Friday, October 27, 2017

The Haunted Cinema World of Rob Zombie: His 7 Horror films & Everything in Between

I remember being overly enthusiastic when Rob Zombie first announced he was going to direct HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003). His music, and music videos, were extremely faithful to many things I loved growing up so there was a level of curiosity as to what sort of vision he'd bring to the screen. In lieu of a lot of stories regarding gory content and various other hoopla, it took his film close to three years to make it to cinemas. My anticipation was barely containable--thinking how great it'd be to see a modern version of the 70s exploitation films I had great affection for; and who better to recreate that Hooperian Chainsaw Massacre style? Naturally, magazines like Fangoria kept me in the loop as to what was happening with the film and its ensuing troubles.

Universal owned Geffen Records which handled Zombie's music; so they put up the $7 million for the budget required to bring Zombie's horror flick to life. Mr. Z had stated at the time that the studio left him alone to make his movie the way he wanted in the summer of 2000. However, when studio execs sat down for a viewing of their investment in February 2001 they got cold-feet and decided against releasing it. Without a distributor for the first of two times, Zombie's movie eventually found a home at MGM... well, allegedly.

Zombie had shot a music video for a song he contributed to their ROLLERBALL remake from 2002 and stated in a Fangoria interview that MGM paid to finish the editing on HOUSE. Zombie later claimed that an off-handed joke he made during an interview with Ben Affleck changed the minds of the top brass at MGM and his film was an orphan once more. MGM reps denied ever having a deal; only going so far as negotiations. Whatever the real story, the film was finally picked up by then up-and-coming studio Lionsgate, who released the film in April of 2003. This situation with two factions having two different stories would again crop up later in Mr. Z's career; as would problems with distribution.

With all this supposed controversy surrounding a movie that sounded a lot like any of the ball-busting classicks of the 1970s, how could it miss? 

The article you are about to read is an account of the dismay which befell a potential fan of Rob Zombie's movies. He could not have expected, nor would he have wished to witness as much of the sad and substandard cinema he was to see that day. For him, an idyllic drive to a movie theater became a growing disenchantment. The events of that day were to lead to one of the most grim, disappointing careers in the annals of American movie history... Rob Zombie's repetitive, inferior re-telling of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

The first time I saw HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003) was opening day. I went to the first showing shortly after I got off working third shift at this grocery store distribution center in Greensboro. Home was 45 minutes away, but the anticipation of finally seeing this movie prompted me to drive back out to Greensboro to see it. Settling into the theater chair with scant few others dotted about the mostly empty theater, I prepared for what I'd hoped would be 89 minutes of sheer brutal horror. In some ways, 'brutal horror' is an apt description. That I was underwhelmed is putting it mildly. In fact, I thought I'd imagined just how shitty it really was considering I'd been up all night and the drowsiness overtaking me had possibly clouded my judgment. So I decided to go back again--another matinee--in the hopes I'd not been properly awake to appreciate the film that had been shelved for reportedly being too intense. But after seeing it a second time in the theater I came to the realization it couldn't have been shelved for being too intense.... it was shelved for being too shitty.

"I guarantee you that in 20 years, they'll be remaking HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES because someone will like the title"--RZ interview, Fangoria #266, September 2007

In his defense, Zombie has an uncannily good eye for visuals. Additionally, there's a building sense of dread in his debut outing. Unfortunately, these are blown out of the water by the most atrocious dialog imaginable. However, after a recent revisit to the HOUSE, it's almost 70s-early 80s Hooper level horror compared to Mr. Z's pictures that came after it. It's like he's been going in reverse. Remember the Merrye Syndrome in SPIDER BABY (1964)? The disease that forces mental and bodily regression sending the victim into a neolithic state? It's like Zombie's directing career has the Merrye Syndrome. HOUSE is horrible, but has moments of brilliance that shows an artist searching for his voice... and never finding it.

