Over the years, both fans and critics alike have come to know rock-turned director Rob Zombie’s B-movie style films. Before officially going celluloid, he had already gained experience as a director through his music videos and concerts, all of which were deeply inspired by horror classics such as Frankenstein, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes. Each of his films depict backwater, psycho killers with eccentric personalities and a love for bloodshed. He also has a habit of reusing the same cast (Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Richard Brake, etc.) and creating a special ‘70s vibe. Zombie’s films are unique in their shock value and often dive into visceral mayhem and goofy insanity but, despite being widely criticized, fans still love them for their fun, colorful, grindhouse aesthetic.
House of 1000 Corpses
Filming for House of 1000 Corpses began in May 2000. The movie was purchased by Universal Pictures and made with a budget of $7 million dollars but, because of explicit depictions of blood, gore and controversial scenes, it was delayed for three years. Universal Pictures refused to release House out of fear of an NC-17 rating so Zombie repurchased the film’s rights, trimmed it down to an R-rating, and had it released through Lionsgate.
House of 1000 Corpses is presented as an unpredictable, gory slasher with in-your-face neon-colored scenes and recurring themes of nonstop violence. The peculiar members of the Firefly family are named after characters in the Marx Brothers comedy films, which adds to their farcical nature. With no true reasons behind the family’s vicious antics, the film is a duality of grim humor and disturbing theatrics.
The film is an exploitation of other films of the 1970s, which pays noticeable homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a pastiche of everything that inspired Zombie as an artist, resulting in his christening as the Quentin Tarantino of horror by fans. However, the downside lies in its repetitiveness, lack of plot, and unpredictable editing. The film eventually descends into absurdity and gives way to the pitfalls of most modern horror movies. Despite its negative reviews upon its initial release, the film amassed a cult following later on.
The Devil’s Rejects
With the release of The Devil’s Rejects in 2005, critics reached a consensus that Zombie had improved his filmmaking since House of 1000 Corpses. In this film, the Firefly family become the hunted rather than the hunters. It’s no longer just mindless violence, but a tale of vengeance—a cop descends into using the very same tactics as the psychos that murdered his brother. While Zombie’s dark humor is maintained in this film, he kicks the violence up another level.
What’s different about Devil’s Rejects is that the Firefly family are the protagonists. It’s a narrative that focuses on them. We learn that Captain Spaulding is Baby and Otis’s father. We see how much Mother Firefly cares for her daughter and fallen son, Rufus. They’re still an oddball family with sadistic personalities, but now they have more dimension to their characters. We’re given brief moments, however unusual, that reminds us that these killers are still human.
Whereas in the last film the Firefly’s were untouchable, in Devil’s Rejects they bleed almost as much as their victims. Reluctantly, we feel a bit of closeness to them, as incredulous as it sounds. The film has also lost that surreal, carnival-like quality Zombie installed into House of 1000 Corpses. There’s a clearer story that lacks the unpredictable editing of its predecessor.
Both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects may not live up to the standards of critics, but they’ll always exist as horror fan-favorites. These films are, obviously, not to be taken seriously. Zombie is a horror fan that got to sit in the director’s seat, and it’s clear he had a lot of fun doing it. His unique vision allowed the director to carve his own path into the horror genre.
As I watched these two films, I enjoyed the characters’ whacky personalities and their twisted perceptions of the world. Although I admittedly rooted for Denise to survive at the end of House of 1000 Corpses. I couldn’t help feeling guilty when I laughed as Otis goofily rose out of the backseat of Spaulding’s car with a knife. Perhaps audiences will enjoy this brand of films more if they like dark humor.
Baby, Otis, and Captain Spaulding will return in 3 From Hell on September 16. Not much is given away in the trailer, but it’s clear the trio have survived their violent clash with the police. It seems we can expect a lot of the nonstop violence first experienced in House of 1000 Corpses, but this time the Firefly family has supporters to back them up. There’s also a new character (Richard Brake as Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane) who joins in on their sadistic mischief, but what role he’ll play is unknown.