The announcement of a sequel to Rob Zombie’s horror hit, Devil’s Rejects, has got me hopeful for a return to the roots of his horror genius. And I do believe he possesses (or is possessed by) a masterful grasp of the genre. Rob Zombie has embodied horror since the days of White Zombie. Everything he has done has been an expression of his love for the macabre. This genius culminated in his movies House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.
If you’re gonna make an homage to the classic horror style of the 70’s and 80’s you do it like Rob Zombie did in House of 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects. Zombie took his love and appreciation for the genre (he even named White Zombie after the classic horror flick of the same name) and translated it into an original expression of the hoary days of horror. The audience still got the recognizable elements of slasher flicks, crazy hillbillies, creepy clowns and uncomfortable imagery but it was done with the originality that comes from an artist’s creative voice. It was the story he wanted to tell. It was horror according to Rob Zombie. And it was great. I absolutely loved every last minute of both of those films. Good horror pushes the envelope. Not with excessive blood and gore but by forcing the audience out of their comfort zones. Rob Zombie did a masterful job at this in these two movies.
However, compare that to his remake of Halloween and the dark side of creative expression slithers from the shadows. Here was an established franchise that had seven sequels and had already been exploited about as much as a horror franchise could. I always thought Halloween: Resurrection was the death knell for the series. Then Rob Zombie remakes it, writing the script and directing the movie just like John Carpenter did with the original. Except this wasn’t Rob Zombie’s creative brainchild. This was his retelling of someone else’s, namely Carpenter’s, creative brainchild. So it is immediately derivative. And since he was working against already established materials, his own creativity was limited by the confines of the original movie and franchise. The result was a terrible hack job of a horror classic.
I particularly loathed the backstory Zombie concocted for Michael Myers. What always creeped me out about Michael Myers was that he was the incarnation of pure evil. In Unmasking the Horror, Carpenter describes Myers as “almost a supernatural force – a force of nature. An evil force that’s loose,” a force that is “unkillable.” He was something that housed a darkness so profound that no one could face it without going mad or getting overwhelmed by it. But Zombie’s idea was to make Michael an abused white trash psychopath. He took what drove the character and replaced it with something far inferior. No longer was Myers an inexplicable force of evil, he had been transformed to a bland and dull slasher trope. Zombie not only failed to improve on Carpenter’s original idea, he should never have attempted it. The sequel was even worse. Thankfully Carpenter is coming back to the franchise and has said he’ll be acting “like the sequels never happened.” Excited to see what happens there.
Needless to say, Rob Zombie does his best work within the horror worlds he has created. This is why I’m excited about the upcoming sequel to Devil’s Rejects. Zombie is returning to his original and well-done additions to the horror genre and expanding the world even more. But considering the end of Devil’s Rejects which showed the Firefly family dying in a veritable bullet storm, a sequel is going to have to be a stroke of creative genius. I, for one, am rooting for him to pull it off.