Being a fan of Rob Zombie’s filmmaking can be infuriating at times, and incredibly difficult. This is the man who remade HALLOWEEN, an untouchable, beloved masterpiece and gave Laurie Strode white-girl dreads in the sequel. This is the man who crowd funded his film 31, only for many critics to call it the worst film he’s ever made. He often comes under fire for the exploitative nature of his films, the fact everyone in them seems to have never heard of a shower, and his constant decision to cast his wife in a leading role. However, despite all of these criticisms, Rob Zombie is doing one thing better than almost every other filmmaker working in horror.
Horror is known for being the genre where many budding actors get their start, and the most popular horror films are centered largely on young women, mainly teenagers, meeting their demise. Rob Zombie, however, fills his films predominately with actors old enough to remember a time without the Internet. Sheri Moon Zombie was already 33 when she played Baby Firefly in HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES while Karen Black’s “Mama” was nearly 73. Meg Foster recently starred in 31 at the age of 67, and 2012’s LORDS OF SALEM showcased Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace all in their 60’s & 70’s.
Perhaps more interesting than his choices to cast older actresses in hearty roles is his continued use to showcase sexuality in characters “of a certain age.” E.G. Daily is primarily known for her impressive career as a voice over artist (and as Dottie in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE), but in her two performances in Rob Zombie’s films, she’s played an overtly sexual character. She’s the “Sex-Head” clown in 31 and one of the sex workers, “Candy,” in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. In both of these films she’s a scantily clad seductress, and she played these characters at the age of 44 and 54.
In addition to Karen Black, Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace, Rob Zombie has also featured many beloved horror icons throughout his filmography. Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Michael Berryman, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, and Tom Towles have all played memorable characters in Zombie’s films, and in some of these cases, characters that have become iconic. In the simplest terms, Rob Zombie is the Quentin Tarantino of horror. He takes his inspiration from the movies that he loves, and that love is reflected in his casting and filmmaking style. It’s derivative, it’s divisive, but it’s a direct shot across the bow to conventional standards in the Hollywood horror scene.
These choices, especially in casting, have resurrected the careers of many of our favorites, and proved to the world that these weren’t one-time wonders in the horror canon, but bonafide acting powerhouses with overlooked talents that deserved attention once more. It’s especially important in today’s cinematic landscape that older actors are represented in horror, that they’re not erased by ageism or forgotten in place of someone with more twitter followers.
Zombie’s films always feel rebellious, whether it’s the storytelling or the casting decisions. Many of his secondary characters represent the “types” of actors that are often overlooked by the movie-making machines. Fat women, people of color, actors with physical deformities, actors with dwarfism, have all been prominently featured. And despite the criticism received for the “look” of many of his characters, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the more “conventional” actors he casts transformed into these dirty, gritty characters.
The overwhelming majority of Zombie’s secondary characters are treated with the same care and attention as his leading players. Michael Barryman’s “Chicken Fucker” is an absolute scene stealer, and 31’s “Sick Head” played by Pancho Moler is given more screen-time than the other “heads” with the exception of the lead villain. Rob Zombie puts everyone on the same playing field, thereby humanizing the characters and actors that are often overlooked. He’s also consistently one of the only directors to show graphic sexual scenes including plus size female actresses. This is unheard of in not only the horror genre, but in filmmaking in general.
Whether you love him, hate him, or tolerate him, Rob Zombie is making films the way he wants to make them and doing so without apology. If there’s one thing I hope his films inspire for future generations, it’s his willingness to cast who he wants, how he wants, regardless of status quo.
*Photos: THE DEVIL’S REJECT, 31 – Lionsgate Entertainment