Few filmmakers are quite as divisive as Robert (to his mother) Zombie. The great dreadlocked one, who always seems to be rocking a giant hat no matter what the occasion, first made his name as a rock star, with a slew of seriously gut-punching, horror-themed hits, before moving onto his true love, movies, dabbling in remakes, cult grindhouse freakshows and finally, the biggest shocker of all, last year’s Kubrickian showstopper, The Lords Of Salem, which proved once and for all that he can make a damn good horror movie. This month’s Horror Icon is the man with his finger in seemingly all of the horror pies (flavours unknown), Rob Zombie.
Although he wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies as a child, the man born Robert Bartleh Cummings, in the small town of Haverhill, Massachusetts, had a taste for the dark side from a young age. His parents worked at a local carnival, where Zombie vividly recalls witnessing a riot, during which he saw a man bust his head open with a hammer. Horror runs in his veins, and his love for the genre is evident in everything he produces, from his films, to his music – which often includes references and sound bites from classic movies – to the accompanying videos, such as “Living Dead Girl”, which is based upon the classic 1920 silent movie, ‘The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’, or “Never Gonna Stop”, which is influenced heavily by ‘A Clockwork Orange’, right down to his stage show, which incorporates footage and massive, theatrical props.
Known these days as a writer, director, producer and rock star (sometimes all at once), Zombie first rose to fame as the lead singer, and a founding member, of the rock band White Zombie, from whom he took his last name – which itself was inspired by the classic thirties horror flick, starring Bela Lugosi. White Zombie enjoyed moderate success, before Zombie branched out on his own to launch a solo career, during which he has released five, very popular studio albums, and a live album. In fact, Zombie’s first solo album, ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’, achieved more album sales in its first week than any previous White Zombie record, and debuted at number 5 on Billboard.
The majority of White Zombie’s music videos, and indeed those for his own solo outings, were directed by Zombie himself, while his lyrics are notable for their references to horror and sci-fi, themes that are mirrored in his theatrical live show, which often incorporates video footage from classic films. It seemed a natural progression, then, when Zombie began work on his first feature film, the rather ambitiously titled House Of 1,000 Corpses. Though production ended in 2000, Corpses would not see the light of day until 2003, after it was shelved by its original distributor, Universal, for being too graphic and violent.
It eventually found a home at Lionsgate, after Zombie rigorously re-shot several key sequences, some of which took place in the basement of his own home. Corpses was critically savaged, but found a significant cult following thanks to its grungy, grindhouse feel, over the top gore, and a cast of colourful characters, including horror legends Sid Haig and Bill Moseley. The sinister Firefly family may have been intended to be the villains of the piece, but they instantly found their place in the hearts of horror fans that delighted in their non-stop carnage and carnie freakshow lifestyle. A sequel was mooted soon after, with Zombie claiming he’d make the Fireflies less cartoonish this time around.
Indeed, 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects was a far more sinister, much nastier affair, which incorporated the sun-soaked reds and yellows of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, instead of the day-glo rainbow of its predecessor. The film followed the Fireflies as they ran from local law enforcement, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Even though it is a much darker film, Rejects achieved just as much, if not more, of a cult status among fans, somehow making them fall even more in love with the sadistic Firefly family. Unlike Corpses, the sequel garnered more mixed reviews and was also considered a commercial success.
Following the favourable reception – from the horror community, at least – for his first two films, Zombie turned his attention to remaking that which should never have been remade, John Carpenter’s legendary, seminal slasher, Halloween. Although he claimed that his 2007 film, for which he took writing and directing duties, was a “reimagining”, fans were shocked by how quickly the film devolved from a fascinating character study of Michael Myers into an almost shot-for-shot remake of the Carpenter classic. Even so, Halloween was massively successful, thanks to achieving the widest release of any of the series, and was also the highest grossing.
Although he had categorically stated he wouldn’t be making a sequel to Halloween, Zombie’s H2 was released internationally in 2009. Written and directed by Zombie once again, the film incorporated dream sequences and supernatural elements to give it a completely different, often problematically offbeat, vibe to its predecessor. Focusing on the effects the events of the previous film had on its protagonist, Laurie Strode, H2 was another commercial hit, but it divided horror fans, who either heralded Zombie for his bravery in doing something different with the story, or chastised him for giving Michael Myers what was basically an imaginary friend (and, in the director’s cut, committing the sin of all sins by making him talk!)
Although he’d achieved massive success with his Halloween films, Zombie announced he wouldn’t do a third, and turned his attention back to music, along with taking production duties on an animated film based on his comic book series of the same name, entitled The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto. The film was a huge hit with hardcore Zombie fans, boasting the vocal talents of his wife Sheri-Moon (who has also starred in all of his films to date), alongside Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson, among others. Zombie himself has contributed vocal duties on several animated projects, and has appeared in walk-on, or voice-only, roles in films, first with his band White Zombie, in 1994’s Airheads, along with other horror features, such as 2006’s Slither.
Perhaps the biggest shock of Zombie’s career thus far came in 2013, with the release of his fifth feature, The Lords Of Salem. Described by the man himself as his biggest film to date, Salem was a Kubrickian-esque nightmare detailing the exploits of an ancient coven of witches in the titular town, in Massachusetts. It debuted at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, before being released on a limited scale, though it went on to appear on many “Best Of” lists for horror in 2013. Easily Zombie’s most ambitious film, it’s also his most divisive, with fans either calling it a masterpiece, or a load of pretentious wank.
Although Zombie is slated to write and direct his first non-horror film, based on the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and entitled Broad Street Bullies, he has since stated that his next release following Salem will be Tyrannosaurus Rex, a movie he had begun making prior to H2, and which was shelved after work began on that sequel. Zombie also released his fifth studio album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor in 2013, which was heralded by many as a return to form – especially by those who feared Zombie was simply regurgitating the same schtick over and over.
2013 was also the year he embarked on a massive, international tour with fellow shock rocker Marilyn Manson, cleverly titled The Twins Of Evil Tour. Not content with movies, touring, and releasing an album, in the same year Zombie also revealed his haunted house experience, The Great American Nightmare, for the Halloween season. Located at the Fairplex FEARplex in Pomona, CA, the attraction incorporated elements of The Lords Of Salem and House Of 1,000 Corpses, among others, alongside an alternative music festival.
If 2013 is anything to go by, this month’s Horror Icon may just spend 2014 conquering the world.
RZ’s Top 5 Hits
- The Lords Of Salem
- The Devil’s Rejects
- House Of 1.000 Corpses
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