Horror in Art and Popular Culture: Rob Zombie

          Horror films are judged by their use of visuals, concept, plot, and characters. How these aspects work together in the film can determine how the audience interprets the film. I’ve chosen Rob Zombie as my featured artist in this research paper. In 2003 he created his first film, House of 1000 Corpses. The film was so horrific that he was granted the creative privilege to remake the classic horror films Halloween and Halloween II. His films are unlike most popular horror films in today’s culture. Viewers of Zombie’s films are left with useless knowledge of previous horror films, in the sense that they are unable to make predictions of what lies ahead for his characters and the plot of the story. Rob Zombie’s films take a realistic approach to representing horror film archetypes. Zombie uses specific techniques in representing horror to create his interpretation of how horror can be shown in a film. As a writer and director, Rob Zombie has made five films. In the following paper, I will discuss his work in the horror film industry and analyze specific techniques used for evoking horror of his films.

            One of Zombie’s signature traits in his films is the use of gore and brutal scenes of torture and bodily harm. With the use of such demented killers in his films, they offer endless opportunities for Zombie to show the aftermath of their violent actions. The killer(s) in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween, and Halloween II have no mercy for their victims. Specifically in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, the killers enjoy physical torture as much as psychological torture. As viewer’s of these films, Zombie spares nothing and forces us to witness it all.

Zombie’s attention to detail and his dedication to have the detail exposed to the audience to the full extent is a major part of his horror in all of his films. Not only do we, as the audience, have to witness the brutal torture of the victims, but also we have to look at the grotesque imagery of the victims after. “The cause of fear is nothing more and nothing less than the onscreen appearance of the disproportional immortality and disturbing brutality of the violent act or monster, forced on us through the vividness and impressiveness of threateningly close cinematic images and sounds” (Hanich, Page 4). Zombie’s scenes of torture are usually long, which increases the level of anxiety and feelings of discomfort in the audience. After the audience has seen the victims last moments, they now watch as the film shows their mutilated bodies in the scene as well as close up views of their wounds and the gore filled scene. Zombie uses this graphic material to build a relationship between the audience and the film.

In his film House of 1000 Corpses Zombie shows what the killers do to their victims and uses a shifting timeline in order to show examples of the killers “work” before, during, and after their latest kill. The killer Otis’s first murder/torture scene is of four missing cheerleaders who are indirectly involved in the main plot of the film. Zombie shows the audience “found footage” clips of him torturing each girl individually as a way to inform the audience of Otis as a character and as a scene change. Zombie’s use of these found footage clips reoccur throughout the film, and are used to intensify the current moment in the storyline; to add on to the anxiety of the audience. These “found footage” clips of Otis and his victims are shown sporadically through out the film. Later in the film Otis’s sister Baby is in the room where Otis’s first victims were tortured. In this scene Baby is applying makeup and making fun of one of the surviving cheerleaders, lying on the bed. Baby says,  “I thought you kids were all about team spirit? I mean you aint’ done fuck to cheer me up since you got here” (House of 1000 Corpses). The camera pans to the right to show the dead mutilated corpse of one of the cheerleader’s friends lying next to her. Zombie intentionally shows the physical harm done to the surviving cheerleader’s friend and wants the audience to experience the intensity of the moment. We as the audience have already seen what was done to the girl as it happened; now, we are able to see what remains of the victim.

            In The Devil’s Rejects there is a scene where one of the victims escapes from the killers but is still killed. After all she has been put through in such a short amount of time, and after surviving an encounter with three truly sadistic killers, she dies from getting hit by a truck as she tries to flag someone down for help. The scene is so fast that before the audience realizes that a passing truck killed her, the scene moves on to the closes ups of the gore and a view of the whole road.  Time jumps forward to when the police have arrived and have shut down the road. The camera at first shows the stretch of road covered in blood and we can see the mangled and dismembered body of what once was a girl. Then the camera pans through the remains of the body, giving us close up glimpses of body parts, internal organs, and skeletal remains. The scene is extremely graphic and uncensored; a perfect example of Zombie’s choice to show the victims in their disfigured state. Zombie wants us to feel fear in the pit of our stomachs because of a scene that can only be described as horrific in every sense.

            Along with the gruesomeness of his films, Zombie also chooses to use the brutality of his characters to enhance the emotional tension of the film. Every kill in his films is done in either anger or pure entertainment for the killer. Throughout Halloween and Halloween II, Michael Myers unleashes his inner emotions of anger when he commits a murder. One of the most brutal murders Michael Myers commits is his first murder early in the film when he is still a child. In a bathroom scene at his school, we find out that an older boy who bullies Michael on a regular basis both physically and psychologically. Michael later follows the boy into the woods on his way home from school, and it is there where he beats the bully with a wooden club. Even as the bully begs for him to stop and apologizes, Michael remains silent and continues to beat the bully until he dies. This scene seems even more intense and brutal due to the fact that it is a child committing such a violent crime. Zombie uses the character’s young age in his favor to make the audiences feel uncomfortable along with how cruel and unmerciful this young child is behaving. Again here Zombie is showing the violent brutality of this cinematic “monster” in hopes of evoking an emotional relationship between the audience and the film.

