About ten years ago, I went through what most teens and pre-teens of the Hot Topic era go through—a faux punk rock phase, replete with stud belts and unsubstantiated angst. I outgrew the fashion and most of the music, thank goodness, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still miss my Devil’s Rejects messenger bag or my Captain Spaulding tee shirt, both of which have long since been worn out. They’d served as more than just staples of my highly-constructed look, after all—they were vehicles with which to display my admiration of horror icon Rob Zombie, and that is something I haven’t outgrown one bit.
Rob Zombie was already a “horror icon” before he started making movies, of course. His music, particularly during his solo career which began in the late ’90s after his band White Zombie broke up, is characterized by a fanboy level of adoration for classic horror films, featuring samples, quotes, and references to his favorites. Around the time that I’d first seen House of 1000 Corpses, I’d gotten my hands on a greatest hits CD, and it all seemed to fit together somehow; just watch any of his music videos or merely listen to hits like “Dragula” or “Living Dead Girl,” and you’ll see what I mean by that.
But, despite even seeing him in concert when he opened for Ozzy Osbourne a few years ago, his music wasn’t the thing that made me a fan, not really, not fully. And, I guess if being a super fan would require me to have seen all of his films, including his latest, The Lords of Salem (which I regrettably have not), then I certainly fall somewhere in the middle. But if anyone were to write a happy birthday post for the director of two of my favorite films of all time (horror or otherwise, I’m not ashamed to admit) then I was hoping it’d end up being me.
House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects came out around when I was finally forging my own path through horror movie history. I was finding out what I liked and what I didn’t, all on my own terms, all the while torture porn was the burgeoning subgenre of choice here in America. I didn’t know the significance of that until later, when I began to think about these subgenres and what they meant, where they came from, why they existed and what they looked like.
Looking back, The Devil’s Rejects, the more accomplished, polished movie, is also considered to be torture porn while House of 1000 Corpses is kind of a mess, and I’ve never heard anyone classify it as anything, really. But I think that grit and grime, that inability to be categorized easily, are all why I’ve always had more fun with House of 1000 Corpses—it is sheer insanity caught on film, unabashed and unashamed, sometimes incoherent and ultimately inconsequential; it is the film I’ve seen the most out of the two, and whether I can justify it well enough or not, I think it’s awesome.
The film’s history is a little interesting, too, in that it wasn’t distributed until 2003, despite being completed in 2000, and Rob Zombie also had to re-shoot some scenes to avoid an NC-17 rating. Considering everything, The Devil’s Rejects disturbed me more at the time, maybe because the air of surrealism that pervades both Zombie’s music and 1000 Corpses is absent— The Devil’s Rejects (2005) is somehow horrifyingly real. The crazy clown-faced Captain Spaulding played by Sid Haig is far more terrifying when we see him as a real person who exists in the daylight, crude and terrible and yet weirdly vulnerable. Essentially, the absurdist, over-the-top, nonsensical approach to horror of the first film—while still disgusting and distressing in its own way— was easier for me to swallow than the slow motion shoot outs, the molestation by way of a pistol, and the skin-mask worn by a young woman who ends up being hit by an eighteen-wheeler.
These two films are like having a nightmare that is so outlandish and silly that it is both scary and kind of amusing, because it’s simply too crazy to be real (House of 1000 Corpses), only to wake up and realize that components of the horrible real world had actually bled into that dream; those nightmarish things really do exist and their more toned-down forms are in many ways more distressing to deal with (The Devil’s Rejects).
Now, I have to admit I didn’t love what he did with his Halloween remake—I think some backstories are better left unexplored, but that’s just me. But, for the sake of ending this post on a positive note, I won’t say too much more about that film. No, instead I’d rather reiterate how important (to me, anyway) Rob Zombie is despite that one film (which I think was his most financially successful, ironically enough), even if many others probably wouldn’t consider him to be so.
His films are, just like his music, unique, almost kitschy homages to the most exploitative and ridiculous that the horror genre has to offer. To some, that may seem like a bad idea from the outset— allegedly lower culture being rebred, refashioned, and rehashed in the most obnoxious way possible, resulting in even more overt and unashamed “lower culture.” If you’re like me, though, you revel in other fans’ abilities to take their love of something and actually create something in its image. Rob Zombie is as legendary as he is for horror fans in particular because he does this with horror iconography time and time again, bringing this iconography to the masses (well, more or less, anyway) and clearly having fun while doing so. Happy birthday, Rob Zombie. Thanks for keeping things so gleefully creepy and bringing out the sadistic, masochistic fanboy and fangirl in all of us.
Featured Image: Video for Dragula, Geffen Records 1998