In anticipation of The Munsters, we reminisce on Rob Zombie’s unique filmography, through its successes– and its fumbles.
Filth. Horror. Glam—
Wait. No wait, sorry, thinking about the wrong Dragula, that’s in October. My bad.
Many people aspire to make being spooky and gothic their whole brand, but very few have succeeded and made that brand hyper-marketable the way Rob Zombie has.
The oeuvre of Rob Zombie is a fascinating library of music, animation, & film that is simply inimitable. So, you can imagine my surprise when The Munsters trailer…sucked. I mean, like, really sucked. Windows Movie Maker fonts, weird audio choices, direct-to DVD image quality, it really looks like a passion project that ran out of budget past the costumes. And based on his remarks, that may just be the case.
I frequently find myself oscillating between enjoying Zombie’s creations one minute and wondering what the hell is going on in that electric head of his the next. He’s a modern renaissance man of horror, and in my eyes, he deserves all the respect he gets. But he also deserves a lot of the flak as well. So, let’s discuss the good and bad in Rob Zombie’s repertoire.
THE GOOD-LOOKING SLEAZE
Just like the man’s own outfits, the key to Zombie’s best works are how stylish they are.
The Firefly Trilogy of films are a model specimen of this. They pioneered what some call his unique “hellbilly” genre, named in honor of his debut solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe. In short, they’re films with B-Movie concepts, A-Movie budgets, and Z-Movie levels of class. They’re trashy, they’re extremely kitschy, and they’re horribly deranged, which is why people like them so much. It’s pure style, with stacked casts full of character actors to boot.
Like his contemporaries, namely Darren Lynn Bousman & Eli Roth of the famed early 2000s “Splat Pack,” his films are incredibly stylized and incredibly violent to match. Their palettes and design, in general are richly colorful. They utilize weird filming techniques like uncomfortable diopter shots, an abundance of non-sequiturs, and music video style editing chock full of photo negatives and extreme camerawork. Most importantly, they play on feelings of nostalgia and old-school Americana that feels like walking past a lineup of old horror movie posters on your way into the theatre.
Beyond that, it’s clear Zombie loves camp, because nowhere is that more relevant than the El Superbeasto comics and their animated film adaptation. They’re the closest that Rob Zombie ever gets to having one of his characters turn directly to camera and wink at the audience because of how absurd they are. In the worlds he designs, worlds perpetually trapped in Spirit Halloween mode, Zombie reigns free to do his bonkers horror movie weirdness and channels all the great horror movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s that he loved, albeit with a little bit of sleaze for flavor. And sleaze is one of my favorite flavors.
THE BAD IN OVERABUNDANCE
Then comes Halloween (2007). While I agree with John Carpenter that explaining Michael Myers origins outright and giving him a backstory takes away a lot of what makes the original work, I preferred seeing something completely different, something running counter to the ethos of a character, than just seeing a rehash of the same film. Tonally, stylistically, and design-wise, the cinematography of Halloween (2007) is unrecognizable when put up against its forefather, and that’s a wonderful thing.
The choice, nonetheless, resulted in the derision and displeasure of many longtime Halloween fans. Worse off, it led to Halloween 2, my exemplar of everything wrong with his works.
Zombie stated in the past that he never planned to do a sequel to Halloween and mainly took the gig to avoid having his vision corrupted by Dimension Films putting a hired gun in the directing chair. That’s pretty evident since 80% of Halloween 2 is aimless vision and vibes and the other 20% is an ultraviolent seizure. I can appreciate an auteur’s sense of spirit and how it guides you as a creator. Still, there’s a point where, unchecked, Rob Zombie’s personal daemon of art gets in the driver’s seat of the dragula and drives it directly off the highway before flipping several times on the median.
Rob Zombie can’t help himself sometimes when trying to rein in his vision; could you blame a creator so scorned by studios for running free? But the worst part of these films is when Zombie pushes them to their breaking point, indulging in the excess of his vision. Meanspirited characters that end up becoming annoying instead of intimidating, and atrocities against victims that are slathered on for theatric evil that sort of just becomes nauseating. Truly, the sinister urge of the author is usually where things crumble for an artist…
THE UGLY TRUTH OF FILMMAKERS
…And it’s something we kind of have to live with.
I think we need to remember that while no director is quite Rob Zombie, most directors are like Rob Zombie and vice versa. Sam Peckinpah is one of my favorite directors of all time, but his films shift from being really good to really bad; the matter of fact is that not everything you make is going to be The Wild Bunch or Sorcerer.
More relevant to horror, I love Adam Wingard’s directing. I love You’re Next, I love The Guest, hell, I even think the Blair Witch sequel was good on a technical level. But his filmography’s track record tells me that I’m flipping a coin with how much I’ll enjoy one of his films, it’s just how it is. And I will gladly flip that coin for him, just as I will for Rob Zombie.