            Another characteristic of Rob Zombie’s films is his technique of lengthening certain scenes to the point where it becomes unnerving. He does this in the attempt of achieving two effects. Some scenes he lengthens to the point where you know how the scene is going to end but you don’t know when or how he is going to go about doing it. As well, he adds a gruesome emphasis on the imagery of the scene for the effect of keeping an unpleasant image or idea in your head.

            In House of 1000 Corpses, there is a scene where two lawmen along with one of the victim’s father went to the killer’s home to investigate the two missing couples. The deputy went to search the property with the victim’s father, and the sheriff went to talk to the owners of the property. That’s when deputy discovered a shed in the back of the property filled with dead bodies. Before he could radio for help, Mama Firefly shoots the sheriff in the head and Otis shoots the father of one of the victims multiple times outside. Otis then turned his gun to the deputy who had raised his arms in defeat. The scene pans out, as Otis holds the gun to the deputy’s head as he sits on his knees, in utter silence until finally Otis shoots the deputy. The audience knows that Otis is going to shoot the deputy but Zombie extends the time between Otis killing shooting the victim’s father and shooting the deputy. The scene creates an intense moment in the movie where nothing is occurring and the lengthened wait for something to happen unnerves the audience. Because the audience knows the sheriff will be shot, they are forced to wait in silence, for what seems to be longer than usual films, for Otis to finally shoot the deputy. 

            Another example of this attempt to keeping an image in the audience’s head for emphasis is the first murder scene of Halloween. As mentioned before, the entirety of the scene is of Michael Myers as a young boy beating his school bully with a wooden club. The length of the beating lasts longer than two minutes. For two minutes, the audience watches as Michael Myers ruthlessly beats another boy to death with a wooden club.  The audience can see the emotion and utter force behind each blow from the club. And as we listen to each whack, the audience also listens to the bully beg for him to stop. Zombie wanted this scene to be incredibly intense and wanted to set the tone of the film and the future development of the character with this first kill.

            The last major characteristics of Zombie’s films are his sharp twists in the plot of the story and the unpredictable nature of his films.  Some of his choices leave the audience with disbelief or shock. Rob Zombie has no fear to kill off any character in his films, no matter how “major” the audience believes them to be to the plot of the story.  In the ending of House of 1000 Corpses, one of the victims escapes after witnessing all of her friends being murdered enduring what the Firefly family put her through, she survived. She runs away from the Firefly house of horrors and manages to find a road. There she flags down an oncoming car that Captain Spaulding just so happens to be driving. He lets her in his car and says “Sweet baby Jesus girl what happened to you?” and he tells her “Alright just sit back and relax. I’ll get you to a doctor” (House of 1000 Corpses). And at that moment, Otis sits up in the back seat of the car and stabs her. A seemed to be, a hopeful ending, turned out to be a false sense of hope for the girl and for the audience.  

            In Halloween there are numerous scenes where Michael Myers acts unpredictably and the audience is left in suspense to find out what is going to happen next. But Zombie also uses sudden changes in the story to leave the audience in complete shock. One specific scene is the murder of Laurie’s stepfather. The scene opens to Laurie and her parents sitting on their porch just before Laurie is about to leave to babysit. The scene progresses and Laurie leaves in a car with her friend. Her parents talk briefly then they get up to go inside. Laurie’s stepmother enters the house and the stepfather lingers a few seconds just to turn around and look at the street. Then out of nowhere, Michael Myers stabs Laurie’s stepfather in the throat with enough force to push him into the house and Michael shuts the front door behind him. The kill is so fast that the audience doesn’t even have the chance to react before the next scene begins with the murder of Laurie’s stepmother.

            Rob Zombie takes common concepts for horror films and manipulates them in order to walk the boundaries of what is scary and what is truly horrific. Whether he comes up with the whole concept for the film or he writes a new screenplay, his films can easily be associated with his style of gruesome horror. Zombie spares no details when it comes to truly making something visually horrendous for a film. He gives the audience a firsthand experience into the world he has created with the use of graphic content, emotional connections, and techniques for manipulating a storyline. His ruthless depictions of killers and extreme plot twists keep audiences on the edges of their seat as they try to guess what drastic turn his film will take.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

Halloween. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, William Forsythe. Dimension Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Alliance Films, 2004. Film.

Halloween II. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Scout Taylor-Compton. Dimension Films, 2010. Film.

Hanich, Julian. Cinematic emotion in horror films and thrillers: the aesthetic paradox of

            pleasurable fear. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

House of 1000 corpses. Dir. Rob  Zombie. Perf.  Sid Haig, Karen Black, Bill Moseley. Distributed by Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 2007. Film.

"Rob Zombie." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0957772/>.

The Devil's Rejects. Dir. Rob  Zombie. Perf.  Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley. Nordisk Film, 2007. Film.

Filmography Rob Zombie | Official Website." Rob Zombie  Official Website.

            N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://robzombie.com/movies/>.