There are very few filmmakers more divisive than Rob Zombie. The musician-turned-filmmaker has amassed a large following over the years, with his films’ unique aesthetic and unrelentingly violent themes. Love him or hate him, Zombie doesn’t give a damn. He brings his vision to the table, and you’re welcome to pull up a chair if you have the stomach for it. Seven films deep, die-hards are currently being treated to a limited, 3-day theatrical run of his eighth feature. The long-awaiting sequel to The Devil’s Rejects and the final chapter in the sadistic saga of the Firefly family, 3 From Hell promises more of everything you already love about Rob Zombie. How should we celebrate?
In honor of 3 From Hell‘s inaugural theatrical release September 16th-18th, we’re taking a deep dive back into the twisted world of Zombie and ranking each of his cinematic works. Without further ado, lets dig through the ditches and burn through the witches.
7. The Lords of Salem (2012)
The Lords of Salem reigns supreme as the most divisive film from one of the most divisive filmmakers around. After two films tied to the Halloween franchise, Zombie fans anxiously waited for new, original material that this film promised.
I’m going to handle this ranking with the help of an old favorite, the “compliment sandwich.” The Lords of Salem represents a drastic departure from Zombie’s previous work, opting for a slow burn approach, with no vulgar white-trash hillbillies in sight. Unfortunately, you can only watch an entranced Sheri Moon Zombie stare and wander about for so long before you wish to burn at the stake yourself. In the end, Lords brings along some awesome cinematography, and I absolutely adore the gray-blanketed atmosphere of Salem. But, it’s just not near enough to overcome the 1 hour and 41-minute slog through nothingness this movie subjects you to.
6. Halloween II (2009)
Unfortunately, I don’t have many nice things to say about Rob Zombie’s Halloween follow-up. Watching H2, I got the impression I was watching a movie where nobody involved actually liked what they made. For strict fans of the Halloween franchise, H2 represents pure blasphemy. The character of Dr. Loomis becomes a fame-hungry asshole. Michael Myers morphs into an actual hobo, complete with knapsack, who speaks(!) when he kills.
The plot of H2 basically covers Laurie Strode‘s PTSD and descent into madness after the events of Halloween. I’m only speculating, but this is my theory – I believe the “Akkad rule” (Michael can never actually die, according to longtime producer Moustafa Akkad) directly conflicted with Zombie’s vision. I think Laurie was supposed to be responsible for all of the killings in H2, and Michael did die at the end of Halloween. Tired of working under someone else’s rules and having a big studio tear apart his ideas, Zombie dropped a final cut that screams “up yours”. It’s not all bad, though. The sequence of Laurie in the hospital is visually stunning and pure, vicious horror.
5. 31 (2016)
Rob Zombie knows his way around an exploitation film, which makes it all the more odd that 31 didn’t work out better. Exploitation flicks aren’t exactly known for their great acting or deep plot, but Zombie’s follow up feature to The Lords of Salem feels off, even inside those parameters. In 31, a group of travelers are kidnapped and forced to participate in a game of survival called, you guessed it, 31. The “contestants” encounter a cocktail of psychopathic clowns while they navigate through a complex of mazes, trying to make it the twelve hours until the game is over. If you can get past the first 10 not great minutes of 31, you just as well stick around for the rest of it. Richard Brake delivers an awesome performance as Doom Head, and there are some striking visuals to see.
4. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)
Based on Zombie’s comic book series which also apparently exists, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto tells the tale of actor/director/superhero/masked wrestler El Superbeasto and his adventure to stop Dr. Satan from overtaking the world. I could go deeper into the plot, but it feels silly to even try. The hyper-sexualized animated feature boasts a cast including comedian Tom Papa, Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, and every actor to appear in any previous Zombie flick. This voice cast really does make El Superbeasto work, and there are plenty of laughs inside this one. I do think it would probably play better for those who had prior knowledge or understanding of the comic book series, which I did not. Still, you can do much worse than checking this one out.
3. Halloween (2007)
Rob Zombie’s retelling of John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece Halloween plays part prequel, part reboot. In it, Zombie crafts a vicious story explaining the origins of Michael Myers. Malcolm McDowell’s casting brought a fresh new iteration of Dr. Loomis, and appearances by horror veterans Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris wrap a surprisingly strong cast. Broken down, the first half of the film is extremely strong, and noticeably superior to the second half. This begs the question if Zombie should have kept the story in a timeline entirely before the events of the original Halloween, but that’s neither here nor there. The pacing is great, the story is unique to the franchise, and the kills are brutal. All in all, Zombie’s Halloween combines enough of the franchise’s lore with the style and aesthetic the director is known for to create a very satisfying new take on the infamous slasher.
2. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
It was very hard for me not to award the top spot on this list to House of 1000 Corpses. Rob Zombie’s first foray into the world of feature films, the flick represents everything fans of the rocker-turned director have come to know and love. The story follows a group of friends who become stranded at the Firefly family farm, which turns out to be a real house of horrors.
The script is brutal and vulgar, but none of it feels forced (looking at you 31). From Captain Spaulding‘s gas station to Dr. Satan‘s layer, the set designs and atmosphere Zombie created are pure ghoulish perfection. It’s hard to know where the plot is going at any given time, but who gives a damn? Every character is captivating despite having no backstory. The film never slows down, bringing a constant barrage of brutal insanity, none of which makes a ton of sense. Again, you won’t care. House of 1000 Corpses is unadulterated, exploitation flick fun. Don’t overthink it, just enjoy.
1. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
House of 1000 Corpses introduced us to the Firefly family. The Devil’s Rejects took that simple setup and sculpted an unnerving horror masterpiece that deserves to be in the conversations of the greatest horror films of our time. On the run from the law, Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding carve their way through the rural desert while the unhinged Sheriff John Wydell hunts them down to avenge his brother’s death. Are we supposed to be repulsed by the Firefly family? Are we supposed to sympathize with them? You’ll end up doing both. Bill Mosley, Sid Haig, and Sheri Moon Zombie deliver career-defining performances, and their onscreen chemistry palpable. The script is relentless. It’s grotesque. Most of all, it’s a goddamn blast. Zombie brings along the stunning visuals from House of 1000 Corpses and adds a compelling story that elevates The Devils Rejects past the “exploitation” label. This is pure physical and psychological horror, and it’s absolutely incredible. Bravo.
How would you rank the Rob Zombie’s filmography? When you see 3 From Hell, where would you place it? Let us know over on Nightmare on Film Street’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Thanks for reading, now go get yourselves some tutti f*ckin’ fruity!