So he’ll make more bad films and more good films, but what matters above all else is that he makes more at all. You can’t always get what you want; the sentiment is true for the audience as much as it is for the artist. All we can hope is that they exercise their auteur spirit wisely and let ourselves get taken along for the ride.
Why the Willy Wonka Boat Scene is Still the Scariest Thing You’ve Ever Seen
“There’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…”
If those words don’t immediately strike fear into your very heart, then someone was very good to you as a child. You were somehow spared the experience of being set in front of 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), blissfully unaware of what you were about to get yourself into. And look, it’s not like the boat scene comes out of nowhere. There’s already a bit of murder and mayhem going on in the first act before the boat scene. Hell, mere minutes before we reach the boat scene, we have consigned Augustus Gloop to a fate of being slowly asphyxiated as his lungs fill with molten chocolate, like the world’s most delicious case of pneumonia.
But the boat scene. Nothing quite matches its raw power, even more than five decades later. Here it is, if you need a refresher:
Willy Wonka, Why Are You Like This?
There are a lot of different reasons that this scene exists. For one, Roald Dahl (who was also the film’s screenwriter, though he eventually disowned the film over some uncredited rewrites) was never afraid of including material that would rattle his audience a bit. Ever heard of The Chokey?
Dahl was in tune with the fact that children’s stories, largely being parables of one kind or another, do typically feature some kind of unsettling or downright horrifying element to help teach their lessons. This is a tradition that dates back to fairy tales and early folklore. Listen to your elders, or you’ll turn into sea foam trying to get a human prince to notice you. Don’t wander by the river at night, or La Llorona will drown you. And here’s a personal favorite: Make sure to sweep the floor, otherwise the Sweepings Demon Ahalmez and the Stabbing Demon Ahaltocob will lurk in those unswept areas and stab you to death.
That’s why the darker elements of Willy Wonka are present in the first place. However, the boat scene stands out among the rest because it is so brilliantly put together. The base layer of the footage playing out on the tunnel walls is creepy enough. There’s a sinister, unpredictable arbitrariness to what images are chosen and why. However, pair that with Gene Wilder’s outstanding performance as Willy Wonka and you’ve got pure magic. Wonka was never designed to be understood, and the way his eerie, partly sung monologue builds to a climax caught somewhere between abject terror and orgiastic delight is deliciously opaque and disturbing.
Not only is this downright terrifying to witness in the first place, it taps into the way that children’s fates lie in the hands of adults pretty much all of the time. This scene is an immaculate exaggeration of how, when you’re a child, the adults in your life are driven by motives that are murky to you at best, and trusting that they have your best interests at heart isn’t always an easy thing to do.
The Willy Wonka Boat Scene in a Broader Context
On top of all the stuff the Willy Wonka boat scene is doing on purpose, there’s something about the fact that this scene was put together in the early 1970s that helps lend it its undying potency. If you need proof of this, check out the same scene from Tim Burton’s 2005 re-adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s just not the same, sending Charlie and his pals down a CGI-laden log flume that’s so unmemorable I had to look up if the movie even had a boat scene.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came to cinemas at a time that horror filmmaking was reaching a new creative peak, just three years after Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby showed what horror masterpieces could look like on opposite ends of the spectrum, offering up infinite possibilities in between. Things were really cooking at this time, as grindhouse cinemas churned out grotty horror outings (like Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1970 gross-out flick The Wizard of Gore) en route to a true explosion of exploitation cinema.
Willy Wonka’s boat scene is born from the same primordial ooze that gave us 1972’s The Last House on the Left, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and 1978’s I Spit On Your Grave. It’s gross to look at, deeply disturbing, and feels genuinely unsafe.
Even though the way the images are projected behind the passengers doesn’t necessarily look real, it nevertheless looks tactile, grungy, and gross. This is thanks to the quality of film stock used to make these kinds of movies at the time. It has a tactility to it that digital cinema doesn’t possess, leaving you feeling like if you were to reach out and touch it, it would either abrade your hand or leave behind a trail of slime, something that enhances the viscerally repulsive sight of images that were already designed to poke at your lizard-brain fears.
Because all of this is found within the context of what is ostensibly a children’s movie, the juxtaposition of genres makes it even more powerful to witness. The Willy Wonka boat scene is well-made, well-timed, and well-suited to making your skin crawl, no matter what age you are when you encounter it, or how many times you may have seen it before.
My Final Girls Support Group: How Horror Helps Me Grieve
This article discusses topics that may be distressing or triggering to some readers. If you find such content uncomfortable, you may choose to proceed with caution or refrain from reading. Your well-being is important, if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there is help.
Sidney: I’ve seen this movie before.
Ghostface: Not this movie, Sidney.
Sidney: You really need some new material.
Ghostface: I got you here, didn’t I?
Sidney: You might actually be the most derivative one of all. I mean, Christ, the same house?
Ghostface: Maybe so. But you forgot the first rule of surviving a Stab movie. Never answer the—
Sidney (hanging up): I’m bored.
