In Defense of Rob Zombie

So–seriously, guys–why is all manner of internet Haterade directed at Rob Zombie?  I’ve been pondering that question for some time and yesterday’s post on Electronic Cerebrectomy which, in turn, linked over to Hunter Stephenson’s two-part /Film interview with Mr. Zombie (Part One and Part Two, respectively, for the lazyvolk), contained some really similar thoughts to mine on the topic.  All that hott compound-complex sentence action is circling around a single statement:  

I dig Rob Zombie’s films.

The controversy surrounding Zombie’s flicks seems to focus on his lack of originality and his depiction of so-called “white trash” characters.  Yes, he’s working in genre tropes and yes, he has a New York City art school background.  But… isn’t it part and parcel of making a horror movie to traffic in cliches and develop something engaging from that source material?  That’s the very definition of genre entertainment, in my mind.  As to Zombie’s perceived lack of firsthand knowledge of rural Caucasian serial killers, well… I’m fairly certain that Jean Rollin is not, in fact, a lesbian vampire, and this in no way diminishes my enjoyment of his films.
I know–I’m getting snarky here, but I really do have a hard time grasping why so much ire is directed at Rob Zombie’s films.  I really enjoy watching “House of 1,000 Corpses,” a film that stands up very well against my repeated viewings.  It’s a movie whose brutality is balanced with a black sense of humor, brimming with psychedelic visuals and employing a saturated color palette that place it in a different league from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” rip-off that many have dubbed it.  Zombie is a horror fan, and as such, he references the movies, characters, and stories that he loves–his work is connected to the horror genre from a fan level, rather from the perspective of a cynical cash-in.
Regarding his “Halloween” remake and the upcoming “H2,” I’ll confess I’m a bit torn.  My gut reaction to the whole Remake/Reboot phenomenon is one of Generalized Fangirl Dismay.  Why not position the film as a sequel and not just claim the same title?  It smacks of plagiarism more than homage, and borders on a major marketing misstep.  Once I’m over my initial hot-blooded scorn, however, the Remake/Reboot phenomenon isn’t some new, unprecedented, postmodern, Film-by-Committee thing.  The emotional connection a lot of folks feel to characters like Michael Meyers, Freddy Kreuger, and Jason Voorhees is pretty similar to the one that’s been established to Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man.  I don’t have the same kind of ZOMG SACRILEGE feeling when I encounter a new representation of one of the Classic Monsters, and while it’s productive to discuss the relative merits of each interpretation, it seems kind of silly to rail against their very existence.  The slashers of the late 70s and early 80s are really just the newest crop of Classic Monsters, and in this context I don’t have a particular problem with filmmakers taking a stab (har har) at this source material.
Looking at Rob Zombie’s films objectively, it’s hard to deny that he has a true consistency and thoroughness of vision.  His visual landscape is colorful, weathered, and macabre–a gruesome All Hallow’s Eve populated by sinister characters who speak in a distinctive patois.  Whether or not it’s a flavor of vision that a particular film-goer enjoys is open to debate, as is the degree to which Zombie is able to convey his intended look and feel, but to deny its existence seems kinda disingenuous to me.
Or maybe that’s just my crush on Sheri Moon Zombie speaking…

21 thoughts on “In Defense of Rob Zombie”

  1. As you know, I agree with you 100% on this. Plus, Rob Zombie is my boyfriend, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

    Remember…if they take out a restraining order against you, it means they know your name! *swoon*

  2. I totally agree, and have been saying something similar for a while. I think he executes well what he does, and just don’t understand how genre fans can hate on him so much.

  3. Here here, Empress. I too count myself a Rob Zombie movie fan, as unpopular as such a designation has become in recent years. Ho1KC is a great, fun spookhouse ride, imo, and the down-the-rabbit-hole Dr. Satan-substrate is just icing on the messy cake for me. And The Devil’s Rejects, while a very different beast, I still found extremely exciting and well-made.

