Is Rob Zombie This Generation's John Carpenter?
Things haven't been going great lately. For a while now people haven't really been getting my movies. Certainly the box office hasn't been up to speed. Sure, some of my recent stuff hasn't been perfect, but neither has it been the shit that many have said. Critically, it's all become a bit of a crapshoot. The critics thought I was a bum when I started out and they think I'm a bum now.
Can you guess which one of them said the above? When I first thought about an article comparing the two, so much seemed to click. They have so much in common. Let's go ahead and throw the obvious out there: they both directed a film called Halloween - and Zombie's was a remake of the original Carpenter film. That's the obvious parallel, but it really doesn't have anything to do with this article.
It was Carpenter, by the way, that is quoted above.
Carpenter is very much a B-Movie and horror icon, and for a period of twenty years ruled that arena. His movies are distinct, iconic, held up on high by the cult film community. Most were also box office and critical failures. Big Trouble in Little China, for example, continues to climb out from underneath a cascade of resentment: here is a 3 page defense of the film in response to heavy Netflix review bashing.
Carpenter entered the public scene with Assault on Precinct 13 in 1976. However, it wasn't until Halloween in 1978 that Carpenter would become a household name, laying waste at the box office and ushering in an entire decade of teenage slasher films. Carpenter would be the most prolific at the turn of the decade, making The Fog (1980), Escape From New York (1981), and The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), and Starman (1984). The Fog was a commercial success, but Carpenter would struggle to reach that level again. His career would begin to peter out, constantly reeling from the box office disaster of The Thing and Carpenter's firing from Universal. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) would send Carpenter back to low-budget projects, constantly struggling for financing. Favorable reviews and criticism became harder to come by for the director, as his films were generally panned or remained unable to elevate above cult status.
Enter Rob Zombie. In 2003, the horror-rocker directed his feature film debut House of 1000 Corpses. Undoubtably more influenced by Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), the film still followed teen slasher tropes. Zombie would then make a sequel to House years later with The Devil's Rejects (2005). The sequel was less like House and exhumed a more Bonnie and Clyde feel. Zombie would then remake Halloween and give it a sequel, molding both in his own image and style.
But it was The Lords of Salem (2013) that really prompted this article. I distinctly remember not liking the film, and leaving the theater severely disappointed. However, I couldn't shake the film from my psyche for a week. There was just something about it. The mood? Maybe. The style? Could be. Certainly not the acting, plot, or major components. It felt like he was remaking some other film or mashing The Shining with Daniel Haller's Dunwich Horror (1970) adaptation. The film hung with me and kept my brain churning. Regardless, critics panned Salem yet defended Zombie and his style.
It was this aftermath that made me start to think of Zombie as the new Carpenter. Carpenter is no stranger to critical panning; many critics believed in his potential or his films' potential, but that it was lack of execution that made it/them a good film(s). Zombie and Carpenter's films both seem like remakes of earlier films. Carpenter has fully embraced that Assault on Precinct 13 (and later Ghosts of Mars) are essentially both Rio Bravo (1959). Zombie's House (as mentioned) is reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw. Both have done remakes: Carpenter's The Thing and Zombie's Halloween. Both rely on visual stylization and actor's emotions to build tension. Both come from musical backgrounds!
Carpenter has left a void in the b-movie community with his semi-retirement. It appears he's happily handed over the keys to his legacy to a younger generation: Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, and The Thing have all been remade or prequel-ed. Rumors persist of They Live and Prince of Darkness remakes. Rob Zombie and his style have begun to fill that vacuum, producing the low-budget, misunderstood, and critically-abused types of films. Zombie still has yet to put up the kind of commercial success of Halloween, but there's no believing he can't (or won't). Here's hoping he gets there.