Is there any filmmaker working in horror today who’s more divisive than Rob Zombie? There’s an argument to be made that at this point, the founder of White Zombie and platinum-selling solo artist is better known for his movies than for his music, although he has continued to release albums throughout his now 20-year career as a writer, director, and producer of horror films.
And we’re talking about some of the most debated horror movies of the past quarter century. While movies like The Devil’s Rejects have received high marks from several critics and most genre fans (even Roger Ebert liked it), other Rob Zombie-helmed films, such as his remake of Halloween, have received a brutal reception. When a new Rob Zombie movie is announced, it’s a guarantee that horror fans are going to have very strong opinions about it one way or the other.
In the end, Rob Zombie has his fans and detractors. Both groups make good points for his talents and weaknesses as a filmmaker. His movies are a sort of highly specific junk food, with certain works or moments within those works occasionally rising to greater heights. It’s generally fun, but you probably don’t want to live on this stuff.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the red, red kroovy and rank Rob Zombie’s movies from worst to best.
Rob Zombie Movies Ranked
9. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)
If cohesiveness was the only thing that decided a good or bad movie, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto would still be at the bottom of this list. It also happens to be that this animated comedy, telling a slapdash story of a retired pro wrestler who stops a madman named Dr. Satan, isn’t very funny either.
Humor is apparent in most of these Rob Zombie movies being ranked. It works brilliantly sometimes, as there’s a wild gallows touch to his better films that gives them a unique presentation. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto exists entirely in that sense of humor, and it’s completely out of momentum at around the 20-minute mark. It’s almost as though someone said “How can we take the pure grain awfulness of 2003’s Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon and make it extraordinarily worse?”
The movie is barely worth watching even for its badness. There’s also some fun animation at times, particularly in character design, and, in fact (though only occasionally), a few stray chuckles to be found here and there. You may get enough entertainment solely from Paul Giamatti chewing entire galaxies of scenery as Dr. Satan. Stranger things have happened, and some people do in fact enjoy The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.
8. 31 (2016)
31 is, if nothing else, completely free of pretension. It’s nothing more and nothing else. That is unfortunately to its own detriment.
There’s no airs and graces in this story of a group of carnival workers forced to fight an army of maniacs in a dangerous industrial building, sure, but there’s also no emotional depth either. That’s more important than you might think, and it can certainly be found to some degree or another in the films that inspired Zombie to make this movie in the first place.
No one’s asking this movie to be particularly deep, but there has to be some sort of urgency and resonance with these characters and their horrifying situation. No one actor is noticeably bad in their performances, and sometimes the performances meet nicely with the delirious and highly stylized violence, but they don’t have anything to really work with. These characters start shallow and stay there, not even leaving much for our imaginations to build something around them. They aren’t even all that likable.
Violence stands tall in Rob Zombie’s wheelhouse. 31 has plenty of it, and there’s an element of impressiveness to the technical side of how this mayhem is carried out. You can’t sustain a whole movie on that, though.
7. Halloween (2007)
Until Rob Zombie’s aggressively ambitious Halloween was released to utterly brutal reviews, Zombie was on relatively good terms with audiences as a filmmaker. It took a bold-but-decidedly-misguided approach to reinviting the iconic Michael Myers to sour that relationship with many. Many are still pretty upset at the way Zombie endeavored to reimagine one of the most famous slasher villains of all time.
Because here’s the thing: For its thorough misfire in trying to envision Michael as a bad seed from the most frightening white trash family in the history of Illinois, the film isn’t a lazy one. It’s easy to forget that Zombie inherited Myers after Halloween: Resurrection, which remains a far worse film than this one. With the exception of 1998’s H20, there arguably hasn’t been a particularly strong Halloween film since 1988’s The Return of Michael Myers.
There’s a lot about this Halloween remake that’s at least intriguing. If nothing else, the movie does succeed at reestablishing Michael as a terrifying force of nature. Where it does not succeed is in its elaborate backstory, in some of its characterizations of beloved characters, and in its botched effort to outdo the original’s memorable ending. A fascinating failure is still a failure.
6. 3 From Hell (2019)
Did the world really need a third installment in the Firefly Trilogy? Absolutely not. The Devil’s Rejects remains the best-reviewed and most-liked entry in Rob Zombie’s entire filmography. Yet 3 From Hell exists, and, against all odds, it’s actually not that bad. That’s not something to necessarily celebrate, but the movie clearly fares better than any of Zombie’s other movies we’ve discussed thus far.
3 From Hell goes deeper than you’d expect into its characters acknowledging that a lot of time has gone by. Of course, the expected murder spree occurs, sprinkled with moments of humor that work more often than they don’t. This time it’s different, and not just because genre legend Sid Haig passed away shortly before filming his brief reprisal of his character from the last two movies.
Age combines with growing madness and despair to show us the Firefly clan is persisting only because it’s better than the alternative. In that specific context, 3 From Hell has a depth and sadness that you don’t really expect. It’s impressively mature from Zombie on the storytelling front, with Sheri Moon Zombie in particular showcasing Baby in a light we’ve never seen her in.
