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“Growing up, I had the weird fantasy list: I wanted to be Alice Cooper, Steven Spielberg, and Stan Lee.” – Rob Zombie
Since 2003, Gothic-metal performer Rob Zombie has turned his hand to a different form of creativity – writing and directing movies. Of course, given his name and background he was never going to create rom-coms. Instead, Zombie has produced a string of lurid thrillers, some of which succeeded as homages to 70’s styled horror outings, while others fell short of even entertaining. But the one thing that remains constant is his commitment to scaring and twisting the minds of audiences.
This year sees the return of his “best-loved” creation: the Firefly Family in his latest guts and glory outing 3 From Hell. They are the unruly blood hungry degenerates who were introduced to the world in Zombie’s debut outing House Of 1000 Corpses. Comprising of Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (the late Sid Haig) the gang were all presumed dead after the shoot-out that closed Zombie’s sophomore feature The Devil’s Rejects (see below). However, in 3 From Hell they are very much alive and residing behind bars. Whilst all three are sentenced to life in prison, even maximum security cannot hold them back.
3 From Hell doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It is just about what you would expect, although it does suffer from the lack of Sid Haig who was in ill-health at the time of shooting. On that basis, perhaps the movie is a tribute to the actor, and as such serves its purpose as a vehicle to close the chapter on Zombie’s first creation.
The film doesn’t add much to the original entries in the franchise, nor does it take anything away. As such, die-hard fans of the Firefly Family outings will get some enjoyment out of the horror even if it’s doubtful 3 From Hell will reach that cult status which is adorned on House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. That said, the fact that Zombie achieves what he does in his latest for only three million dollars leaves viewers wondering: What could he do with more money?
Looking at his oeuvre as a whole, Rob Zombie’s talent as a filmmaker does not lie in his overall concepts for movies. This is as so much of his work draws inspiration from other horror cinematic greats. Instead, his genius lies in his characters, who are often absorbing and engrossing to watch. Below are three examples of his best work – essential for fans of the horror genre.
3. 31 (2016)
Set in 1976, 31 is a mash-up of The Running Man and The Most Dangerous Game. A group of carnival workers are kidnapped and placed into a maze of danger. Betting on the outcome are three wealthy eccentric individuals, Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and their leader Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder (Malcolm McDowell). The boss informs the captives they have 12 hours to make their way through the maze, while being stalked by killers lurking within known as “Heads.”
31‘s highlight is actor Richard Brake (Mandy) as Doom Head, who with his menacing unnerving OTT performance feels like a mixture of The Joker and Freddy Krueger. Between he, McDowell and their characters is proof Zombie is better at building personalities than narratives. With a less derivative and predictable plot, this could have been a masterpiece. As it stands, it’s just perfectly fun.
2. Halloween (2007)
Not so much a remake but a re-imagining, it is a testament to Zombie’s fearless nature that he tackled a bona-fide classic by John Carpenter and made it work – in places I’d argue bettering the ideas of the original. Zombie goes further into the backstory of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) than Carpenter did – exploring what drove the man/monster to first kill as a teen before the obsessive search for his sister Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) years later. It even goes into Myers’ actual escape from the asylum, and the father-son bond that developed there between the psychopath and his psychiatrist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).
Full of dread as Michael gets closer to Laurie, what’s unique here is that the first half of the movie provokes sympathy for Myers in viewers – as a result of his damaged teenage years. We almost root for the killer. All in all, Zombie’s take on the 1978 originator of the slasher genre is solid if less playful and more brutal than its source. It broke big at the box office upon release, overtaking every other Halloween outing since the original 35 years previous.
1. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
This is Zombie’s masterpiece. Here he created something rare: the feeling of rooting for the scum, the sociopath and the murderer. The Devil’s Rejects combines the road movie with 70s slick exploitation horror. It is one sadistic act after another with a rollicking rock soundtrack.
The Devil’s Rejects follows on from (and improves on) House Of 1000 Corpses as the Firefly family are now on the run from Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (William Forsythe). This cop has ordered a shoot-on-sight mission to state troopers, regarding the Firefly’s 75 counts of homicide. With their last gasp of avoiding capture, the family head to visit Captain Spaulding’s half brother Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree), seeking protection in his brothel. It is here they become cornered escaping, only to meet a Bonnie and Clyde-style death (we thought) at the hands of a police roadblock. As Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” plays they drive head first into the troopers with all guns blazing. A perfect rock and roll ending to Rob Zombie’s most perfect movie so far.