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THE PHILOSOPHICAL ZOMBIE: Reflecting on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Rob Zombie’s Works

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Luis Pomales-Diaz is a freelance writer and lover of fantasy, sci-fi, and of course, horror. When he isn't working on a new article or short story, he can usually be found watching schlocky movies and forgotten television shows.

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Editorials

Black Witches Exist.

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If you ask any Black woman horror fan who their favorite Black witch is, I’d bet all the money I don’t have, that most—if not all—of them would say Rachel True’s Rochelle in The Craft. And what’s not to love about Rochelle? She’s delightfully weird, supportive of her friends, and perseveres in the face of racism much like we do in similar predominately white spaces.

But The Craft is 26 years old. Even though we were blessed with a reboot in 2020, I expected the beloved cult classic to produce more Black Witches to bring into our Coven of Black Girl Magic.

Hell, I don’t even think the two Black actresses that portrayed Angelina Johnson in the Harry Potter movie franchise ever had any lines. And while the Broadway production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child made history by casting Black actresses to play Hermione, I do take issue with a beloved (and Black-coded) character being depicted as a cruel time-warp-multiverse version. (I’m sorry, but I came here to fight and tell you there is NO universe in which the only character committed to emancipating the magical slaves/house elves would ever turn out to be a cruel professor in her worst subject!)

Even most of the magical Black characters I’ve tried to include in this piece actually practiced Hoodoo or Voodoo.  There’s been a dearth of Black witches on the silver screen and in the horror genre, and it leaves me wanting more. White witches have depth and complexity to them. They can be good or evil, sensual and alluring, motherly, or even cycle through all of the above. Black witches are either nonexistent, relegated to a mammy role to aid a white protagonist, or their witchcraft is conflated with Hoodoo or Voodoo.

Voodoo is actually an organized religion with deep ties to African culture and American slave practices. Hoodoo is considered to be a folk magic that is also connected to the African Diaspora. Hoodoo is more similar to how witchcraft is depicted and is known for spells connected to practical needs, like love and money. Both Hoodoo and Voodoo are incredibly nuanced and highly regarded practices in Black culture, but in less diverse production spaces, depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo from a colonizer’s gaze can be, well, racist and reductive.

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One could argue that Black witches have representation through depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo on the silver screen, my favorite being the beautiful southern gothic film Eve’s Bayou. But overall, we deserve to see more expansive and nuanced Black Girl Magic on screen.

So here I am wondering, where are all the Black witches?

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WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF CHUCKY: Chucky Season 2 Full Trailer Breakdown, Theories & Predictions

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Forget the Season of the Witch. It’s the Season of the Dolls again.

I mean it might as well be, September is the new October, which means Halloween is basically tomorrow. And with the arrival of the spooky season comes the second season of SYFY’s instant hit and continuation of the Child’s Play series, Chucky. Since it’s returning on October 5th, this is pretty much all I’m going to be talking about for a few months, so why don’t we speculate on the incoming eight episodes of bombshells Don Mancini will be hitting us with soon?

BLOODY REUNIONS

The teaser trailer that premiered at San Diego Comic Con and the full trailer above that just recently dropped all but confirms this leaked list of episode titles that has been floating around, given they’re laden with religious references we’ll cover soon. The titles give a rough idea of what might happen with the Chucky and Tiffany dolls back on the saddle.

While the episode “Doll on Doll” could be about the myriad of Chucky dolls running around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an episode focused on Doll Tiffany going up against Chucky. Since the schism between Team Ray and Team Valentine from season 1’s gnarly decapitation, Tiffany’s plastic iteration would probably find herself in conflict with her old lover after kidnapping Nica and cutting herself out of their deranged master plan to attack all of America.

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Temporarily, at least. Given their torrid romantic history and Tiffany’s obsession with starting and preserving a family, it’d be on brand that the episode “Goin’ To The Chapel” may just involve them renewing their vows, with the Bride and groom reuniting to cause terror once more.

SAINTS, SINNERS, AND SILICON

So, what about location then? Well, with all we’ve seen of Jake, Devon, & Lexy’s matching school uniforms, the episode titles, and all the religious décor/symbology all over the place, it’s safe to say the series is finally taking the leap and sending Chucky into outer space.

