Ranking the Films of Rob Zombie
"I am the Devil and I'm here to do the Devil's work..."
...That line may be from musician and auteur filmmaker Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, but it also pretty well describes his filmography, and I mean that in the best possible way. Ever since Zombie came onto the scene in 2003 with House of 1000 Corpses and the demented characters of the Firefly family, he has shocked, awed, and often disgusted audiences around the globe. In his time as a filmmaker, Zombie has inspired a loyal cult following, while pushing away many others with his depraved work. But whether you love or hate his films, the thing that is undeniable about Zombie is that he always, always, delivers the film he wants to make, and no matter how traditional the concept, is going to give you something entirely unique and blistering with his own style. You always know a Rob Zombie film when you see it.
In honor of the 15th anniversary today of his greatest hit, The Devil's Rejects, I decided to run through all eight films in Zombie's catalogue and rank them from least favorite to favorite. I'll tell you right now, I can already sense the groans and outbursts of rage that are going to come from some of you based on these rankings, so just know this: These are only my honest rankings, and like the Firefly family, I soak up tears for breakfast!
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SOME OF THE FILMS AHEAD
8. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)
Don't be fooled, kids. Rob Zombie's The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is not a cartoon for you! On second thought, what do I care, I'm not your parent. Knock yourselves out! But really, Superbeasto, based on a comic by Zombie, follows the escapades (or should I say sexcapades?), of El Superbeasto, a washed up lucador (voiced by Tom Papa) who teams up with sexy spy Suzi X (voiced by Sheri Moon Zombie), to save a stripper (voiced by Rosario Dawson) and the world from wimpy villain, Dr. Satan (voiced by Paul Giamatti). The oddball animation is full of talented stars, with a well-crafted style that harkens back to cartoons of the 90s, feeling a lot like a much more adult version of something like Rocko's Modern Life.
The problem is that the writing can't stop getting in the way of itself. If Superbeasto was more focused on plot than it was tits, ass and sex jokes, it might be pretty entertaining. Non-stop references to horny robots, farting strippers and even an entire song about how it's totally cool to jerk off to cartoons constantly disrupt the otherwise fun horror homages and quirky tone of the thing. Superbeasto comes off like it was written by a sex deprived teenager masturbating in-between scenes. Maybe it would've worked on me as a kid, but as an adult, Superbeasto is by far Zombie's most immature flick and not my jam.
7. 31 (2016)
Hi. Big fan of what I like to call “Gameshow Horror” over here. You know the genre. A group of people are kidnapped and either tortured, forced to torture each other, hunted for sport, etc., all as part of some sick, twisted “game”. Part of my fascination with horror has always been this sort of Gameshow element. Every horror film, when you boil it down to its very basics, is about who loses (dies), and who wins (lives). So, when it was announced that Rob Zombie would be delivering 31, in which five carnival workers are thrown into a hellish compound and hunted by an assortment of maniacal clowns, sounding like the grindhouse horror version of The Running Man, oh hell yes, was I in.
There are flashes of greatness in 31, such as Richard Brake’s wicked performance as Doom-Head, and typically inspired bits of insanity from Zombie to go along with some outrageous visuals, but overall, 31 is a slog to get through. It’s tough to care about characters when they’re all dumb enough to dig into a feast of food that just happens to be waiting in the maze, or when our heroine, Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie) is jerking off a creepy gas station attendant through the pants to mess with him as our introduction to her. Those who are in love with Zombie’s unique brand of depraved absurdity may be able to overlook the film’s many flaws, but for me, it’s the weakest of his films to date.
6. 3 From Hell (2019)
I’m one of the few who actually didn’t hate 3 From Hell, it seems. But I also didn’t love it. Once again returning viewers into the deadly arms of the Firefly family, just about every horror fan saw this film for what it ultimately was: Zombie’s attempt to reclaim the magic of The Devil’s Rejects, his magnum opus. And in some ways, he succeeds. Asking Sheri Moon Zombie (Baby), Bill Moseley (Otis) and newcomer to the family, Richard Brake (Winslow) to terrify audiences while keeping them fully engaged is an easy enough ask. All three effortlessly portray the “so crazy you can’t stop watching” type of character that Zombie prefers to traffic in.
What keeps this one from being great is that it’s really just more of the same, and comes off like a poor psycho’s The Devil’s Rejects. Rather than elevating this third film into the next level of Hell and taking a cue from Devil’s by making it drastically different from the previous entry, 3 From Hell keeps us right where we were with Rejects. It also doesn’t help that the film is missing the energetic Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding), who had passed away. Not to mention, the very premise of the film itself asks us to just act like the ending to Rejects never happened. We were this close to the opportunity for the Firefly’s to literally come back from Hell as deranged, supernatural killers. An opportunity missed.
5. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
I still remember when House of 1000 Corpses was announced. Everyone my age at the time knew who Rob Zombie was. The badass rocker behind “Dragula”, “Living Dead Girl”, and other tracks that I’d blast in my room while head-banging like the dumb, angry teenager I was. If you knew anything about Zombie, you knew he was a huge horror fan, obvious from his music videos, and that whatever we got from him was going to be both a love letter to the genre and something totally unique. We got both. It just didn’t all work.