    As to the Halloween remake, I was one of the only kids on my block who actually really enjoyed Zombie’s take on the material. Granted I’m not as emotionally attached to the Carpenter film as so many seem to be, but for me it was what that original film would have been like had it been made in Zombie’s alternate universe of “white trash” metalheads, which wasn’t a bad thing imo. Everything in the Zombieverse is faster, louder, and twice as big, so as you say it fit well with his “consistency of vision.”

    I *do* think that Zombie might have been better off tackling something entirely new than having to deal with the baggage of a well-established and even more well-beloved horror icon, but what he did with the material I didn’t have any problems with. Your point about the difference between our reactions to a new Frankenstein or Dracula film vs. a new Mike Meyers or Freddy Kreuger film is extremely apt.

    Here’s hoping that your courageous stand will encourage other closet Zombie non-haters to let their freak flags fly. 😉

  4. I think my perspective might be different than the typical genre fan haterade: I loved House of 1000 Corpses, enjoyed The Devil’s Rejects, but was completely turned off by Halloween.

    Here’s why I’m down on Rob Zombie’s H’ween: it’s actually two movies competing for screen time. On one hand, you have RZ’s psychotronic “murderous dirtbags” aesthetic (which I found to be the best bits of the movie) and on the other you have a disturbingly slavish imitation of the Halloween franchise.

    The two just don’t sit well together. I’d call RZ an auteur, in a sense; he executes his aesthetic very well, but when it comes to copping scenes wholesale from Carpenter I think it becomes all-too apparent that he’s out of his cinematic element.

    I would have much preferred if he did his own thing throughout the whole movie, without any reference to the prior films. Hell, he could even jettison the William Shatner mask at this point…it doesn’t exactly pack a visual punch anymore.

    In short, he errs on the side of “remake” rather than “reboot.”

    Word verification: “pestrian,” a more honest term for pedestrians.

  5. I don’t know much about Rob Zombie or his background or his artistic mission. What I do know is that I enjoy his films very much. I don’t get the same recoiling repulsion from him continuing the HALLOWEEN series in his own style, as I do when I hear about Hollywood remakes of things like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, or when I witness Tarantino’s smarmy “homage to certain films” interviews. I’m not sure why, but I guess I interpret this to mean that, like you, I feel that Zombie has a lot of love and respect for the horror genre.

    When I see such focused haterade taking the tack of “how DARE he pollute the genre” or whatever the latest grump is, I always feel like maybe people should stop analyzing and start enjoying movies for what they are, but that’s just me.

  6. I also have to say that I WAS a bit annoyed by Zombie’s HALLOWEEN just on its own as a movie(although it had its stellar moments – Daeg Faerch was a pretty amazing young Michael) – if only for the criminal lack of screentime given to Udo Kier.

  7. I am with you on this one. I don’t get why everyone seems to hate his movies. I find them to be completely entertaining horror movies. I really liked the way that The Devil’s Rejects kind of flipped the slasher movie upside down and actually turned the good guy into more of the slasher than the bad guys were.

    I definitely prefer the original Halloween to Zombie’s version but I think Zombie’s version stands on its own as a pretty damn good movie. I think there are a lot of people out there that just like to listen to themselves complain.

  8. Good to hear all the RZ love–I’ve been a fan of the man long before his movie career and I still am. My problem with HALLOWEEN doesn’t have anything to do with it being a remake–I was just disappointed that it wasn’t better. I was such a huge fan of his first two films that my expectations were very high. I left the theater feel blah about it. That being said–I’m still as big of a fan as I was before, even with H2 looming around the corner.

    My problem with most of the people that hate on RZ is it seems like they really dislike him as a person and judge his films based on that. The same could be said for Tarantino. Aren’t most directors (the good ones anyways) egomaniacal assholes? If I refused to watch (or like) a movie based on a director’s douchey attitude, I’d never be able to watch any movies.

    Honestly, I think most of the haters are horror fan boys that are jealous that another horror fan boy is living the dream and making movies while they’re still living in their parent’s basement dreaming of touching a girl for the first time.

  9. Another thumbs-up for RZ! I enjoy his films, admire his love for and knowledge of the genre, and eagerly await his next film. I think his take on the Carpenter classic is one of the better re-sprays. Damn shame the spec ed with that 4 1/2 hour doc hasn’t made it to the UK yet.

