Horror Ten Spot: Best Rob Zombie Death Scenes!
When it comes to lightning rods in the horror genre, few strike harder, louder and more often than Rob Zombie. Be it through originals like HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, or franchise updates like HALLOWEEN 1 & 2, few filmmakers have proven more polarizing than Zombie. Peeps tend to either love or hate the man's work, defending or defiling it vehemently, so it'll be very interesting to see how his new horror yarn, the witchy LORDS OF SALEM (out today), will be received by mainstream filmgoers. Since it's an original, will it be more in the vein of REJECTS? Or has his filmmaking acumen culled from the HALLOWEEN experience keep him in that ultra-stylized box of style over substance? Both fair queries, no doubt, but until all of us see the film and officially weigh in, why not salute the mordantly macabre memories Zombie has given us heretofore. Ladies, gents...here are the top 10 death scenes found in Rob Zombie's films. Bon appetite!
Not quite Nick Stahl getting shanked and dumped into the glades for the gators to feast on in Larry Clarke's BULLY, but damn, Michael Myers is no fan of the schoolyard tough guy. Proof of this comes via the first death scene in Zombie's HALLOWEEN, in which a school bully is followed and served by an adolescent Myers in a wooded quarry. As you might imagine, Myers had yet to fully refine his murderous abilities, so there's a really crude, almost barbaric nature to the way he dispatches the kid. No fancy cutting instruments, no trusty butcher-blade, nah, Myers simply bludgeons the dude over and over with a large tree branch. It's an intense, drawn out sequence that escalates in savagery. We hear bones crush, we see black blood increasingly flow, we hear the kid's desperate plead for survival...none of which seem to have one iota of emotional resonance in Myers.
"Fishboyyyy!" Easily one of the most indelible images of all of Zombie's work comes in the bizarre aftermath of Rainn Wilson's mysterious victimhood. There's a single shot of Rainn's character (Bill) somehow morphed into a woozy and bloodied merman, splayed out on a table like a trophy, his flesh scaly and desecrated. Shite's surreal! Now, I suppose there's really no telling if he's alive or dead in this scene, but come on, we all know the mofo ain't walking off the premises any time soon. But more than that, the real terror comes from how Otis reveals his handy-work to Bill's girlfriend after she hysterical begs to see him, wishing he's okay. So when Otis peels back the curtain, we essentially see fishboy through the devastated eyes his loved one. And she reacts how we do..."this isn't real...this isn't real!"
Props to Leslie Easterbrook, aka Mother Firefly, aka the giant-titted blonde in the POLICE ACADEMY pictures responsible for many a broken rewind buttons and through-the-roof lotion sales. We love you, Les! In fact, we love her so much that when she finally gets done in by the hilarious William Forsythe in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, we feel heavyhearted (and she's a villain, mind you). Also, just aesthetically, there's an undeniable sexual energy to the death scene that makes it infinitely more interesting. It's as if Forsythe substitutes his knife for his cock, yet arouses no less pressure as he slowly digs his blade in the gal's belly. And the way it's framed, often showing Mama's face, oddly sensual, almost moaning in delight instead of agony...there's a two-way perversion underscoring the violence that I always love watching.
On of the most effective death scenes in Zombie's canon - effective because of its slow-burn lack of sensationalism and therefore its realism - is when Judith gets done in via her brother Michael's trusty blade. First things first, Michael murders his own kin in cold blood...ruthlessly, without rue. And he does so by waking her out of bed, jabbing his butcher knife right into his sister's tummy, only to let her stumble around the house in an attempted escape route. But no such luck. Michael follows Judith into the hall, where he slashes her to her knees and repeatedly sticks her four more times in the back...dark pools of blood mount as she crawls, writhes and screams to her ultimate demise. It's an awfully grisly scene, underscored by the emotional subtext of a demented boy killing his older sister.
