Definitive Directors: Rob Zombie
Definitive Directors is an ongoing series here at Brutal as Hell, examining directors we feel are currently defining the genre. Every two weeks we’ll present a director, take a look at their best work, and how their films are setting the standard for the future of horror.
by Kayley Viteo
Gory, bizarre and disturbing on a level that transcends its nitty gritty redneck style, House of 1000 Corpses is one that stays with the viewer. It’s that quintessential film you can see numerous times, and each time still discover something new. It is indicative of Zombie’s overall filmmaking style –one that is multilayered, with detail filling every inch of every frame. From the original meeting of Captain Spaulding to the ride through the Museum of the Strange to the stay at Firefly house, each is a new layer of oddities that Zombie manages to pull off without coming off as obnoxious. He shows a restraint in his penchant for the absurd in the anticipatory sequence that leads up to four friends being captured and abused. Although the overall film may not speak positively to everyone (House of 1000 Corpses was not well-received by critics, but gained a cult following), there’s no denying that Zombie’s voice as a filmmaker is one that speaks with a passion and respect for the genre.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Where House of 1000 Corpses can feel clustered and disjointed, The Devil’s Rejects is a smoother narrative. It shows what Zombie can do with his own aesthetic, but less clownish characters (pun intended) and more of a violent road trip feel. The result is a staggeringly good horror film that is tense, funny in ways it perhaps shouldn’t be, and indicative of a working environment that fosters great performances. William Forsythe as Sheriff Quincey Wydell is a perfect blend of controlled hysteria that ultimately explodes, whereas Leslie Easterbrook as Mama Firefly is the perfect blend of the exact opposite. Critics were divided on The Devil’s Rejects, but I believe Roger Ebert said it best when he explained giving it three out of four stars: “I admired two things about it: (1) it desired to entertain and not merely sicken, and (2) its depraved killers were individuals with personalities, histories and motives.” All of the sick and twisted moments from House of 1000 Corpses carry over here into an extended hotel room sequence that rocks back and forth between psychotic mania and just plain evil. It is much of the footage between Otis (Bill Moseley) and Gloria (Priscilla Barnes), the hotel room sexual abuse, that had to be cut in order to garner less than an NC-17 rating (which took eight tries). What is left over is still plenty disturbing.
Done to the soundtrack of old-school southern rock and ending on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s epic “Free Bird,” The Devil’s Rejects is a rollicking, disturbingly good time from start to finish. It starts with a bang as the search and destroy mission begins and bullets fly freely. From there, the real insane road trip begins, ending happily for no one. It’s relatively rare to see a film of such brutality, so unrelentingly dark, that somehow still manages to entertain and entice the viewer to want more. That’s the hallmark of a Rob Zombie film.
Rob Zombie is a truly creative and inventive director, with a style so unlike many filmmakers today that no matter what he does, I’m going to want to see it (and I know I’m not alone in that). Driven by strong character narratives and a sense of realism, Zombie makes films that have something unique to them, but at the same time are clearly influenced by cinematic classics. Without being derivative, he manages to funnel his own passion and love of the absurd and strange into films that are all at once realistic and extreme. Skipping over the years where Rob Zombie tried his hand at re-imagining the Halloween franchise, and acknowledging the fact that he’s at his best with his own material and his own beloved characters, I can’t wait to see what Zombie does next and he is firmly placed atop my echelon of definitive horror directors.