The Beginner’s Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
Rob Zombie - source unknown

Rob Zombie doesn’t get enough love and respect for his hellish brand of horror. When he isn’t writing records or touring the world in all his heavy metal glory, Zombie sets out to create visceral odd-balls of horror in his filmmaking.

His film worlds revolve around Americana, embracing outsiders and fast thrills. His characters are fairly one-dimensional, but make for either entertaining plot devices, or intriguing looks into insanity. His humor and uses of violence come together to present B-movie atmospheres that lure viewers in with curiosity, giving them moments of laughs and fits of anxiety.

With seven films under his belt, Rob Zombie’s career has shown to be a wild ride of awkward laughs, and chilling terror.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – source: Lions Gate Films

Rob Zombie’s debut work makes for a somewhat goofy and disturbing twist of evil rednecks. Right away we are shown the horrors that come from the Firefly Family in how they kidnap, torture, and kill innocent people. The film focuses on one group of friends who find themselves enthralled in learning more about the legendary Dr. Satan. This maniac, who was known for torturing and experimenting on his victims, is what leads our characters to the Firefly household, where a night of horror falls upon them.

House of 1000 Corpses makes for a black comedy soaked in Americana vibes. This comes through in the campy aura and story dropping pop culture references. Bizarre editing allows for introspective moments with our villains as they discuss their own psyche and beliefs. Zombie also blends in his love for classic exploitation films, creating a cast of sexed up psycho maniacs.

The pacing is interrupted by those weird moments of editing, and while many of the characters are odd and disturbing, they are never fleshed out. There is an awkward appeal to this that is similar to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Firefly family is a blend of torture loving creatures with nothing that’s really human to them (other than perhaps their loyalty to one another). The over the top violence and goofy characters in the film would begin a theme that would follow the rest of Rob Zombie’s work.

Zombie also likes relying on certain actors and actresses returning in his work, with House of 1000 Corpses introducing many viewers to some of those folks. Specifically, there’s his wife Sheri Moon Zombie (portraying Baby), along with the legendary talents of that of Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding) and Bill Moseley (Otis).

It would be Zombie’s next work that would reveal how much more these three are capable of.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – source: Lions Gate Films

While the narrative to House of a 1000 Corpses came as an awkward trip, The Devil’s Rejects is a much clearer path in regards to story and character direction. That being said, characters are still one-dimensional beings and basic plot devices. But Rob Zombie is able to bring an added charm to them this time around; in ridding his use of odd cuts, we actually spend more time with characters and get a little more of a look into who they are.

The film is a direct sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, the story focusing on Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby attempting to escape the cops after a brutal shootout takes place at their home. Over the course of our characters outrunning the law, we find them torturing and terrifying everyone that comes their way. In one instance we have Captain Spaulding threatening a child by saying that if he doesn’t like clowns the next time he sees him, he’ll kill him. We even have Otis cut off the face of this woman’s husband, just to make her wear it as a mask.

The Devil’s Rejects amps up the gore and violence times ten, presenting a truly vicious tale. It also has plenty of black humor, with one specific scene that finds the three main characters laughing and having ice cream after horrifically killing a group of friends.

Both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects have obtained cult classic status in the world of horror. But it is actually Rob Zombie’s next picture that would enter mainstream horror.

Halloween (2007)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
Halloween (2007) – source: Dimension Films

Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween has been met with plenty of criticism. In John Carpenter’s original 1978 film, the antagonist of Michael Myers was a silent being, and we as the audience were given no explanation as to why he was the way he was. We only knew and saw him as the other characters in the film did – a force of evil.

The remake aims to humanize Michael, showing us the rough and abusive white-trash lifestyle he was brought up in. Constant bullying by kids at school and his stepdad (along with his own inner demons), lead Michael to the pivotal moment where he kills his sister, her boyfriend, and his stepdad.

Unlike Carpenter’s version, though, the violence is shown here in all its bloody glory. Each slash and stab of Michael’s blade comes with a haunting score that honors the work of the original, providing an air of terror and chills. Zombie even ends up recreating scenes from the original.

The characters of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her friends strive to recreate that late 70s appeal as they get ready for a night of hooking up with boys, or babysitting in Laurie’s case. Malcolm McDowell plays that of Dr. Loomis, and instead of being the pure knight in shining armor like the character was in the original Halloween, this remake introduces an egotistical approach to Loomis’ relationships and work.

The black comedy is strung throughout Halloween, but at its core it is a pure slasher flick. Its considerable differences compared to the original film are apparent, with many fans not overly joyed with the humanizing of a villain who is supposed to be pure evil incarnate. What Rob Zombie successfully pulls off, though, is creating a modern slasher that is still able to pay tribute to the original work. At the same time, his own style is able to provide a new light and dimension to a beloved character for a new audience of horror fans.

Halloween 2 & The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009) – source: Anchor Bay Films

Acting as a direct sequel to the first Halloween, Halloween 2 is easily Rob Zombie’s weakest work. After surviving the night from Michael Myers, Laurie lives in a rebellious nature, her innocence now stripped away. Where in the past a lot of Zombie’s characters have been one-dimensional, there was at least a level of humor to them.

And in many cases there’s still some humor in these characters, as Laurie becomes more of an obnoxious loud mouth, and Dr. Loomis’ ego grows to hilarious rates. But the cast itself is really dull, and given that there is such a lack of action in this picture, the one-dimensional characters don’t work like they did in House of 1000 Corpses.

