Definitive Directors: Rob Zombie

Posted on September 16, 2011 by Deaditor 5 Comments

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

Rob Zombie is certainly a controversial figure. Yet there’s no denying — at least in my mind — that he’s a definitive director of the horror genre. Even before entering the feature film game with House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie was attached to the genre through his music. Still, there’s no doubt that House of 1000 Corpses blew everything wide open, not the least of which was Zombie’s own potential and possibility. Although subtle isn’t one of the words I’d use to describe Zombie or his filmmaking, there’s a witty undercurrent to his work that speaks of an intelligently crafted script, and a director that works his ass off to make films that simultaneously entertain and challenge the viewer’s ability to continue watching.


House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

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.

House of 1000 Corpses is a disfigured, completely batshit insane love letter to the genre and is admittedly a hard pill to swallow. The film is not quite a complete exploitation film, nor is it entirely low-grade horror. As best as I can describe it, House of 1000 Corpses is a mixed bag of tricks that forces the audience to pay attention to the plot, otherwise it’s truly easy to get confused. In that sense, it’s a film that begs a second (and a third, and a fourth) viewing in order to truly understand — and perhaps find pleasure in — what you’re watching, and I see something special in that. For a first film, it is a startling piece of cinema that promises future endeavors that must be seen. That’s not to say Zombie’s filmmaking isn’t problematic — we’re here to discuss definitive directors, not perfect ones. Zombie’s attention to detail can feel schizoid, which is why when comparing House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, I prefer the latter.



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.

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  • Aaron says:

    Nice article. You ever see that washing powder commercial he made recently?

  • Kayley says:

    I did – I thought it was hilarious! Again, strange and absurd – the hallmark of RZ.

  • JoJo says:

    What about the Halloween films? You can’t fully position Zombie as a “definitive horror director” without talking about how he’s paid homage to John Carpenter’s films and their mythology while making these films entirely his own. Their success may be debatable but not the utter conviction with which Zombie adapts and re-shapes the material, usually in interesting and occasionally brilliant & exhilarating ways.

  • Kayley says:

    JoJo –

    The assignment for the piece was to talk about our 2 favorite films from the director. Neither of RZ’s “re-imaginings” made the cut for me, although I did originally write a draft including the remakes. Ultimately, however, it felt overly long and defensive, when the articles are supposed to be positive pieces about directors we love. And I love Rob Zombie and think he IS a definitive director … but only with his own characters. (He could always prove me wrong adapting something else, but I doubt it.)

    As for those movies themselves, I don’t consider them to be made entirely his own. This is arguable in the Halloween (2007) adaptation, but only for the first half, which is really the enjoyable part of the movie, for me at least. After that, RZ falls into the trap of essentially making a shot for shot remake, which I detest and do not see the point of. That all being said, I don’t hate the Halloween remake – it just doesn’t mark him as a definitive director, for me. It doesn’t do anything particularly good or bad for his status.

    However, the same could not be said for Halloween 2. Here is the one truly negative spot in his career. The film is just … well, it doesn’t really re-shape anything so much as take existing characters and go a bit nuts. His filmmaking isn’t exhilarating in this film in even a negative way – it’s just sort of a boring spectacle. There are moments where I’m reminded of why I love him/why he’s definitive, etc., but they’re trapped within the Halloween 2 narrative which is, quite frankly, too much of a mess for me to take anything greatly positive out of. I wouldn’t argue with your assertion of his conviction in the way he adapts the material, but here I think something was lost in translation.

    So yes, I am arguing that RZ is a definitive director within a certain context. I suppose the true test of this status will be when Lords of Salem is released!

  • Capsulesn'Coffee says:

    Love me some Devil’s Rejects, can’t wait for Lord’s of Salem.

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