing that I loved and that disturbed me was the family massacre at the beginning. I have this thing about a dimly lit kitchen, it freaks me out. I don't know why, it just does. More disturbing than the kitchen kill, Judith's stabbing and murder in the hallway stayed with me for a long time. Young Michael stalking her down the dark hall, adult Shape mask on with a clown costume was both disturbingly poignant and surreal.
If you watch it on it's own, it is a good character study with some interesting twists. A bit long in parts and short in others but he did pitch his take as two films...
Halloween II (2009)
Halloween II is a completely different film; it plays more like an Italian sleaze-fest from the 1970s, and I mean that in a good way. The film has no connection to any other Halloween and is free to explore new territory. What Zombie brilliantly does in this film is to explore who these characters would be in real life after such an ordeal. People bitched that he took Laurie Strode and made her an unlikable mean damaged girl...Hello, were you paying attention to the first film? Even Jamie Lee Curtis came out a damaged alcoholic when all was said and done. The second bitch is that Dr. Loomis has turned into a money grubbing opportunist. Welcome to America, deal with it. Once again let's remind you, this is not John Carpenter's Halloween nor is it Donald Pleasance interpretation of Dr. Loomis. The strangest departure in character is actually Michael, and that's mostly aesthetically speaking. He is reborn a transient living by any means he can. This Michael is not a supernatural killing machine, but a man without a home or means to live...(but still is a killing machine). Nobody that survived Halloween night would do so unscathed. Zombie knows this, we know this, but we don't want to admit it.
Well, with all this praise, do I see anything wrong with his films? Yes. But, again, I am not an active filmmaker so I have no right to judge, and two, they are a matter of opinion. I will say that I hope that in the future, he uses new actors without finding a place for Sid, Bill and Tom. I enjoy them as actors and as people, but to grow, you need to break away from the usual.
Rob Zombie writes, as most writers do, from a place he is comfortable with. He has a distinct style that sets him apart from other film makers. I think it comes down to the fact that we think of Zombie as only a musician and not an artist. That's on us. Many people strive to be successful in one area of life and he's done it in two or more (if you count comics). Eli Roth catches shit because he hasn't made a film since Hostel part II and has been doing some acting. When did we get the right to dictate what others do with their lives? I think the overall hostility towards Zombie can be summed up in one phrase that echo's in our lives from the time we are born: "We hate it when our friends become successful."