Rob Zombie: Reflecting on his idiosyncratic horror film legacy
“I like movies where you can come back and re-watch them and admire the cinematography 25 years later.” – Rob Zombie
American musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie rose to prominence as the charismatic frontman of the heavy metal band White Zombie, but he has also translated his artistic inclinations towards horror through the cinematic medium. Horror films and B-grade flicks had a formative influence on the young artist who even named his band after Victor Halperin’s 1932 cult film White Zombie. Although Zombie wouldn’t direct a movie for almost two decades after forming the band in 1985, his filmography has carved out its own unique space in the oversaturated genre. On his 56th birthday, we revisit Rob Zombie’s legacy as a filmmaker as a celebration of his contribution to the world of cinema.
Zombie made his directorial debut in 2003 with the black comedy horror film House of 1000 Corpses, finding himself in the directorial chair in a very unconventional manner. The idea for the film came to him in 1999 while he was designing a haunted house attraction for Universal Studios and decided to pitch it to them. Shot in 25 days, production was concluded in 2000, but Zombie could not find a distributor and had to re-shoot various segments. It was finally released three years later and was panned by critics for focusing too heavily on the grotesque elements of the genre without having the ability to transcend them. However, it also gave the world a glimpse of Zombie’s potential as a filmmaker and his love for horror films. Even though the project did not receive favourable reviews, the film has gone to have a cult following and even spawned two sequels in 2005 and 2019. He explained that his attraction towards the genre was primarily developed because his mother would not let him watch horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) which was a significant influence on his own works. In a 2005 interview, Zombie said:
“Growing up… I wanted to be Alice Cooper, Steven Spielberg, and Stan Lee.”
What makes Zombie’s work as a filmmaker so interesting is his ability to create fascinating intersections of multi-disciplinary sensibilities. Drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of sources, his narrative style is influenced by heavy metal as well as the “forbidden” horror films he grew up watching. Incorporating carnivalesque tropes like evil clowns, religious symbolism in the form of cults, and commentary on the morbidity of human desires through serial killers, Zombie’s films are a spectacle if not anything else. The most popular work in his oeuvre is probably the 2007 remake of John Carpenter’s classic 1978 slasher Halloween. Calling it a “reimagining” of Carpenter’s masterpiece, Zombie structured the film as an origin story in order to investigate the deranged machinations of Michael Myers’ opaque psyche. The film emerged as a commercial success and broke records on release, but as is the case with most of Zombie’s films, it was dismissed by critics for not bringing anything new to the already impressive legacy of Halloween. This did not deter the burgeoning filmmaker from making a sequel two years later, which further expanded on his vision.
That same year, he directed an adult animated film called The Haunted World of El Superbeasto which was based on his own eponymous comic book series. Featuring subversive visual narratives, this is probably one of the most hilarious and intriguing projects that Zombie has ever worked on. It is undoubtedly the hidden gem in his filmography, surpassing the more popular films because it is a perfect manifestation of Zombie’s chaotic and delightfully nefarious artistic vision. Remembering his family’s work in carnivals when he was young, Zombie made an exploitation film about carnival workers in 2016 called 31. Crowdfunded twice on the internet, the project fell flat on release once again, but Zombie’s experiments with pushing the boundaries of normative cinematic experiences have solidified his fan base. His latest film was released in 2019, the third addition to his Firefly trilogy which includes some of his iconic works like House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.
Rob Zombie’s filmmaking talents have been better recognised by audiences than the critics who have continuously dismissed him over the course of his career. Even if one chooses to fixate on the flaws of Zombie’s films, it is hard to refute the fact that he has made some of the most unique horror films in recent history. It can be debated whether that uniqueness is good or bad, but it is safe to say that he has cemented his reputation as an original voice in the horror industry.