Among the good stuff, HOUSE has some inspired, nightmarish imagery; and a nicely done sequence of slow-motion torture and death backed by the folksy voice of Slim Whitman's 1966 country croonin' cover of 'I Remember You'. The carnival atmosphere is captured about as good as you can get but the utterly retarded dialog is as bad as Fair food deep fried in filthy grease. From here on out, there's plentiful clown paraphernalia; relentless rednecks; and bountiful batches of bad dialog.

Examples of Bizarre Dialog in Rob Zombie Movies: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

1. "You know what his favorite thing is next to whackin' his weasel? He takes a sharpened pencil and sticks in his eyeball and twists it. He doesn't hurt himself though, he kinda twists it right next to his eyeball."

2. "Once he got caught, you know, with a Planet of the Apes doll stuck up his asshole... they had to take'em to the hospital; kid had Dr. Zaius stuck halfway up his butt..."

Fuck Meter: 44 times

Compared to his later movies, 44 fucks given is a modest number. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1984) was still the F-Bomb champ with 52 F'ers, but Mr. Zombie would soon surpass the foul-mouthed Dan O'bannon classic with a vengeance. 

Two years later and we're revvin' up for THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005), the hot-rod HOUSE sequel where the Firefly's go on the road and cause all sorts of verbal havoc with viewers and physical havoc with their onscreen victims. After being overly disappointed in his directorial debut, I retained high hopes for this one. More controlled than his first effort, this sequel is a first for Rob Zombie in a few ways.

One, it's the first time he--for whatever reason--relentlessly tries to force the audience into sympathizing with his psychopathic killers. We're not talking King Kong or Frankenstein's Monster, but human garbage from whom the only audience identifier should be their ultimate destruction. I don't need to see their home movies; or see them enjoying ice cream together; or anything that makes them seem noble or heroic. I remember sitting in the theater becoming more uncomfortable as the film progressed, but not because of the onscreen mayhem. Zombie essentially tries to turn his Firefly clan into THE WILD BUNCH (1969). But these characters are not of the same caliber of outlaw and Rob Zombie is not Sam Peckinpah.

Second, he goes hog-wild with the adolescent dialog. If you thought the lines given the actors in HOUSE were the oratory equivalents of hearing that Celine Dion TITANIC song one more time, what gets uttered in THE DIALOG REJECTS is like allowing your 12 year old Dunce Cap Hall of Famer nephew to co-write while you figure out different place to insert butt shots of your wife.

Speaking of ass, for the first time you'll see Zombie movie mainstays--like relentless back-and-forth about dicks and vaginas; melodramatic orgasm imitations; and majestic use of the word 'fuck'. It all starts here so there is historical value in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. I have to admit, though, the 70s trash cinema atmosphere is palpable from start to finish--more grimy realism than the nightmarish fantasy of the earlier picture.

Zombie does manage some searing scenes of viciousness, but again, he bumps off the momentum with abjectly retarded dialog. Still, there's always William Forsythe to depend on. Rob Zombie got an absolutely amazing, nerve-shredding performance out of him. Despite the infantile lines given most of the cast, Forsythe gets the most memorable exchanges. He's on fire in virtually every scene he's in. Zombie nearly sabotages him with a bewilderingly stupid, irrelevant scene involving Groucho Marx and Elvis that adds nothing to the movie; but thankfully, Forsythe's anger-riddled face keeps the focus squarely on his agenda... to kill the Fireflies.

Examples of Bizarre Dialog in Rob Zombie Movies: THE DEVIL'S REJECTS

1. "You start messin' with that spacey shit and you really bring out some sick bitches... they all wantin' to pretend they're robots. Last thing I need is horny robots runnin' around, trippin' over shit."

2. "No sense standin' around like stone-foot roosters in a fuck farm!"

3. "Now ya'll ain't plannin' on fuckin' these chickens are ya'? ... I have thought about fuckin' some chickens before. If you want to have a good time and you need some pussy, you can cut that chicken's head off and stick your dick in that ass of that chicken, and that damn chicken'll go crazy on your ass and go, SQUAWWWWK!!"