House of 1000 Corpses feels like Zombie’s own Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A homage to the drive-in era of the 70s, it’s gritty. Depraved. Soaked in gore, dirt, and the sort of stuff that makes you gag and shudder. It’s the ultimate grindhouse horror movie. The film features a hell of a cast that includes horror legend Karen Black, and a house full of grotesque imagery that established Zombie’s very own style of macabre. Being a directorial debut though, it’s clear that Zombie was still learning. The film is a funhouse of convoluted ideas and whacky mirror horror, never quite retaining a clearcut image of what it wants to be throughout, and, as is often the case with his work, plot and any sense of logic are too regularly left behind for a dose of cackling insanity. But overall, House of 1000 Corpses is a fun film to watch, and an impressive debut in terms of style from Zombie. All hail Dr. Satan!
4. Halloween (2007)
You keep seeing me mention “style” when it comes to Zombie’s films, and that’s because it’s the asset that both helps and hurts him the most. He’s the sort of director that has a visual flare all his own and an innate ability to disturb with imagery that makes you feel like you fell into a pit of maggot-infested trash, but his tendency to lean towards white-trash and outright despicable characters can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Halloween is one of those.
Hot on the heels of The Devil’s Rejects, we were all excited to see what Zombie would do with Halloween. I’m a big fan of the original, he said. I’m going to do something different, he said. Holy hell, did he keep his word! Sort of. Like many of you, I’m not a big fan of humanizing Michael Myers. Neither was John Carpenter. But, you have to commend Zombie for trying something different and unexpected with the character. In fact, I feel like he should’ve leaned more into his own vision, because when he suddenly goes off course with the sympathy for Michael Myers train and attempts to recreate the entirety of the original Halloween during the last forty-five minutes with a foul-mouthed Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and a demented Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), it’s easy to wonder how it might’ve played out had Zombie not brought back those characters at all. Still, even though it’s not for everyone, Zombie delivered a brutal, bloody remake that, more than anything, made Michael Myers a villain to fear again.
3. Halloween II (2009)
Trick or treat, motherfuckers! No, just kidding, I love you all. But I can already hear the boo-birds. If I haven’t lost you yet, I sure as Hell wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve had enough of my shit and check out here. Let me explain. Zombie’s Halloween II pisses off a lot of people. I get it. Following Laurie coping with her recent showdown with Michael, the film doesn’t just pull the Jack-o-latntern rug out from under us and open with a long dream-sequence that tricks viewers into thinking the film takes place in a hospital like the original sequel, but it tricks us again in pretending that Michael is even still alive at all, when it’s really Laurie doing the killing!
Here’s the thing: that’s why it’s one of his better films. Unlike with Halloween, Zombie decided this time around to go in a completely different direction, while maintaining that grim, unsavory tone from the previous Halloween. Halloween II takes massive risks, and it tries something that so few horror franchises have ever dared to: exploring the trauma of their victims. Oh, and how about setting up a female killer for the franchise, which Halloween tried to do way back in 1988 with Jamie (Danielle Harris)? I’m sensing a trend here of critical reception whenever Halloween tries that…And hey, I get it, you don’t want to see Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) riding around on a magical white horse because Laurie is losing her damn mind. But I stand here declaring that Halloween II deserves for you to give it another chance, and at least appreciate that Zombie dared to challenge us in ways few slashers have, rather than regurgitate the same old beat for beat remake we usually see.
2. The Lords of Salem (2012)
The Lords of Salem may not be considered Zombie’s “masterpiece”, but boy, does it come close. Once again starring Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, as a DJ who receives a mysterious record that incites flashbacks of her town’s sinister history, Lords combines everything that Zombie does well into this incredibly underrated, visually stunning nightmare. Music plays a central role, as does the occult, with a strong sense of feminine power at the center. Zombie pulls back on his usual grindhouse style and instead presents an evenly paced mystery that gradually evolves into a full-blown burst of horror.
The next film on this list may widely be Zombie’s best film, but visually, The Lords of Salem is his Sistine Chapel. The film is truly a work of art that puts Zombie’s true potential on display, and has me screaming for more like it from him every time I watch it. Lords is Zombie’s most intelligently executed, jaw-dropping and overall impressive work. Say whatever you want about him, he’s a filmmaker who’s never going to give you something like everything else out there, and Lords is proof of that.
1. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
And here it is. Right where I’m sure you expected it to be on this list and right where it belongs. The Devil’s Rejects. Admittedly, I wasn’t all that hyped about it when it was coming out, since I had “liked” but not been blown away by House, and then I laid shocked and disgusted yet pleasantly surprised eyes on Rejects. Blending the grindhouse insanity with a sort of Thelma and Louise flare, Rejects manages to take three absolutely unlikeable characters and get us to not only enjoy watching them, but actually feel for them when they’re gunned down in a blaze of glory towards the end. That feat alone is a masterclass in writing from Zombie. There’s no debate that this is Zombie’s most well-written script. Otis uttering “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s work” still creeps through my mind occasionally and makes me shudder. The banging soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either.
Audiences were in awe of Rejects at a time where horror seemed to have lost its way. This was a film that brought us back to the glory days of the 70s when cinema was rough and dirty. For many, The Devi’s Rejects is a sick, twisted exploitation flick that likely had uptight citizens wishing it would be banned and burned because won’t somebody please think of the children! But for us genre connoisseurs and lovers of grindhouse cinema, that’s exactly what made it an instant cult classic. It’s no wonder that, after Rejects, Zombie had the clout to be able to snag the job for Halloween.
By Matt Konopka
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