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Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell

It’s been roughly fifteen years since Rob Zombie blasted onto the horror scene with his brilliant exploitation block party The Devil’s Rejects, and has now followed it up with 3 From Hell, a long awaited continuation following the further adventures of the murderous, hilarious, never boring Firefly clan. So, does it live up to Rejects? Well… no, but what could? Is it a good film? Hell fucking yes it is and although it’s arguable whether or not a third outing with these characters was necessary, in my eyes it was always more than welcome. Zombie is an inexplicably hated filmmaker and his detractors always make me laugh in their abject refusal to concede that he knows what he’s doing within the genre. It’s fine if it ain’t your thing, it’s all cool if his style doesn’t jive with yours, but whether or not he’s a talented, imaginative horror filmmaker just isn’t up for debate in my opinion.

So the Firefly family survived their Peckinpah standoff with the cops, which if you’ve seen Devil’s Rejects you’ll agree is a move both audacious and sheepish on Zombie’s part. Incarcerated indefinitely and placed squarely on death row, Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) make no end of trouble for the buffoonish warden (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and his harried staff. Otis stages a violent prison break (reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, I might add) with the involuntary help of Danny Trejo’s Rondo, a character who met an even more finality laden death in Rejects but nonetheless hilariously appears here without even a scar. Once he and Baby are free from their bonds they hook up with their equally murderous and profane half brother Winslow Wolfman Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake, Zombie’s newest muse) and take a road trip down to Mexico. There they wade themselves into as much hedonistic debauchery as they can until, once again, trouble comes looking for them.

So the main thing here is how does this hold up when placed alongside the other two in the trilogy and I’ll be the first to admit it’s the weakest of the three. It’s the least grimy, shocking, hallucinatory and overall spiked with madness too. But it’s also the most laidback and straightforward outing, which I can appreciate. It feels like a hangout film with instances of horror, a wistful afterthought to wash down the glory days and carnage of its predecessors. If there’s one thing that *is* crazier than the other two though its Baby; she has a caged animal, untethered ferocity here that even alarms Otis, who remarks that she’s way more nuts than he remembers her, which is quite the statement coming from him. Anywho they are surrounded by Zombie’s beloved, customary and always welcome bunch of forgotten character actors from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including Richard Edson, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Daniel Roebuck, Lucinda Jenny, Sean Whalen, Richard Rhiele, Barry Bostwick, Duane Whitaker and Austin Stoker who we lovingly remember as the Sheriff in John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. As most of you know the great Sid Haig passed away very recently and had been ill for a while before that, so his appearance here is sadly limited to a single scene, but it’s a loving send off from Zombie and a terrific if brief swan song for Sid and Spaulding alike. Was this film absolutely necessary? Of course not, Rejects had the perfect poetic justice ending and this story would have been fine if the buck continued to stop there. Am I grateful for a continuation and appreciative of it? You bet I am. Zombie shows talent again in writing simultaneously funny and scary scenes, crafting beautifully grungy production design and drawing you into this world. I almost saw this as a hazy fever dream had by the Fireflies as they are getting shot to bits at the end of Rejects, like a Jacob’s Ladder type foresight into a future that never happened in the final moments of thought before death. It’s a nice final outing with these lovable, hateful psychopaths and a good time overall.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem

Rob Zombie’s output has been hallmarked by a series of grungy, profane exploitation throwbacks with in your face violence and a loud, mean grind-house aesthetic. As much as I love *that* sensibility (I’m a hardcore fan of his films), what makes The Lords Of Salem so special is that he tries something different than he’s used to, ditches the comfort blanket of Manson-esque killers and brash, lewd dialogue in favour of mood, atmosphere and the kind of pacing you’d find in early 70’s fright flicks that valued aura over gore. This shows that although pretty much married to his trademark style (the third Firefly Family film is in production as we speak), he knows how to branch out successfully and has made a fantastic piece of slow burn horror with Salem. Set both during the infamous witch trials and in the present day, it focuses on quiet, introverted radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie). Now, if you’ve seen Sheri in the Firefly films you’ll know that the words ‘quiet’ and ‘introverted’ are a far cry from what she’s used to, but she’s brilliant here as a damaged recovering addict haunted by devilish forces. Plagued by sinister neighbours (Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace and a freaky Judy Geeson), hallucinatory visions of evil and a mysterious music album mailed right to her radio station, it soon becomes clear that the demons of the past have come back to haunt Salem and have chosen her as a dark avatar. Zombie lovingly casts his films with carefully chosen icons of 60’s and 70’s genre cinema, and as such we get the likes of Ken Foree, Richard Lynch, Richard Fancy, Udo Kier, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig and more. Stealing the show is electric blue eyed Meg Foster in a blood freezing turn as Margaret Morgan, leader of the original Salem coven generations before. Foster hails from stuff like John Carpenter’s They Live, The live action Masters Of The Universe and recently Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return, but she’s absolutely terrifying and almost unrecognizable here as a freaky old hell hag with a raspy voice and gruesome saggy tits, truly a memorable villain. This is a film that takes its time building up to outright horror, alternating between dimly lit, spooky scenes from the original trials and the mounting tension of present day, including a subplot where an investigative scholar (Bruce Davison) tries to unearth evil and warn Heidi before it’s too late. Jarringly surreal visuals abound here, from neon palettes to a grandiose nightmare sequence involving a demon baby and some seriously strange architecture. It all builds to a searing finale that some may find to over the top or garish, but fits the story and ends the tale on a feverish note of hellish commotion, colour saturation and horrific spectacle that plays like Ken Russell by way of Dario Argento with a dash of David Lynch at his craziest. This is my favourite film in Zombie’s career so far, for its mood, unique visual language and rhythmic pacing, but also for his willingness to blast through the cobwebs of uncharted stylistic territory and bring forth well wrought, fresh artistic style and a damn great horror film too.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses

Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses is a lot to sit through, and at times is a victim of its own overly zany ambition. Nevertheless, it’s the first stepping stone in the path of one of the most fascinating and talented directorial careers in the industry, and is a completely batshit mental curiosity in its own right. Zombie sprung onto the scene with this one and has since been a controversial, much talked about and frequently hated voice of horror. Let’s get one thing transparently clear: No one can be blamed for not enjoying his films, they’re incredibly niche and not everyone’s thing, but you are simply lying to yourself if you won’t concede what a hugely talented writer, director and all round filmmaker he is. I’ve had to get quite stern in conversations with people whose tunnel vision stubbornness supersedes their ability to logically analyze his work, and I simply won’t put up with it. Alright, scolding done, over to the film. I’ll be the first to admit that House is a splattered mess at times and goes about six light years over the top, but the sheer grungy scope of production design is really something to see. In deepest backwoods Americana, the murderous Firefly clan preys on, terrorizes and murders pretty much anyone who gets in their path. Bill Moseley is a Manson-esque dark angel as Otis Driftwood, renegade bad boy brother, Sheri Moon Zombie is like Harley Quinn on bath salts as Baby, who is definitely the scariest, while gargantuan Matthew McGrory, walking decrepitude grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and giggling slutwhore Mama (Karen Black doing her very best freaky Betty Boop rendition) round out the rest of the brood. They live in some cluttered rural dump right out of Hoarders™, luring unsuspecting travellers off the road and murdering them in really over elaborate, exhaustive looking ways. Oh and we see the birth of one of cinema’s most jovial and sleazy killer clowns, Sid Haig’s motor mouth Captain Spaulding, who bookends the film in uproariously raunchy comic relief. It’s a neon fever nightmare of relentless commotion, visual excess, metal music, retro Americana pop culture bliss and sadistic gore, Zombie going all out to solidify his storytelling aesthetic that would continue, in augmented, evolved ways, over the course of his brilliant career. This is certainly as obnoxious a film as you’ll find in his stable, and while it ranks in the southern end of my Zombie favourites list, there’s just no ignoring the raucous, depraved celebration of all things gross, gooey and grotesque that parades by. Not to mention the whip-smart, trashy and endlessly funny dialogue, writing being skill that the man excels in on another level. 

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s 31: A Review by Nate Hill 

I couldn’t help but feel fairly underwhelmed and a bit let down by Rob Zombie’s 31, which is a reaction I never thought I’d have to a film from one of the most dedicated and talented artists working in the horror genre these days. 

Now I’m not saying saying I hated it or even really disliked the film, there’s actually a lot of incredibly creative visual material and good old fashioned practical effects to feast your fangoria loving eyes on, but the fact remains that Zombie has regressed to the primal state he opened up his first few films with. 