Fuck Meter: 215 times

THE DEVIL'S REJECTS quadruples the number of 'fucks' from his CORPSES debut. A total fuck-a-thon from beginning to end, barely a minute goes by without the now worn-out expletive leaving someone's lips. It remains the 'fuck' champion on Zombie's resume with a couple other entries coming close.

"The original HALLOWEEN is hallowed ground to me, and I talked to [Carpenter] about it and he was very supportive of what I wanted to do. He said, 'Go for it, Rob. Make it your own.' And that's exactly what I intend to do."--Zombie in June, 2006.

While DR was more of the absurd same of Zombie's first, it was much more polished. But when I read he was tackling a remake of HALLOWEEN, there was zero enthusiasm aside from the curiosity as to how ridiculous it would turn out.

When Zombie got around to filming his version of HALLOWEEN (2007), it was met by a lot of division among fans--even before shooting began. You could tell the negative remarks got to Mr. Zombie as he made his frustration known on social media. When asked in 2007 about remaking the iconic John Carpenter movie, he told MTV, "there's not tons more blood. I'm not really a fan of 80s slasher bloody movies. [They've] always bored me ... I like character-driven movies. [This] is really violent and really intense, but it's because you get swept up in the characters... a bloodbath doesn't interest me."

If you've seen the film you know there's tons of blood.... It's a bloodbath... and never once do you get swept up in the characters. The characters are either utterly sadistic or irrepressibly juvenile. Even in a non-carnival setting, Rob Zombie simply cannot help himself. He turns suburbia into Hillbilly Hideaway. A long way from his Sheriff John Quincey Wydell of REJECTS, William Forsythe's foul-mouthed cretin could easily be Otis Driftwood's cousin. Even worse, Zombie's Michael Myers goes from being a supernatural force of evil to a white trash super villain. Yet again, Mr. Z feels compelled to make his maniac an audience sympathy sucker. We've already seen little long-haired Michael Myers kill his pet rat and murder an over-the-top school bully before we're treated to a saddened, sicko-in-training sitting alone on a curb while 'Love Hurts' plays on the soundtrack intercut with his stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie being serious) ridin' a pole at the Rabbit In Red whore hole.

Presumably because it was so bad, reshoots were ordered about a month before the movie's August theatrical release. Curiously, this first shit-version was leaked online a week before it hit theaters (seemingly a ploy so that in case the flick bombs studios can blame it on illegal downloads) so if you couldn't wait to get yer yokel on, you got some idea of what you were in for. A friend and I watched this version and barely finished it. Zombie's version makes REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS look impeccable from beginning to end. The masochist I am, I ended up paying to see it in the theater just to see the differences. Among the numerous alterations and entirely different scenes is the 'breakout' sequence. Thankfully, the original method by which Myers escaped was replaced by a much more sensible jailbreak. It's described below....

Initially, two hick orderlies hit on the idea of raping a female inmate. They don't do this in the girl's own room, they decide to haul her on over to Michael Myers's cell and rape her there. Naturally, Myers escapes. What did they think would happen? The sequence they replaced it with for theatrical release is right out of THE TERMINATOR (1984); only here, Myers isn't looking for Sarah Conner. After killing the cameoing cast of CORPSES and REJECTS dressed as cops, he makes his way to the white trash version of Haddonfield, Illinois where Zombie replicates Carpenter's classic; but gives his cast lots of horrendously childish dialog that only a 12 year old would find humor in uttering.

Once you've seen his hackneyed, hillbilly version of HALLOWEEN, it's assured that every movie from Mr. Zombie takes place in some alternate universe where nobody acts or talks the way normal people do. Do teens really imitate sex with a doughnut in front of their parents? Absolutely one of the worst horror movies ever made and easily the worst of 2007.

