You heard me! Ok, so I’ve never been verbally or physically accosted for stating such a thing, but I have gotten a few raised eyebrows here and there.
I think we can all agree that Zombie’s sophomore effort, The Devil’s Rejects, is a near masterpiece. The continued story of the Firefly Family explores something within each of us that we like to think is actually nonexistent: the evil within. Zombie reaches deep into our souls and pulls out compassion for these disgusting people who would just as soon slit your new puppy’s throat in front of your children than give you a hand in changing a tire. Granted, not all (read: any) of you share my last reaction during the final shootout (I fucking cried, okay!), but we’re moved in a way we shouldn’t be moved. It’s very Thelma & Louise.
But you don’t want me to defend a movie you already love. In fact, I’m not here to defend ALL of Mr. Zombie’s movies. The only one I don’t care for is Halloween – not because it’s a remake of a cherished property (I don’t give a shit about that), but just that it’s not very well made. I want to focus on two movies; two movies that prove how absolutely polarizing this creative genius can be. And just as a recap (if you haven’t listened to our latest episode), here’s how I rank Rob Zombie’s six, non-animated features:
- Lords of Salem
- House of 1000 Corpses
- The Devil’s Rejects
- Halloween II
Like I said, the only one I don’t care for is Halloween, which means the other five are very close and could flip-flop with the previous one on any given day. But I want to talk specifically about two movies: 31 and Lords of Salem.
Billy and Kevin seemed shocked that Lords was my favorite RZ. I hadn’t seen it until this past week, and when it was over, Bobbie turned to me and said, “Eh…” I was sitting on the couch, still basking in the seasonal glow the movie projects. I was also enamored at the growth and maturity in Zombie’s craft. First, the tone…
This, right here. This screams Halloween to me. New England in the fall. Plus, Zombie has always used muted tones in his movies, which really helped put me in the mood for the season while watching Lords. If it wouldn’t cost me an arm, a leg, my son, and my soul, we would be living in New England. But alas, here we are stuck in the middle (not stuck, just kidding, I like it here).
Zombie’s growth: I will physically fight anyone (Who am I kidding? No I won’t.) who challenges the fact that Rob grew as a filmmaker between Halloween II and Lords. From the artful Kubrickian hallway shots to the coherent story, Zombie proved that he could tell a scary story (about witches, nonetheless!) without the frantic handheld camera work and unlikable characters. I also want to give a giant shoutout to Sheri Moon Zombie for her growth as an actress. I thought Lords was her best performance by a mile.
Hey… Hey, guess what? I… I like 31! I remember reading my Twitter feed the night 31 had its one-night-only premier. It was like reading a classifieds section of a newspaper, only instead of ads for jobs and apartments it was person after person voicing their disappointment in Rob Zombie. I already said it here, but let me paraphrase if you’re too lazy to read my previous list: QUIT THINKING YOU’RE ABOUT TO SEE THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD! You’re setting the bar WAY too high, and your expectations become unattainable.
I WILL say this: I thought 31 was a giant leap backwards for Zombie. The concept is cool, but we’ve already seen him do two of these types of movies. Had he applied the marvelous craft from Lords to 31, I would have LOVED it. Instead, we’re back to the frantic camera work, whiskey tango characters we don’t care about, and freshman-style writing. (Rob, with all due respect, please bring in someone to do a polish from now on.)
Now for the things I enjoyed about 31: the (previously mentioned) concept, performances (more on that in a second), the ending. First, the concept. Hunger Games for meth-heads, perhaps? A group of seemingly normal carnies must survive Halloween night in a dilapidated warehouse that has been repurposed for the sake of killing. Hosted by Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, and Jane Carr in their best Amadeus-style duds, our unlikable carnies (which include Zombie mainstays Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Meg Foster) are forced to survive the night inside the giant death trap while being hunted by characters with names like Sick-head, Psycho-head, Schizo-head, and my personal favorite (because I’m a pervert), Sex-head (played by an all-time favorite E.G. Daily). So. Much. Potential. But it’s squandered in the writing process.
As far as the performances go there are three standouts: Meg Foster, Sheri, and Richard Brake. We shouldn’t be surprised at Foster’s ability. She’s proven herself on screens big and small (notably, John Carpenter’s They Live), so I was thrilled to see her. She also plays the only character I REALLY cared about (in a good way; more on that in a second). Sheri proves that Lords wasn’t a fluke. We’re used to her as “Baby” from House and Rejects, but guess what? She’s pretty good now, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next. And finally, Richard Brake, who delivers one of my favorite performances of all time. His opening monologue is something straight from The Globe or Blackfriars. A character actor through and through, Brake proves in this that he could easily carry a movie on his own. And it’s because of him that I like this movie so fucking much.
And finally, the ending. I don’t know if it was just me, but once again Zombie made me care about the bad guy. Richard Brake just wanted to enjoy his day off. He’s a working stiff like you and me. But his team fucks up and he’s called into work. There’s almost nothing worse than that, and I feel for him. I’m not going to say anything else as not to spoil it for anyone, but I just want to say that I go against the consensus and actually like the ending.
So there you have it. I like Rob Zombie movies, okay? Give the guy a break. He won’t give two shits what you and I think of his movies, but it’s great to have someone in the world out there making whatever the fuck he wants. So, what say you? Are you a fan?