  There’s two phases of his work so far: a rip snortin’ hoo rah gross out redneck scumbucket pile of profanity and bottom feeding trailer trash human garbage, which is what we saw in The Devil’s Rejects, House Of 1000 Corpses and somewhat in Halloween. Then there’s quieter, more thoughtful and meditative Zombie, using an art house, Argento psychedelic slow burn template that he brought hints of to the table in the excellent Halloween II and then full force with The Lords Of Salem, which to me is his best film so far. Now I love the trailer trash aesthetic to bits. It’s mile zero, the genesis of his fascinating career so far, and his writing is detailed, character driven, lifelike and oh so hilarious. But there’s a natural progression to any filmmaker’s career, moods and states which ebb and flow into new regions of stylistic exploration, and 31 just feels like a detour down the wrong road. I expected the atmosphere we got with Salem to churn forward and be a leg on the table of whichever phase came next. But alas, he has done a willful throwback to his earlier work, and although solid (I believe he’s incapable of making a truly bad film, there’s just too much creative juice with him), it’s sadly the least memorable among even phase 1 of his work. 

 31 is essentially a variation on The Most Dangerous Game, with a dirty dustbowl setting thrown in. A group of potty mouthed carnies, including Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Philips and the ever present Sheri Moon Zombie, trundle through the desert, reveling in promiscuity and lewd behaviour, another trope that is getting old and icky, even on Rob’s barometer. Attacked and kidnapped one night by a band of scarecrows, they find themselves unwitting contestants in a vicious game called 31 (why is it called that? I still don’t know), on Halloween eve. The masterminds are a group of creepy aristocrats led by a plummy Judy Geeson and Malcolm McDowell, sporting a powdered wig, attire of french royalty and going by the name Father Murder. They release Moon and her peeps into a dismal maze and set a group of demented cackling psychopaths called the “heads” after them, dressed like clowns and seriously adjusted I’ll adjusted, these folks. Now you’d think that premise would be just a bucket of horror fun, and it’s nominally entertaining but just never really takes off into the desperate, visceral fight for survival I wanted to see. The clowns are varying degrees of scary and amusing. EG Daily fares well as whiny creepshow Sex Head, and there’s Sick Head, a chatty midget dressed up like Hitler who yowls at his prey in garbled Hispanic incantations. The film’s real energy shows up in the form of Richard Brake as Doom Head, a repellant maniac who is the only actual scary one of the bunch. Brake is a criminally underrated actor who I had the honour of interviewing some months ago, and when asked what the favorite role of his career is so far, he promptly said this. One can see why, it’s the most he’s ever been given to do in a film and he milks it with virile ferocity and animalistic sleaze that will leave you crying in the shower. McDowell and his cronies are here and there, but feel oddly disconnected from the events at hand, and while visually ravishing, ultimately aren’t given much to work with. I will say though that Zombie has a flair for the musical finale, and the end sequence set to ‘Dream On’ here is a blast that does indeed touch the epic heights of his older films. 

 And there you have it, kids. I wanted to rave about this one, I really did. But it use felt loose,

cobbled together and nowhere near as cohesive and brutally mesmerizing as his earlier work, all of which still hold up. There are elements here that work, but unfortunately just not enough, and framed by a whole lot of choices that feel copied and pasted. Now Zombie at his worst is still better than most in this sagging genre these days, but for those of you who know his work well and have expectations for the guy, you may just feel a little let down, like I did.

THE DEVIL’S REJECTS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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In an effort to appeal to the largest audience possible, Hollywood studios have neutered so many horror films into PG-13 movies that they lack any edge or ability to scare beyond the usual fright tactics. They then release the slightly more explicit R-rated or unrated versions on DVD to exploit devotees who don’t want the sanitized theatrical version. Lions Gate, a small, independent studio, flies in the face of this trend by distributing R-rated independent and international horror movies like High Tension (2003) and Saw (2004) that push the boundaries of on-screen violence. Hard rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie has taken advantage of this by making and releasing his first two films through Lion’s Gate. The second of those was The Devil’s Rejects (2005), a gritty, balls-to-the-wall horror movie cum road picture – imagine The Hills Have Eyes (1977) directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Not quite a sequel to Zombie’s first movie, House of a 1000 Corpses (2003), but rather the further adventures of a few of its characters – the notorious Firefly family. Early one morning, the police raid their farm. In the ensuing chaos, Otis (Bill Moseley) and his sister Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) manage to escape with Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) in hot pursuit and bent on revenge because they killed his brother (see House of 1000 Corpses). Otis and Baby take a country and western band by the name of Banjo & Sullivan hostage in a motel room. They eventually hook up with their partner Captain Spaudling (Sid Haig) and take refuge at a whorehouse owned by Spaudling’s brother, Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree) where they get ready for the inevitable confrontation with Wydell.