Fuck Meter: 99 times (including utterances in alternate and or deleted scenes)

Rob Zombie was intending to follow-up his holiday travesty with the film he really wanted to make--another 70s style exploitation movie titled TYRANNOSAURUS REX. This T-Rex was no Jurassic Trailer Park, but dealing with either a wrestler or boxer coming into contact with a satanic biker gang. This particular flick has been on-again-off-again since it was announced back in 2008. After wrapping HALLOWEEN 2 (2009), Zombie planned to make T-REX but was sidelined again when he was out of his Weinstein contract. Still planning to bring it to life, it was now set to follow THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012).... which didn't happen either. Despite his HALLOWEEN being the equivalent of biting into an apple with a razor blade in it, I was genuinely curious about this biker movie, so it's a shame this one never came to fruition.

One that I am glad never saw the light of day was a full-length feature version of 'Werewolf Women of the SS'--Zombie's contribution to the handful of fake trailers in the atrocious GRINDHOUSE (2007). Back in the day, trailers were around 3-4 minutes long and gave you a good idea what the entire movie was about. RZ's faker is five minutes and tells you nothing as to what it's supposed to be aside from a series of shots strung together dealing with Nazis creating werewolves and half-naked women doing Ilsa imitations.

"There are more shots of Michael Myers running around in his mask in [HALLOWEEN 2] than any of the other movies."--Rob Zombie mis-remembering the other HALLOWEEN movies in an interview with Slash in 2009.

If one HALLOWEEN directed by Rob Zombie wasn't bad enough, round 2 surfaced in 2009. A critical disaster and a box office flop, the film essentially rides off on the white horse Sheri Moon Zombie's ghost periodically walks around with. Again, Mr. Z experiments in art house mode--mixing his patented, stylized hillbilly hijinks with occasional surreal imagery; and the Myers mask (when he's wearing it) looks even more like something Leatherface would wear than it did previously. The rest of the time, he walks around mask-less, looking like a pissed off vagrant; and even speaks at the end. Unfortunately, this strange marriage didn't work with audiences, and they divorced it soon after.

Zombie does show his penchant for camera placement and striking visuals but ruins them with his scripted dialog that rolls uneasily from the lips of his cast. For example, Zombie inexplicably has Richard Brake in closeup uttering 'fuck' over two dozen times; this after the ambulance he's riding in plants his face into the windshield when a cow decides the middle of the road is a good place to graze. Most horror fans passionately hate H2.... possibly even more so than the divided base for his '07 remake. 

Zombie's sequel is, in some ways, superior to his horrendous revision. It's a nasty, ultra mean-spirited nightmare. H2 has all the hallmarks of what makes an RZ movie near torture to sit through; yet it contains arguably his best sequence in his filmography.... the truly suspenseful and scary hospital sequence near the beginning. It's one of the most savagely ruthless 20 minutes of pure horror in the new millennium. Everything else--turning Myers into a homeless vagrant; the plethora of hillbillies living in Illinois; Myers without his mask for a huge chunk of the movie; having Myers speak--resembles a Firefly sidestory than anything familiar to the HALLOWEEN universe. With four films under his belt at this point, it's clear he cannot stop re-doing THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).

In the midst of financial woes, the Weinstein's were hoping for a 2nd Zombie hit with HALLOWEEN 2. It didn't happen. The company's slate of potential movies was riding on the success of Zombie's sanguinary sequel to his redneck re-imagining of the Carpenter classic. In the wake of that film's box office rejection, layoffs came to the Weinstein House; and Zombie's plans for his redneck wrestling-biker-whatsit flick were again on the backburner. Mr. Z is very fond of H2, though. He blamed its failure on TWC releasing it the same weekend as FINAL DESTINATION 3D. However, HALLOWEEN '07 made a decent amount of coin; likely not for whatever qualities it might have, but because people were curious what Rob Zombie would do with the material. Once they found out, the only audience left for H2 were the hardcore RZ fans.

Fuck Meter: 155 times

After seeing HALLOWEEN 2 on DVD (I didn't even bother seeing it in the theater), I made a prediction that Zombie's time in the spotlight was passing; this would likely be his last big theatrical hurrah and his next film would be a limited release or Direct To Video. 