…Jokes people. I’ll be here all week.

The latest trailer tells us the school is called Incarnate Lord (Academy?) and seems to be a Catholic boarding school for reforming disturbed youth. This is likely an homage to Childs Play 3 but riffing on the humor of private schools rather than military academies. Mancini may have been inspired to use this location because he also went to a Christian prep school when he was younger, a lesser-known detail mentioned in an interview with Dread Central.

With legal custody of Jake & Devon up in the air following their respective parents perishing, and their dubious involvement in dozens of people dying a year prior, it looks like the trio is being sent to an institution by the state– possibly at the behest of Mayor Cross, Lexi’s mother, instead of seeing the kids jailed. Given the chaos caused by Chucky in the season finale, it’s fair that she’d send the boys and her distraught daughter to a boarding school for their protection, hoping to distance them from the massacre. On the topic of troubled daughters…

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PUTTING LEXY THROUGH THE RINGER

Maybe stating the obvious here, but Lexy is going through it this season, even more so than last. One of the shots in the teaser trailer heavily implies she’s doing drugs to cope with the stress and trauma of Chucky’s massacre. But I think there might be even more reason she’s down and out.

We saw younger sister Caroline opening the door for Chucky in the teaser, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chucky’s first act of retribution against the Hackensack gang would be taking her out, or at least attempting to. It would also make sense to get them out of town as an inciting incident if the one-year time skip they mention means something has to break the relative peace in Hackensack.

For anybody skeptical about this, given it’s a very dark train of thought, remember that one of the series protagonists, Nica Pierce, had all her limbs cut off in the Season 1 finale and is currently being wheeled around by Tiffany. A tonal shift seems like just the thing Mancini might have hinted at with Nica’s cruel entrapment.

…Bummer. How about a joke to lighten the mood?

HOW DO NONBINARY SLASHERS OFF SOMEONE?

They/Them! And the they & them slashing in question would be the doll in two persons, Glen & Glenda, who is back after a long absence in the series (and seems delighted at the updates in their mother’s love-life/murder sprees). Hopefully, I will finally get a serious answer to my question of whether G&G have an explosives dealer! It seems doubly likely now that we see Chucky using a (stolen?) chemical explosive in the final shots of the full trailer…

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Portrayed in a double role by Lachlan Watson, former Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star, these two are more likely than not going to be blending into the school as delinquents and aiding one or more of the Chucky dolls in their rampage. But I think that one of the two could also be a new protagonist in the making.

Though the plot point fell by the wayside for doll martial arts in Seed of Chucky, it was clear that a part of Glen/da has a distaste for killing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two halves of Glen/da ended up feuding and making enemies out of each other. One of the big themes of Chucky as a rare coming-of-age horror is that you’ve sometimes got to reject the roles placed onto you by your parents, so it’d track if Tiffany’s twin terrors end up against themselves.

Suppose one half doesn’t become wholly good, however. In that case, there’s the distinct possibility they might end up taking sides with their respective favored parents and getting dragged into a messy “divorce” and the couple’s endless doll wars. Speaking of people who got dragged into that war,

REST IN PEACE, KYLE…

But not really. At least, I don’t think so. Even though Andy screams “This is for Kyle!” while presumably facing off with an unseen Tiffany or Chucky in the trailer, she seemingly survived the bomb blast from “An Affair to Dismember” and was hinted to be watching over the kids, the final shot of the first season being her hand gripping a tree with the black leather gloves gifted to her by Andy at the gas station.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. With Christine Elise confirmed to be back for an unspecified number of episodes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle is another dormant victim of possession like Nica, and that Tiffany may have done another soul split bamboozle. Not only would it give Tiffany a leg up against Andy & Chucky, but it would also mean that the kids would have to deal with their former protector turning heel.

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Regardless of how many of these darts land on the bullseye, I’m unflinchingly hyped for Season 2 of Chucky. Until then, I ask the question: do you have any pet theories you’ve been sitting on? Tell us on Twitter & comment down below, and as always, stay tuned for more horrifying content from Horror Press.

Chucky season 2 will premiere on USA and Syfy on October 5th.

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