"Wanna see badass motherfucker, I'll show you badass!" Such a line is uttered by the inimitable Bill Moseley, doing so as Otis B. Driftwood, perhaps the Rejects' most sadistic clan member. That line, coupled with "I am the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's work" before gorily clubbing the life out of two men with a spiked-log...easily ranks among Zombie's most memorable fatalities. Not just in the brutal, graphic nature of the violence, but for the taunting and toying ways of Otis himself, masterfully performed by Moseley. Dude makes one of his victims pray out loud, almost offering false hope, only to retort with a borderline satanic rant before whacking the ever loving life out of him (poor Geoffrey Lewis). Oh, and that's after Otis blades the other dude in the leg before blasting him in the neck with his partner's gun. Shite's no joke!
I suppose it's no surprise that Sir Zombie show a deft touch when it comes to the use of music in his movies. Right out of the Tarantino playbook, Zombie seems to wholly understand how effective it is to juxtapose a horrific image with a pleasant sound, a la "stuck in the middle with you" during the ear-slicing scene in RESERVOIR DOGS. Well, smack dab in the center of Zombie's first feature, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, my man spins an eerily jolly ditty over a 3-minute, suspense-filled slow-mo shot...in which the local sheriff played by Walt Goggins ultimately gets his brains blown out. It's easily one of the more memorable moments in the flick, even if a bit indulgent. On one hand, the song elicits an upbeat joy...on the other, the slowly mounted violence stirs panic and dread...and the combo of both extremes leaves you utterly assaulted.
Wow, a lot of history to unpack here. First off, anytime the lovely Danielle Harris gets whacked onscreen, my always heart sags deep into the pit of my gut. I hate it. Then, when you consider her longtime involvement in the HALLOWEEN franchise, dating back to 1995 as the adorable Jamie, a weird safeguard of nostalgia makes you want to protect her fine grown-up ass in Rob Zombie's renditions. Of course, she's no longer Jamie in the updates, she plays the character of Annie, originated by Nancy Kyes in Carpenter's film. Still, no matter which role Harris plays, we're helpless to shield her, so when her dramatic chase scene in H2 culminates in her gory demise...yeah, total bummer! And to further tug the heartstrings, Zombie cheaply adds real life home-video footage of Daniel Harris the actress, as a child, smiling, holding a puppy. Shite's devastating!
Holy hell! The dude from "Talking Dead" got utterly and abjectly eviscerated by Dr. Satan in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. So bad in fact, words can hardly describe how INSANE the scene actually is. Visually, it looks like we're set in the bowels of a human being...dark, dirty, dingy, membranous, completely unflattering. And if that wasn't disgusting enough, Dr. Satan looks like a skinned mutant of sorts, weirdly attached to all kinds of umbilical-like cords and veins extending from the roofs and walls. Shite's bizarro! Then of course there's Chris Hardwick, the victim, appearing concussed if not shocked, strapped down, scalped, with sharp implements protruding from his head and face, sodden in gore. The kind of treatment that would surely make CW wish he was back interviewing vapid models on "Singled Out."
One day you're getting brutally slaughtered in a lame sequel to a b-horror remake, two years later you're holding back waterworks amid an Oscar acceptance speech. Such is the life of Octavia Spencer, who probably incurred the gnarliest death in any of Zombie's HALLOWEEN flicks. Y'all know what's up. When Michael Meyers shreds through a hospital to find his sister Laurie, he happens upon a bystander in the form of Ms. Spencer. Yeah, Mike don't like bystanders, as proven when he drastically overkills the bitch in a manner that would make Voorhees blush after what he did to the Montel lookalike in F13-3D. F*cker goes ballistic! I'm talking repeated butcher-knife stabbings, with brute force, stone in the lady's prone backside. Over and over. And twice more. For an otherwise stolid, emotionless serial killer, Meyers' heated wrath has never struck harder.
To me the most interesting thing about Zombie's CORPSES and REJECTS is how we the audience come to, if not identify with, certainly root for the sadistic family of serial killers over the course of two movies. We spend enough time in their demented world, witness enough humanity, depravity, sick humor and the like, that when the inevitable family downfall at the end of REJECTS finally occurs, we're actually affected quite a bit. Of course, the stylized layout of the sequence, replete with the perfect use of Skynyrd's "Free Bird" helps the cause...as the wounded fam cruises up to an inescapable police cordon, poetically driving into a hail of gunfire. Say what you will about Zombie's filmmaking acumen, but it's damn impressive to make such a foul and heinous clan as sympathetic as he was able to achieve.