When Zombie wrote House of 1000 Corpses, he had a “vague idea” for a story about the brother of the sheriff that the Firefly clan killed coming back for revenge. He did this just in case the film did well enough at the box office and created interest in another film. After Lions Gate made back all of their money on the first day of Corpses theatrical release, the studio wanted Zombie to make another film and he started to seriously think about a new story. With Rejects, he wanted to make it more horrific and the characters less cartoonish than in Corpses. He was interested in making “something that was almost like a violent western” and has cited films like The Wild Bunch (1969), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Badlands (1973) as influences.

Zombie hired Phil Parmet, who had shot the legendary documentary Harlan County USA (1976) because he wanted to adopt a hand-held camera/documentary look. To prepare for the film, Parmet watched many horror films but when he and Zombie started talking about the approach they wanted to take on Rejects, they actually connected on revisionist westerns like Hang ‘Em High (1968), Monte Walsh (1970), and El Topo (1970). They also looked to films like The French Connection (1971), In Cold Blood (1967), and Fat City (1972) for inspiration. During pre-production, they decided to shoot the film on 16mm and Zombie cited films like Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003) as jumping off points for how he wanted to shoot his own film. Zombie told Parmet that he wanted to use two cameras at all time and for certain scenes, like the chaotic gunfight at the Firefly house at the beginning of the film, to have as many as six cameras running simultaneously.

Zombie populated his cast with an impressive collection of B-horror character actors: Sid Haig (Spider Baby), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), P.J. Soles (Halloween), and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). They are not cast for kitsch or novelty value but because they have the acting chops to pull off these meaty roles. Zombie cast actors with interesting faces that have character. Every line or glint in their eyes says so much and he captures them in close-ups a la Sergio Leone. And no one personifies a fascinating face more than Sid Haig who plays Captain Spaulding as the scariest clown with evil make-up that includes black lips and horrible yellow teeth augmenting his already grizzled looks.

After starring in numerous forgettable direct-to-video efforts, William Forsythe finally gets a substantial role. Every once in a while, he pops up in a mainstream film, like Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995) and The Rock (1996), usually playing some generic bad guy role. He harkens back to a bygone era of tough guys, like Lee Marvin or Robert Shaw, who naturally exuded a ferocious intensity that is exciting to watch. With his deep, gravelly voice Forsythe plays an unstoppable force of nature that is just as ruthless in his methods as the Firefly clan.

The dialogue crackles and pops with its own profane rhythm. The tough guy-speak works because it is believable and the actors deliver it with conviction. Zombie breaks it up with some very funny bits and truly laugh-out-loud moments of black humor. For example, the Firefly clan uses aliases of names of Groucho Marx characters. To crack this code, Wydell brings in movie critic Marty Walker (Robert Trebor) and they end up getting into an argument about the merits of Elvis Presley movies that is hilarious and helps relieve some of the unrelenting tension that this film generates.

The Devil’s Rejects is a good looking movie that features a lush glow of reds, greens and blues during the night scenes and then Zombie cuts to one with a minimalist single light source with nothing in the background so that we focus on the two actors in the scene and what they are saying. In contrast, the day scenes have a warm, saturated sun-burnt look. The darkest scene in the movie in terms of tonality actually takes place at high noon and this makes it even more sinister because there is nowhere to hide.

Zombie references all kinds of movies and not just the usual horror movies that other filmmakers quote. When he does refer to other films he does so in a subtle way and not in a look-how-clever-I-am way that Quentin Tarantino does. Tarantino is a cinematic show-off content to sample his favorite scenes from other movies without showing any kind of understanding about how they work. The Devil’s Rejects is a down ‘n’ dirty celebration of outlaw 1970s cinema complete with a fantastic score of southern rock classics from the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Joe Walsh and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In case of the last band, the way their anthem “Free Bird” is used in this movie is incredible. What could have been so clichéd comes across as a poignant and iconic scene in the film, befitting the song itself.

devilsrejects2This film does not quite look like it was shot in the ‘70s but made by someone who grew up in that decade. Rejects was made by a horror film fan for horror film fans. Zombie has created a truly disturbing horror movie with no real redeemable characters, that is refreshingly unpredictable and this is what makes it so scary, like the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Both movies are feverish nightmares except that in Massacre you felt sympathy for the female protagonist. The Devil’s Rejects does not even have that. You may find yourself rooting for the Firefly family early on but Zombie quickly rejects this notion by portraying them as truly irredeemable people. There is no sappy love story or cop-out ending and this remains true to many of the nihilistic movies of the ‘70s. Horror film obsessives always brace themselves for the wimp out ending — it is the downfall of so many horror films — Rejects does not make this mistake. Zombie has shown a real growth as a filmmaker, creating I daresay a modern horror masterpiece.