I was driving down a dark mountain road the other night and started thinking about Rob Zombie. It might have been the confederate flags planted sporadically on the edges of dirt driveways, the lone rusted truck filled with overgrown foliage, the smell of hickory, and the reoccurring thought that a nightgown clad woman with blood on her hands and a wild look in her eye could come stumbling out into the foggy road at any turn of the bend.
It’s also October, and I was also listening to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the radio. This isn’t to say I’m excited about Halloween. But I do love a good horror film…even a bad one. And Rob Zombie films settle somewhere in the middle. When I first saw House of 1000 Corpses when it hit theaters in 2003, I think I walked out before it ended because I felt so sick to my stomach. It was gory, sadistic, and dirt-under-your-fingernails dirty. Then, in 2005, Zombie released its sequel, The Devil’s Rejects. And for some reason, even though it was equally gory and grimy, I actually enjoyed it — rather, saw something in Zombie’s style that I appreciated. He knows horror.
Both films revolve around a family that terrorizes unsuspecting victims. Picture driving through a backwater town in the middle of the night, and having to stop at a gas station. Maybe an inbred looking child is roaming around in the dusty road on a creaky tricycle. That didn’t happen in either of the films. In Corpses, a couple of teenagers go in search of the legendary “Dr. Satan” and are led through a carnival like madness with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who has painted his face with caked on clown makeup. They meet “Baby” (Sheri Moon Zombie) who angelically leads them back to her house. There, they meet the rest of her family, the Fireflies, and thus begins the bloody terror. In the sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, police ambush the Firefly home and “Mother Firefly” is taken into custody, a few other guys in the family are shot down, and Baby and Otis (Bill Moseley) flee the scene. The go to a motel where they torture more victims.
It’s assumed that both films take place in the 1970s. The soundtracks to both films are incredibly on point and spine tingling when paired with the zany, cackling characters and their fits of rage. The Devil’s Rejects opens with an appropriate “Midnight Rider” by The Allman Brothers, which sets the mood for the entire feel of the film, a happy-go-lucky “Shambala” by Three Dog Night, James Gang’s “Funk #49”, and a haunting “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd in its final scene.
What Zombie creates is visceral and raw. His films give off a documentary style with choppy camera action. It’s off-beat and campy, and that’s cinematic brilliance. Maybe it’s all morbid and cliche, but if you don’t go to a carnival, smell the funnel cake and cotton candy, and hear some Joe Walsh, it’s like its un-American to be going on a ferris wheel. And a Rob Zombie film is as American as apple pie.