  10. Group hug!

    My name is CRwM. And I’m a Rob Zombie film fan.

    Oddly, I found myself unimpressed with Ho1KC on first viewing and dug Rejects immediately, only to find that, over time, the film’s positions seem to be swapping. I find more to enjoy in House and Devil’s seems to suffer the further away I get from the initial jolt of viewing it.

    I must admit that I haven’t watched the Halloween remake simply because I don’t need another Halloween in my life. It isn’t Zombie’s fault. I’d feel this way no matter who directed it. I felt the same way about Gus VanSant’s Psycho.

    Is it okay if we talk non-features? Perhaps my favorite Zombie “film” is the meticulously beautiful recreation of Caligari he did for the video to “Living Dead Girl.”

  11. Joan, we clearly see eye to eye on this subject, as we do on so many of today’s other important issues.

    Daniel, I share your puzzlement. I mean, I can understand simply not liking a director’s work, but the AMOUNT of venom surprises me!

    Vicar, Rob Zombie knows how to make an entertaining film. And yes, as you point out, DOCTOR SATAN. I mean–come the fuck *on*, people! That was pure horror excellence right there.

    Jack, your arguments against “Halloween” definitely have merit. But–see–you actually took the time out to see the movie and make a judgement based on… you know… having seen the movie, which is a very different thing from hopping on the hatey train! Now let’s go watch Ho1KC again 🙂

    Costuminatrix, I’m SO with you on the underuse of Udo Kier in “Halloween!” Although he looked *way* less embarrassed in that film than in “The Third Mother.”

    Rev. Fred, maybe you’re on to something with Rob Zombie’s potentially abrasive personality, although I always respond really well to him since that kind of candor is refreshing to me. I think part of the issue is the fact that, in most people’s eyes, RZ is a heavy metal musician and perhaps there’s a perception that he’s overstepping his bounds by branching out into film. Having gained popularity via MTV, there may be a stink of The Mainstream on him for some, although I tend to think of him as a genuine freak who just so happened to find a tremendous amount of success and visibility. In my mind, he’s living the dream, but to others I can see where this could be perceived as a “cash in.” You know what I mean?

    Steve, it’s good to see so many of my fave bloggers share my affection for RZ! I’m pleasantly surprised to learn this.

    CRwM–Awww, you know I love group hugs! And yes–please–any support of RZ’s aesthetic is totally welcome. I tend to think of him as a multimedia artist and King Of The Horror Nerds, really. His video for “Living Dead Girl” is *awesome*–it’s kind of a Self-Portrait As Dr. Caligari and it just *works* so damn well!

  12. When I first saw Devils Rejects I was reminded of those great, sleazy, European shockers from what I consider the golden age of that kind of thing.

    A few weeks ago I was watching Nico Mastorakis’s mega sleazy Ta paidia tou Diavolou aka Island of Death and there was a scene near the finale where the lead couple go on the run. At this point I thought of Devil’s Rejects.

    If Devil’s Rejects is homage to the golden age then it is a bloody fine one and captures the spirit of the film of the time in way that so many others have tried and failed.

  13. Having seen all of Zombie’s genre offerings, I thought House of 1000 Corpses was fun, if a little insubstantial. The Devil’s Rejects announced that a great talent would soon be arriving, but hadn’t quite gotten his luggage put together yet. And Halloween… oh, Halloween hurts me. Not because I hold a hallowed view of John Carpenter’s classic, but because Zombie is so clearly, earnestly trying and there was so much potential… and every last drop of it was wasted. Zombie really tried for his own vision of Myers but still somehow felt the need to be faithful to Carpenter’s movie at the weirdest, often inappropriate, times. He never quite made up his mind whether he was making Rob Zombie’s Halloween or Rob Zombie’s John Carpenter’s Halloween and the movie suffered for it.

    I’m looking forward to H2, oddly enough, because something tells me that Zombie’s figured out whose movie he’s making. With any luck, the promise of greatness seen in The Devil’s Rejects will be fully realized.