Described by Zombie as being like, "Spongebob and Scooby-Doo if they were filthy", THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO (2009) is more of the same only animated. Rob Zombie's fixation on prepubescence is pushed into overdrive. Crammed with as much vintage horror references as its 77 minute running time will allow, the preponderance of dick and boob jokes overpower everything else. The number of expletives is drastically reduced, yet the dialog does nothing to propel forward what is little more than a nonsensical animated equivalent of one of Zombie's live-action shit-fests. There's a few mildly funny moments but nearly all the jokes fall flat... unlike the many bouncing cartoon breasts on display. Again, Zombie has a unique visual style that's betrayed whenever people (in this case, animated people) open their mouths to spout sophomoric dialog.

Examples of Bizarre Dialog in Rob Zombie Movies: THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO

The whole damn movie.

Fuck Meter: 41

Thank Christ we never got the Zombie BLOB remake that was being threatened. An even worse fit than HALLOWEEN, I can only imagine what that would've been like. According to Mr. Zombie, "It was dead serious... almost like a dark science fiction film, but was serious". I recall we already had a dead serious, dark SciFi version of THE BLOB.... in 1988. Actually, the original 1958 Blob wasn't exactly a comedy. Zombie's version would be so dark, all the scientists and lawmen would have long hair, goatees and tattoos. Somewhere, somehow, clowns would figure into the mix with The Blob ending up at a carnival run by a crazed family of rednecks.

Ah, but there were no trailer parks in the 1958 version; nor were there any long-haired serial killers whose vocabularies were made up of judicious uses of Zombie's fave 4-letter word. "That fucking Blob of man-eating Jell-O, killer play-dough piece of fucking shit! FUCK! Fuck you, Blob! FUCK YOU!"

In regards to the Blob itself, Zombie stated in an interview, "I was thinking, you know, it wasn't going to be a big red globby thing. I don't know what it IS going to be, it's more like I know what I DON'T want it to be." This might be why this movie never got off the ground. If you're making a movie titled THE BLOB you're most likely expected to have a Blob in there somewhere. Maybe the Blob would've been like THE STUFF (1985); you ingest it, thereby turning all who eat it into long-haired psychopaths with southern accents who swear a lot.

In 2011, Zombie added commercials to his resume. What's interesting about this commercial for Woolite laundry detergent is that his movies feature characters who appear to never bathe much less wash their clothes, and here he's doing one about cleaning your dirty laundry. Astonishingly, it's an extremely well made 30 second spot; likely because he wasn't given time to screw it up with nonsensical dialog you couldn't air on television anyways. Naturally, it's another trip down TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE lane, but exceptional just the same.

"I wanted to do something different. The four films [I've done] so far have all gone down the road of physical violence.... It’s literally one person attacking another with a knife or a gun and I wanted to get away from that. LORDS OF SALEM became more of a psychological, mind-fuck film right from the start"--Rob Zombie interview with Coming, 2013

LORDS OF SALEM (2012) was Zombie's 5th. Based on a song from his 2006 'Educated Horses' album, the direction would be different and RZ finally moves (only temporary!) out of Texas and into Salem, Massachusetts; but some things would remain the same--Sherri Moon Zombie and her rear end are starring; the film is filled with incoherence; fucks are given, but far less than normal. Aside from Zombie's abnormally subdued approach to the material, there's not a redneck in sight. To compensate for the lack of elementary school level dialog, Zombie over-indulges in visuals that range from striking to head-scratching; and occasionally resembling something akin to Kubrick's version of THE SHINING (1980). 

Despite the plodding picture, Zombie puts forth an effort at something radically different. The trademark dumb dialog is still there, but it's not as prominent. Also, his wife has an entire movie centered around her and she's convincing through much of it. A shame the movie is about as engaging as a root canal. THE LORDS OF NAUSEAM was made for approximately 2.5 million and made a little over a million during its limited theatrical run. Leave it to Rob Zombie to make witch's and ancient curses boring.

Examples of Bizarre Dialog in Rob Zombie Movies: THE LORDS OF SALEM

1. "I think you've come here to get inside my dear little Heidi's head. Get inside her head and FUCK her brain. Have you come here to stick your nosy cock inside her head and FUCK her brain?!"