Seeing a Final Girl Come Full Circle
Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott hanging up on Ghostface is maybe one of my favorite moments from the entirety of the Scream franchise. She’s come so far since the first movie, and after 25+ years, she deserves to be able to hang up on her trauma.
On July 6th, 2023, I sat in my mom’s dark hospital room alongside my aunt, dad, and brother as we watched my mom take her last breath. On July 6th, 2015, I walked into my roommate’s room, who was also one of my best friends, to find him dead in his bed.
So, unfortunately, Sidney’s whole conversation with Ghostface in Scream (2022) right before hanging up on him has become quite relatable to me. It was a scene I could never shut up about, even before it became so painfully relevant. It’s a scene I’ve rewatched a lot since my mom’s passing. It’s a moment I want to be able to recreate someday—me, more annoyed than anything else when my trauma starts resurfacing.
The week after finding my friend dead, I found myself watching both parts of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2 finale, “Becoming“—found myself crying every time I watched Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy Summers slow motion run to help her friends, knowing she’d already failed and when she caught the blade of the sword her evil ex hurled at her, hitting him with the hilt before kicking every inch of his ass. After my mom’s passing, I found myself revisiting the end of Buffy’s season 5, where she’s grieving the loss of her mom but still having to deal with the current apocalypse—even saying, “I just wish my mom was here,” before going into battle in the finale.
An Outlet Via Horror
It’s moments like these that draw me to horror, especially when I’m grieving. I am more drawn to slasher-type movies when grieving than horror movies dealing with grief. I love Hereditary and The Babadoook, but those movies don’t make me feel the way I do watching Sidney hang up on her trauma, aka Ghostface, or watching Buffy beat the shit out of her evil ex-boyfriend. I want to be Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers telling Ghostface, “fuck you” even when she thinks she’s about to die in Scream VI. I want to be strong, I want to be able to survive—and also be witty about it. Watching final girls not only survive but be able to move on with their lives is something I find incredibly empowering—and inspirational.
I went to horror author Grady Hendrix’s book tour for his novel Final Girls Support Group. He did a full-on presentation before the actual signing and gave a history of horror that ended with him saying something like, “We don’t watch horror to watch people die but to watch them survive.” That notion has stuck with me ever since I saw it because it’s why I watch horror. The younger guy I was on a date with found it corny—I found it beautiful. I want to watch people survive odds that feel insurmountable—and not in a Hallmark movie way.
We’ve all seen the supercut of Jamie Lee Curtis saying, “It’s about trauma” at every single stop on her press tour for David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy. It became a meme-able moment, but also it’s true—I’m always interested in what the final girl or group of survivors from a horror movie do after they’ve survived. They would all clearly carry their trauma with them, not unlike me, but they’re still surviving. It’s why I hate any horror franchise bringing back a final girl just to kill her (I’m looking at you, Friday the 13th Part 2 and Final Destination 2). I’d rather never see her again than have her come back to die because that feels just too cruel and unfair—which, sure, life is unfair, but fictional stories don’t have to be.
In Halloween: H20, JLC’s Laurie Strode is shown to have had trouble moving on after the events of the second movie. But by the movie’s end, she’s saved her son (heartthrob Josh Hartnett) and his pals and goes to find Michael Myers for a final showdown—screaming his name while yielding an axe, no less! After defeating him, she makes sure he’s dead by chopping his head off (no, we won’t acknowledge Halloween: Resurrection). It’s why that movie stays my favorite in the Halloween franchise. It’s something I didn’t love about the newer trilogy, where they retconned all but the first movie and showed Laurie a total mess, prepping for an apocalypse with a zillion guns and living in the woods. But even that gave us a gratifying ending with Laurie, in front of the entire town of Haddonfield, throwing Michael into a trash compactor. I would love to crush my trauma into tiny little pieces that I leave in the bottom of a dumpster.
I often try to imagine what my gratifying horror moment would be. My trauma comes from real life—I have no monster to chop the head off of. No one is calling to scare me and telling me they’ll gut me like a fish. My horror movie is way more slow-moving with zero chase scenes. My horror movie is a boring one. But still, I find these women all empowering because, ya know, metaphors.
Finding Hope Through Horror
In Ready or Not, our final girl fights for her life against a family trying to kill her—only for her to survive long enough to watch them all explode due to a deal with the devil. In You’re Next, our final girl wields an axe and takes out the folks trying to take her out. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, our final girl tells her boyfriend, “I’m into survival” when he finds her reading a book on booby traps. These characters aren’t going down without a fight. In my life, I have yet to make it to the end of my horror movie—but when I do, I hope I can still be a badass final girl about it.
Having two of the biggest losses in my life happen on the same day really feels like a joke. The writers of my horror movie really do need to get new material. But seeing these final girls on their 89th movie and still not getting got—it gives me hope.
I want to not only outlast but go on in the ways folks like Sidney Prescott, Laurie Strode, Gale Weathers, and Buffy Summers do.
Sam: Are you going to be all right?
Sidney: I’ll survive. I always do.
For more on how horror can help us cope with tragedy, read here.