Rob Zombie is a contentious figure in horror – but whether you love him or hate him, there’s one thing that’s certain about him and his films: they’re sure to ignite a response. A shrinking violet he isn’t. Also, he is a true horror fan – not only because of his awesome horror memorabilia collection, which we still remember from MTV’s Cribs, but because his films pay homage to the greats. In celebration of October, horror’s finest month, we’ve ranked Zombie’s films from great to horrendous. We only took a look at full-length feature films directed by Zombie – we didn’t include the animated El Superbeasto movie or Werewolf Women of the SS, the awesome faux-trailer made for the Grindhouse films, which is worth a watch if only for Nicholas Cage’s cameo. Now let’s take a look at the films.
1. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
The sequel to House of 1000 Corpses (2003) will remain Rob Zombie’s best film to us, until he can outdo himself. The movie brings back the Firefly family: Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), a trio of killer fugitives who are on the run. This is a grittier film than its predecessor, and the tone is a little more sinister and less campy (“less” being the operative word – this is still a Zombie film, after all). In this film, Zombie has created three bad characters that you actually don’t mind watching, even when they’re saying and doing despicable things. Moon Zombie is at her very best, gamely playing the part of Baby with equal parts psycho and sexy. Meanwhile, Otis is one of Zombie’s most compelling villains; Moseley channels Charles Manson as he preaches and hacks his way through the movie. Ultimately, the film, with its cheesy banter, Texas Chainsaw homages, and awesome ‘70s soundtrack, is a fun ride.
2. Halloween (2007)
It may surprise some of you that this ranks so highly on the list, but hear us out. Yes, John Carpenter’s 1978 original is gospel to horror fans and rightly occupies the top of many canonical lists – but Zombie’s remake is not as atrocious as some of the franchise’s direct sequels. In fact, Zombie does a great job retelling this story. His decision to delve deep into the life of Michael Myers gives a new story that wasn’t in the original. Sure, by doing this he makes the killer less effective – part of why Michael Myers is so scary is his seemingly random obsession with his victims; he’s unknown, pure evil. Zombie gives a backstory and a motive here. It’s best to view this as a separate entity from Carpenter’s original. Once you do this, you can just sit back and enjoy the bloody fanfare surrounding everybody’s favourite holiday.
3. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Zombie’s first film, the low budget indie that introduced us to the Firefly clan, is still fun to watch. Corpses tells the tale of a group of friends who become trapped at the Firefly family’s murder house when their car breaks down one rainy night. It’s campy and gory, and the villains are charismatic and weird. This movie has the look and feel of one of Zombie’s music videos – in a good way. When you consider the horror movie climate of 2003 – notable releases include Jeepers Creepers 2, Freddy vs. Jason, Final Destination 2, and that Jessica Biel Texas Chainsaw remake – you have to give kudos to Zombie for being different and creating a unique film.
4. The Lords of Salem (2013)
Sheri Moon Zombie takes on her first leading role here, addressing the question, “Can she carry a movie on her own?” The answer: sort of. The premise of this movie is probably Zombie’s most interesting, and the only one based loosely on historical events. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, the movie depicts Heidi (Moon Zombie) – a descendent of one of the Salem Witch Trials’ judges – being lured into birthing the devil’s baby by a coven of witches. The film feels like an extended nightmare, with plenty of disturbing images. Filmed in Salem, it’s also filled with some pretty gorgeous shots of the seaside town; the cinematography is relatively restrained by Zombie’s standards. When this premiered during Midnight Madness at TIFF in 2013, audience reaction was decidedly mixed. Upon first viewing, you can see why this movie would be so divisive. The movie does get better on its second watch, though.
5. Halloween II (2009)
The sequel to Zombie’s Halloween remake has potential, but unfortunately Zombie ruins it with a ridiculous deep dive into Michael Myers’ dreams – there is a lot of time devoted to a symbolic horse. A lot of time. You can’t help but wonder if the whole dream subplot was simply Zombie’s way of shoehorning his wife Sheri back into the script after (spoiler alert!) killing her off in the first movie. Whatever his intentions, this whole dream aspect distracts from the overall movie, which could have been –and occasionally is – an interesting look at how the protagonist Laurie is failing to cope after the trauma she endured in the first film. Still, this movie has its moments and if it were on TV one late night, we don’t think we’d change channels too quickly. Unlike the last movie on this list…
6. 31 (2016)
It’s hard to find anything to love in Zombie’s latest film, even for a devoted Zombie fan. In 31, carnival workers are held hostage on Halloween for 12 hours, during which they have to fight for their lives as they’re hunted by psychotic clowns for sport. The characters aren’t developed, the movie’s monotonous and lacks decent dialogue, and it doesn’t look very good – there are way too many close-ups. Beyond that, it’s gore for gore’s sake, which is inherently boring for the viewer. Matt Donato from We Got This Covered sums 31 up perfectly in his review: “There’s not a single character worth caring about, and even less artistic license to appreciate. This is a dirty, depraved love-letter to horror that’s written in a bunch of different colored crayons to mask such simple words with distracting colors.” This is a disappointing film indeed, and definitely worthy of the bottom spot.