Fuck Meter: 10 times

With only 10 fucks to give, this was a rare opportunity that Rob Zombie didn't give a fuck for a change. This wouldn't last long, as he'd be right back to giving a plethora of fucks with his next movie.

In early 2013, Rob Zombie had seemingly come to his wits end with horror after LORDS OF SALEM was burned at the box office stake. Whether out of frustration or some other reason, Zombie stated in an interview with the Phoenix News Times that he was done with horror "for a really long time".... a declaration he had previously made in November of 2009. Well, that lasted all of a year before Zombie was back at it again. During this brief horror hiatus he was reported to be prepping his then newest movie, 'Broad Street Bullies', a film described as "ROCKY meets BOOGIE NIGHTS", a hockey film set in the 70s that never made it onto the ice.

The movie he did make ended up being another horror movie... this one called 31 (2016); and a film Zombie partially made via crowd-funding. The title refers to October 31st. Unfortunately, there's nothing remotely Halloween about it. But all seriousness aside, 31 really means the number of minutes before I had to shut it off and go do something constructive, come back and try to make it through to the end. Yet again, we get the 3rd grade level dialog--some of the worst you've ever heard. Yet again we get repeated usage of 'fuck' ad infinitum. We are officially back in Firefly country.

After overcoming numerous obstacles, Zombie's little killer clown flick was acquired by Saban Films for North American distribution. President Bill Bromiley said in an interview, "31 is a treat not just to horror fans, but fans of true auteur filmmaking....."

.... Auteur....? (author is momentarily overcome with uncontrollable laughter)

Bromiley continued... "The film is executed in true stylistic Zombie fashion. Rob is an unrivaled talent, and we are thrilled to bring his bold new film to audiences across the continent."

In September 2016, the film was released for one night only, in 400 theaters "across the continent". The result is a Godzilla-sized step backwards compared to the subtle qualities and restraint Zombie displayed in LORDS OF SALEM. Imagine SALO (1975) meets THE RUNNING MAN (1987) in an abandoned factory. It's carnies versus an insane clown posse while bourgeois Brits make bets on who will survive the night. The film takes place in deepest, darkest Texas where there's an apparently substantial European population.

While shooting 31, the news was out Zombie was planning to direct a movie on the life of Groucho Marx. When you can stop laughin' at least take it seriously that Mr. Zombie isn't in line to write the screenplay; but imagine Groucho growing up in the trailer park (Groucho Parx!); or Groucho covered in tattoos; or Groucho as a rebellious dude with a limited, if expedient, expletive-filled vocabulary. As far as straight comedy is concerned, Zombie did direct a stand-up comedy special for Tom Papa called TOM PAPA: LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY in 2011. A proposed horror comedy series titled 'Trapped' that Zombie would have produced with Mila Kunis was announced in late 2015 but has yet to materialize. The plot sounded like a disastrous cable version of any film on his filmography up to this point.

Examples of Bizarre Dialog in Rob Zombie Movies: 31

1. "Suck my muthafuckin' bawls!"

2. "Sucky sucky sucky... fucky fucky fucky... juicy juicy juicy... money money money!"

Fuck Meter: 169 times

News broke a few days ago that the musician/filmmaker is now planning a third Firefly flick. If it's not a prequel, he could always bring them back from the dead like they did with Jason Voorhees in JASON LIVES (1986); or they could pretend the ending of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was all a dream like what they did with Bobby Ewing on DALLAS back in the 80s. So the possibility for more bad dialog; endless dick and boob jokes; and sympathetic psychopaths are on the horizon.

With Rob Zombie's movies, you either love them or you hate them. The man obviously loves the moving image and has been blessed with both a musical career and various chances to make the type of films he loves, regardless of what fans think of them. He has also given many cult film actors a second life onscreen, so that in itself is an endearing quality. Nonetheless, and in this author's opinion, I keep hoping Mr. Zombie will make that one truly good horror picture that isn't saturated in diarrhea-inducing dialog; and doesn't necessarily involve clowns, carnivals, and Texas massacres.
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