  14. I think Rob did make some mistakes with the Halloween remake but, for the most part his films are decent. House of a Thousand Corpses scared the bejesus out of me and I hope he can bring some of that gritty style back with Halloween 2.

  15. This all does me an incredible amount of good to see; thanks, Kate, for articulating better some of the things I was trying to get at. I agree with some of the takes here that RZ was torn between making his own Halloween movie and remaking Carpenter’s, which is something he acknowledges in the linked interview. I expect H2 is going to really be 100% Zombie.

    I just cannot understand the amount of hatred launched at RZ; it’s all sort of vague and unfocused. He’s doing something so much more interesting with the genre than most people. And I also dig his abrasive attitude.

    Word verification: sewer. Weird.

  16. Even in Devil’s Rejects you know something’s wrong and what is it — it’s the teeth. These people are all snarling rednecks with perrrfect teeth. Lots of close-ups of them, so there’s just a level on which it’s not to be taken seriously. Sadism and torture are grueling but then there’s that great “free bird” ending.

  17. I have to agree with most of what has been said here. Plus – nobody can or does make “his best work ever” on every project. It beats the definition… So if Halloween isn’t to everyone’s taste or not as good as his previous work – ok. His next project might even be better.
    Plus – I like to see work that goes a bit deaper than just skin deep horror.

  18. He’s okay. But to me in a lot of ways he typifies what seems to be a trend in horror fans making horror films. They tend to live in the isolated world of fandom so they don’t bring a lot of life experience with them other than that they love horror films and grew up watching them. As a result the flicks seem to be mash ups of other movies and tv shows, without a whole lot of new ideas or originality. I don’t hate the guy at all but I think some see him as a bit of the kind of poser that cuts the sleeves off his T-Shirts so you can see his tattoos.I didn’t get all the hate for the Halloween picture mainly because what difference does it make when a remake is done? It’s not gonna ruin your life or rape your grandma.

  19. I think it was HG Lewis who said, A movie can be good or bad but it better not be boring.

    I love Zombies movies as well. I’ve seen them all and was only disappointed by Halloween and the reason for that was because remakes just seem like a waste of time to me. They’re fine for some directors who have no individual creative vision, but guys like RZ who are doing something interesting during possibly the stalest time in filmmaking history don’t need to waste years remaking something.

    It seems to me that most of the people who hate him so much are the same ones who talk about sleaze as if it’s high art, that really pisses me off more than anything. Russ Meyer is not Fellini, HG Lewis is not Antonioni. Lets leave all the film school bullshit out and enjoy these movies for what they are, good sleazy entertainment.

  20. Nigel, I agree that “Devil’s Rejects” manages to be a very fine homage to the films its emulating. A rare feat indeed!

    Nate, it looks like you and Jack reacted quite similarly to RZ’s “Halloween.” I, too, am hoping that more of his personal style is injected into “H2.” Lets keep our fingers crossed!

    Monsterscholar, I love “House of 1000 Corpses” to a degree that’s probably embarrassing. I saw it three times during its theatrical run 🙂

    SamuraiFrog–thanks for YOUR post that got me to thinking about this topic! I’d been chit-chatting about it nebulously with pals for a while and you helped me focus my thoughts. Good stuff!

    Erich–you’re so right! The gross-out teeth FX from “Ho1KC” are not at all present in “Rejects.” Maybe they spent some of that time on the lam in the orthodontist’s office?

    Rachel, I think one of the aspects that I respond to in RZ’s work is his visual-arts background. As you say, it provides a texture that goes beyond cheap-scare/gross-out horror.

    Bwana, that’s an interesting observation about fans making films that I hadn’t thought about! I know I get frustrated with some movies that name-drop other well-known films with obvious “wink wink nudge nudge” willfulness. It’s definitely a pitfall, as you say.

    Tyrant, if you laugh at my jokes, you’ll only encourage me 😉

    Skipper–that’s such a fantastic quote, and I think it’s at the core of genre filmmaking. Be Not Boring is the one and only commandment, really!

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