October 24, 2018

The Horror of Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie in 2009I can't say I was ever that much of a fan of Rob Zombie's music, but I did have a couple of his albums when I was in college. Although I liked his style and his horror-themed lyrics, it always seemed like all his songs sounded the same. I liked them mixed in with songs from other bands, but I could not sit through an entire album without it becoming monotonous.

What I was a real fan of were the music videos he made for many of his songs back when MTV still showed music videos. I always thought he did a great job of making visually interesting videos that combined decent music with horror-themed imagery. There was no way I could be unimpressed by a metal guy who seemed to love cars, horror, and the 1970s. Needless to say, when I heard that he was going to direct a horror film, I was excited.

I saw House of 1000 Corpses (2003) as soon as it came out, and I really liked it. I know it isn't a great film, but I thought it was fun. It fit my expectations for what Zombie's first film would be like, and I have a feeling that explains why I liked it. He paid homage to various 70s horror flicks, as I figured he would. The cool thing was that he did this not just with the visual style and plot but also the casting. As for his visual style, he injected enough of it that there would be no mistaking the film for his work. Not surprisingly, House was not particularly well-reviewed. It shouldn't have been because it wasn't a great film. That said, at least some reviewers noted that it showed that this first-time director had potential. I liked House more than most, and it left me feeling enthusiastic about what Zombie would deliver next.

I had an entirely different reaction to The Devil's Rejects (2005) when I saw it for the first time. I hated it. As it turned out, this had little to do with Zombie's film. The problem was that I was expecting something far more similar to House of 1000 Corpses and was disappointed when I got something that seemed so different. It was darker, meaner, and more sadistic. It was one of those films that made me feel like I needed a shower afterward. The second time I saw The Devil's Rejects, though, I really liked it. Freed from my expectations, I appreciated the different visual style, the soundtrack, the story, and the characters. By the third time I saw it, I realized it was a far better film than House.

In spite of my newfound fondness for The Devil's Rejects, I went into Zombie's Halloween (2007) remake with trepidation. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is one of my favorite horror films of all time. Even though slashers have never been my favorite, I consider the original Halloween to be as close to a perfect example of what a horror film should be as possible. Needless to say, I did not care for Zombie's version at all. While I could appreciate what he seemed to be trying to do with it, this was one of those cases where a remake was not necessary and did not accomplish anything positive. I saw it twice just to make sure I was being fair, but that did not help. It was not scary, and none of the characters were likable enough to care about what was happening to them. It seemed that Zombie had stripped away everything that made the original so effective. His film looked good, but that was about all it had going for it.

I did not bother with Werewolf Women of the SS or The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. I was vaguely aware of them but not interested in seeing either. I thought Zombie's Halloween II (2009) remake was somewhat better than his first effort, but that was not saying much. Both of his Halloween films seemed somewhat messy, almost as if he had trouble maintaining a coherent vision of what he was hoping to accomplish. I watched his Halloween II again recently, and what stood out to me the most was that I had no interest in the plight of the characters. This took me out of the film, leaving me with little reason to keep watching. While the original Halloween II (1981) was never one of my favorites, it was far better than this.

When I heard that Zombie was releasing The Lords of Salem (2013), I knew I would see it eventually but was in no hurry to do so after the Halloween films. Most of the early reviews were negative and made it sound like a self-indulgent art film. That actually made it more appealing to me since I figured it might mean a return to the less restrained style I liked from Zombie's early films. The first time I saw it, I had mixed feelings. I loved the subject matter, found the film satisfyingly creepy, and it was exactly the sort of return to Zombie's weird visual style I had been hoping for. And yet, it was undeniably messy and chaotic. It looked like random scenes had been inserted because they looked cool but served no purpose in advancing the film. Some of that worked here, but some were excessive and detracted from what was otherwise an effective narrative. It looked like Zombie was having difficulty translating his vision into a coherent film. In the end, the biggest disappointment with Lords was that it seemed to have far greater potential than what Zombie was able to deliver here. As flawed as it is, I think it is probably his best film to date.

I passed on 31 (2016) because the plot summaries I saw when it was released did not make it sound like anything I would like. I may get around to seeing it eventually. On the other hand, I am very interested to see what Zombie comes up with for 3 from Hell, which is scheduled to be released in 2019. It has been a long time since The Devil's Rejects, and it seems like an odd choice to revisit these characters now. I hope he figures out a way to pull it off, but I'm not terribly optimistic. Besides, I'd like to see him do more creative projects like Lords rather than re-treading such familiar ground.

Even though I consider Zombie's films to be flawed, I am glad he's making them. He is not the most talented horror director, but he clearly loves the genre, does some things extremely well, and has contributed some worthwhile films. I hope he continues to improve as a director, and I am looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.