From HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES To 3 FROM HELL: The Films of Rob Zombie
When talking about Rob Zombie, it’s important to address where we’re at with horror these days. Independent filmmakers are cherry-picked to helm big tentpole films and have every decision second-guessed, and it seems rare to see a director regularly defy the rules laid out before them. It’s a breath of fresh air to see up-and-coming filmmakers like Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Osgood Perkins give genre fans something unique that digs under your skin and lives there.
When we think of modern-day auteurs, we jump to films like The Witch or Midsommar, and rightfully so. That said, as horror fans, we tend to look at what’s new and fresh with starry eyes and fail to see how under-appreciated some maverick directors can be.
A man who’s never given genre fans the same thing twice, Rob Zombie is a master of taking what’s dirty and ugly and allowing his viewers to breathe and exist in worlds other filmmakers shy away from. From his acid trip debut House Of 1000 Corpses to his most recent film, the Peckinpah-like 3 From Hell (now on Shudder), Zombie makes his monsters the protagonists.
From the opening scene of House Of 1000 Corpses, we know that Zombie’s most interesting protagonists are his villains. He’s been criticized for writing antagonistic characters that a lot of people find easier to root for than the good guys, and he refuses to pull away from the carnage, showcasing the moments when the villains find themselves introspective and meditative.
The Devil’s Rejects injected audiences into a horrific tale of revenge and retribution that saw Zombie retooling his already familiar characters into something very different from his debut. And love them or hate them, Zombie’s Halloween films gave viewers a complete 180 from the originals, an approach that would be scoffed at today, as with the recent Black Christmas reimagining, which did the same and was unfairly maligned as a result.
Just when horror fans thought they had Zombie figured out, he returned with his 2012 Blumhouse flick, The Lords Of Salem. Gone were the characters some of Zombie’s critics called “more white trash.” Instead, Lords offered a more European aesthetic, full of quiet moments mixed with impressively visceral sequences. And people didn’t show up, which is unfortunate, because it is, in this writer’s opinion, truly Zombie’s best.
After 2016’s Most Dangerous Game-esque 31, Zombie found himself itching to revisit some of his most beloved characters. When 3 From Hell was announced, fans were both excited and skeptical, seeing as Otis, Baby, and Spaulding had all very obviously been shot to hell in the Devil’s Rejects finale. Talks of Zombie going back to the well were thrown around, but when the film hit special screenings for a two-night series, those talks were immediately shot down. A ride into hell much like Zombie’s two previous Firefly films, 3 From Hell gave viewers yet another curveball by showing us a more introspective side to the clan. They think about how life comes and goes, the people they’ve lost, and wonder if the road ahead is their last trek.
When throwing the term “master of horror” around, we think of filmmakers like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. What those directors gave genre fans were unique films that left their mark not only on the genre but on cinema in general. Zombie has done the same. Time and time again, he has reinvented his creations and offered horror lovers something uniquely his. Rob Zombie is still a force to reckoned with and one of the most underappreciated horror auteurs.
Jerry Smith is a film journalist who primarily writes about horror. His work can be found in Scream Magazine, Dread Central, Morbidly Beautiful and many others. Smith also co-hosts the Pod and the Pendulum podcast and directed the Joanna Angel-led short film Love Is Dead.