Still, 3 from Hell is a bit overlong and ultimately isn’t very memorable.
5. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
With Rob Zombie’s debut 2003 feature House of 1000 Corpses, we’ve arrived at the tier of ranked Rob Zombie movies that have more good elements going for them than bad ones. House of 1000 Corpses isn’t very scary, but it is one of the most unique horror films released in this period. As weird, enthusiastic mashups of several different horror movie concepts go, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse.
That’s because House of 1000 Corpses is still a striking filter of Zombie’s favorite horror movies, visuals, and tropes through the talented cast and crew he surrounded himself with. Sid Haig in particular is a highlight with one of the decade’s best horror performances. Maybe one of the best of the decade, period.
With House of 1000 Corpses, we can revisit the junk food analogy. Is the movie good for the soul? Probably not, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun by being familiar but also just different enough to make the whole experience worth the effort. Sometimes, a movie doesn’t need more than a good atmosphere and a perfect cast getting the most out of this pretty good introduction to the Firefly family.
4. The Munsters (2022)
Rob Zombie taking on a beloved 60s sitcom classic might make you nervous, but you can relax. Few people on this or any other planet love The Munsters more than Rob Zombie. Obviously that doesn’t mean his prequel story, which details the courtship and marriage of Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) to Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) is actually going to be good.
And yet 2022’s The Munsters is indeed quite good, modernizing a decades-old sitcom in a way few have. If you’re not a fan of the visual and conversational flourishes Zombie often makes in his films, there’s still a very good chance you’ll like The Munsters.
You could make the argument that Zombie doesn’t bring much new to the table in this 110-minute PG-rated spooky romcom. The Munsters is one of those instances where that’s totally fine. It could also be said that Zombie brings his personal tastes as a filmmaker to this project, which makes this material fresher than it’s been in a long time. What’s truly impressive is how often he reins in the excesses of many of his other films. The Munsters mostly stays the course and definitely sticks the landing.
3. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Restraint on Rob Zombie’s part, both as a writer and a director, can be a beautiful thing to behold for some horror fans. The Lords of Salem is the grimmest piece of work on his resume. There are moments where the violence is on flawless par with almost anything you’ll find in the rest of his films. The restraint is nonetheless apparent. Much of the burden of making The Lords of Salem scary falls on the shoulders of Sheri Moon Zombie as a DJ who runs afoul of a cult of Satanic women.
The premise of The Lords of Salem on paper sounds like business as usual. Sheri Moon Zombie’s performance as a recovering drug addict with deeper ties to this coven than she initially realizes is one of the key elements in making this the most differing movie in Rob Zombie’s canon to date.
There’s a little more style than substance going on throughout The Lords of Salem, but Sheri Moon Zombie’s work here gives the film some layers it may not have had otherwise. You also can’t beat a supporting cast that includes Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Ken Foree (playing a guy named Munster, by the way), and Bruce Davison.
2. Halloween II (2009)
The real tragedy of Halloween II is that it must be a sequel to a movie that’s at best a mixed bag. Without the presence of an overlong backstory filled with very Rob Zombified touches, Halloween II gets the chance to be one of the best Halloween sequels in the entire franchise.
If you didn’t like the performances or screenplay choices behind the characters who survived the events of Zombie’s 2007 remake, Halloween II might be a slightly tougher sell. You should still go for it, however, if you’ve never seen one of the strongest and scariest depictions of Michael Myers on the big screen anyone will ever do. That even includes the current remake trilogy, which benefits indirectly from Zombie proving the character could be a walking mass murder wholesaler.
Tyler Mane, who played Michael in the previous film, is an impressive presence here. Halloween II also manages to be extremely interesting in its approach to survivor’s guilt, particularly in the performances by Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie Strode, Danielle Harris as Annie, and Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis.
Halloween II starts in a dark, mean place, and rarely missteps from apocalyptic momentum right out of the gate.
1. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
It’s unlikely that Rob Zombie will ever enjoy the critical reception given to The Devil’s Rejects. That may or may not matter to you, but the film’s comparatively good standing with critics and audiences is interesting to note. For better or for worse, Rob Zombie’s style and creative choices can generate a strong reaction from those who watch his work.
On its own terms, The Devil’s Rejects offers the most successful blend of that style and those creative choices. It also has the best cast of any of his films, with Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, and most notably Bill Moseley as Otis creating excellent chemistry and a twisted yet oddly charming family dynamic.
The Devil’s Rejects also features William Forsythe, Matthew McGrory (a likable actor in his final performance), Ken Foree, Priscilla Barnes, Geoffrey Lewis, Danny Trejo, Michael Berryman, Tom Towles, PJ Soles, and several more. Zombie loves to fill his movie with old horror names, and that works significantly well here.
The material is exciting and their performances alongside the movie’s blistering soundtrack and cinematography by Phil Parmet makes for the best grindhouse Zombie may ever make. The Devil’s Rejects is his definitive work, as well as one of the best of its decade.
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