In that previous film, there was always an air of unease or terror around. In Halloween 2, things are pretty lackluster, and after an intense introduction, bits of action drop in and out throughout the story. What makes Halloween 2 somewhat interesting is its use of psychological horror (something new for Zombie’s work, and something that would appear in a much larger sense later on).

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto follows that of El Superbeasto (voiced by Tom Papa), who is a suave yet violent exploitation film actor and director (who also happens to be a masked wrestler). The film also stars Sheri Moon Zombie as El Superbeasto’s sultry sidekick Suzi-X. This animated film is a balls to the wall vulgar tale set in the land of ghouls and ghosts.

Its pure black comedy makes for a terrific musical full of sex and violence. As a straight up comedy, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto takes all of Zombie’s interests, and delivers them in hilarious fashion. With nods to classic horror movies, Rob Zombie’s own work, and robots that get raging hard-ons, the animated tale is a gut busting good time.

The Lords of Salem (2013)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
The Lords of Salem (2013) – source: Anchor Bay Films

Next to The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, The Lords of Salem is easily the most drastically different thing he has ever created. The Lords of Salem follows that of Heidi La Rock (Sheri Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who DJs at a local radio station in Salem, Massachusetts. The story eventually reveals that Heidi is of interest to a group of witches who wish to extract revenge for tortures committed against their coven.

There are a lot of interesting things that take place throughout The Lords of Salem. For one, it’s the first time that Moon Zombie really takes on a main lead role (unlike sharing the spotlight with Haig and Moseley in previous films). For those who are expecting her to be as bubbly as she was in previous works, she’s actually quite the opposite in The Lords of Salem. She isn’t the most entertaining main character compared to those past roles.

The other aspects that make The Lords of Salem so interesting is that 1). It’s Rob Zombie’s least gory work, and 2). It’s his most psychological. He plays around with characters who don’t have a grip on reality and who hallucinate in Halloween 2, but The Lords of Salem brings a true dread and horror to it. There’s a scene where Heidi is in a church, and forced to provide fellatio to a priest while he spews black gunk from his mouth, only to wake up in the church and realize it was a nightmare.

So much of what Heidi sees (and what we as the audience see) is out there and questionable. We have a sense that of course there’s a supernatural element at play, but then there’s also the element of Heidi’s addiction coming into things, and Zombie actually messes with our heads in regards to what imagery is real or not.

The picture is a slow burn when comparing it to other Rob Zombie films, but demonstrates the director’s desire and willingness to try new things. The psychological and surreal horror leads to an explosive ending full of blasphemous and satanic imagery.

31 (2016)

The Beginner's Guide: Rob Zombie, Director & Writer
31 (2016) – source: Saban Films

On Halloween night in 1976, a group of carnival workers is kidnapped and forced into a murder game called 31. All they have to do is survive the night, using whatever means they can find to fight off their foes.

Zombie’s use of gritty and violent imagery makes a return, even though the film is much more tamed compared to his early work. While there are plenty of grotesque moments, the use of shaky cam and abrupt cuts take away from the audience being able to fully immerse themselves in the violence taking place.

Even though the premise is far from original, it’s still an interesting one (especially with Zombie’s fascination for clowns). That is in full effect here, as each one of 31’s bad guys appears in some form of clown makeup. Sheri Moon Zombie returns to share the spotlight with a variety of actors (many returning from past Zombie work like Jeff Daniel Phillips and Meg Foster).

The true star of 31, though, is Richard Brake as that of Doom-Head. Brake not only provides a lot of the film’s dark comedy, but also is its most interesting character. While it’s easy to realize that all of 31’s characters are pretty flat, Doom-Head’s dialogue is what keeps his character ahead of the others. His witty/violent nature is as intriguing as it is uneasy, as he comes off as one of the most sinister villains to appear on the big screen in recent years.

31 isn’t Zombie’s strongest work, for the action packed moments come in waves. It isn’t a consistent ride of intrigue or uneasiness like his previous work, but rather comes with dull moments that eventually bring in really exciting and awesome scenes.

The Future for Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie has stated he would go on to do a number of films, including a Blob remake and a project called Tyrannosaurus Rex. Yet it seems that none of those projects will ever happen now with all the years gone by.

It does appear, though, that he intends on following through with his new project Raised Eyebrows, a movie about the life of actor and comedian Groucho Marx. How this work will use Rob Zombie’s iconic B-movie style? Who knows.

Throughout his seven films, Zombie clearly shares what he is interested in. Within that taste comes the desire to try new things, making for unique and fun work. His pictures have taken on new shapes as his career has progressed, yet maintain a flow of pure violence and horror.

The work of Rob Zombie is not to be underestimated, for he is one of those directors that is tapping into a perspective of horror that not many other directors are doing today. His B-movie Americana is vibrant in creating chilling environments, and presenting characters that will leave us scratching our heads, and afraid to turn the lights off at night.

Out of all of Rob Zombie’s films, which one is your favorite and why?

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Michael Pementel is a Columbia College Chicago graduate of the Creative Writing Program. He began his career in music journalism, while continuing to write film essays revolving around mental health. His writing eventually landed him opportunities to currently write for a variety of publications, most noticeably: New Noise Magazine, Metal Injection, and Broken Amp. His love for film and pop culture has lead him here, where he plans to share his adoration for film even more. When not writing he loves to curl up with his partner on the couch and watch everything from cheesy B-Horror, to artsy horror films.