Total Recall

Total Recall: Halloween Director Rob Zombie's Favorites

We look at what inspired the horror director, from the Marx Brothers to Night of the Hunter

by | August 29, 2007 | Comments

This week’s release of Halloween marks Rob Zombie‘s third full-length directorial effort. Here at Total Recall, we thought we’d look back at the movies that have inspired the former Robert Cummings’ work on House of 1,000 Corpses (15 percent on the Tomatometer) and The Devil’s Rejects (53 percent).

Under the “Hellbilly Deluxe” trappings, Zombie is a true cinephile at heart: he’s as likely to find inspiration in the works of Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah as he is in the grimy world of low-rent 1970s drive-in fare. True, Zombie looks to the dark side for inspiration, but he’s also informed by works with gallows humor.


Growing up in blue-collar Haverhill, Mass., the little Zombie enjoyed a steady TV diet of the Marx Brothers. The anarchic antics of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo obviously left an impression, as Zombie would christen his antiheros in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects Captain Spaulding, Rufus Firefly, and Otis Driftwood — each names of characters played by Groucho Marx. It may seem like an odd choice, but the Marxes always maintained a subversive appeal. As Roger Ebert notes in his review of Duck Soup, “Although they were not taken as seriously, they were as surrealist as Dali, as shocking as Stravinsky, as verbally outrageous as Gertrude Stein, as alienated as Kafka.”

The Brothers’ films are generally more like a string of gags than cohesive narratives, and some of their shtick — like the long musical interludes in A Night at the Opera — can seem hopelessly dated. But Groucho’s double-entendre-laden one-liners, Chico’s hustler persona, and Harpo’s deft physical comedy still contain a hilarious, rebellious edge. If you’ve never seen the Brothers in action, Duck Soup (94 percent) and A Night at the Opera (97 percent) are perhaps the best places to start. Of the latter, Peter Bradshaw of London’s Guardian wrote, “Their sheer irreverence, exuberance and verbal comic genius are marvelous.”


In Corpses and Rejects, Captain Spaulding has “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on his knuckles — a direct reference to Robert Mitchum‘s iconic Harry Powell, the evil false prophet from The Night of the Hunter. In his only directorial effort, Charles Laughton borrowed heavily from the angular, shadowy ambience of the German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (100 percent). Still, there’s an unreality to The Night of the Hunter that make it a singular viewing experience; it has a haunted, surreal ambience you won’t see anywhere outside of a Bjork video. It’s also viscerally frightening, and Robert Mitchum is at his demonic best here, playing an ex-con who learned of a stash of money from his cellmate, and proceeds to ingratiate himself with the man’s family. But the children are not fooled by Powell’s smooth talk, and flee across an ominous countryside, with Powell in pursuit. Eventually, they are taken in by Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), the guardian of a group of troubled orphans. The climax has an apocalyptic air, as Gish tells the story of mean ol’ King Herod while pumping her shotgun.

Filmmakers like Spike Lee (in Do the Right Thing, 100 percent) and the Coen Brothers (in The Big Lebowski, 83 percent) have borrowed dialogue from Hunter, and the excellent-yet-ignored Undertow (57 percent) re-imagined its plot for contemporary times. Hunter is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader calls Hunter “an enduring masterpiece — dark, deep, beautiful, aglow… Ultimately the source of its style and power is mysterious — it is a film without precedents, and without any real equals.” Shawn Levy from the Oregonian calls it “As crude, direct, rattling, mystifying and exciting as American movies get.”


If Night of the Hunter spawned few direct imitators, the opposite can be said of John Carpenter‘s original Halloween. Yet seven sequels and thousands of knockoffs haven’t dulled the impact of the original slasher flick, perhaps because it’s not really a slasher film at all. Like Psycho (98 percent), it generates its scares by maintaining an almost unbearable level of suspense. Halloween is the story of Michael Myers, who committed unspeakable acts of violence as a child and has escaped from a mental hospital, ready to kill again. Possessing a wicked sense of humor, Halloween lacks the self-seriousness that would infect later horror films. As sharp as Scream was, Halloween parodied horror tropes just as effectively, even while inventing them. At 89 percent on the Tomatometer, “Halloween remains untouched,” wrote James Berardinelli of ReelViews, “a modern classic of the most horrific kind.” “They should have broken the mold when they released Halloween, for when it comes to escaped-maniacs-on-the-loose films this one’s the real deal,” wrote Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle.

It’s unlikely that Zombie’s Halloween will be the enduring classic the original has become, but that would be holding him to an impossibly high standard. Regardless, don’t let Zombie’s new remake and horror-film reputation fool you; there’s a much broader history of cinema informing his movies than their shock-and-scare heavy execution might suggest.

Tag Cloud

Fall TV Sony diversity olympics TLC vampires satire travel Spike Super Bowl Star Wars Celebration cancelled TV shows crime thriller Mindy Kaling social media docuseries comic book movies Hear Us Out DirecTV spanish Mary poppins prank breaking bad hispanic heritage month Bravo supernatural Turner hispanic 2020 Summer Nickelodeon Hallmark Nominations witnail South by Southwest Film Festival Walt Disney Pictures Paramount Plus YA streaming Kids & Family GIFs Comedy HFPA spanish language Broadway 71st Emmy Awards USA Warner Bros. 2021 Best and Worst pirates of the caribbean 1990s Holiday 2015 Funimation women rt labs critics edition Marathons BBC One werewolf Endgame Infographic finale History Star Wars Prime Video Superheroe sports scene in color series Quiz zombie cancelled television obituary Disney streaming service spinoff 4/20 Opinion LGBT feel good A&E Pop Avengers Travel Channel The Academy sequels Best Picture Focus Features natural history biopic all-time Winter TV CBS All Access TCA comics medical drama hist Exclusive Video Amazon Prime Video parents 2018 Action A24 game show criterion American Society of Cinematographers OneApp YouTube Premium spider-man canceled TV shows green book Instagram Live mcc Pirates vs. rotten movies we love Tokyo Olympics based on movie kids HBO Max basketball Mary Tyler Moore game of thrones VICE telelvision thriller harry potter BAFTA new star wars movies young adult hidden camera mob television toronto Trailer Television Critics Association ghosts Awards festival Starz Amazon Oscar trophy justice league australia foreign summer TV reviews indiana jones Peacock PaleyFest adenture 20th Century Fox Sony Pictures Showtime posters chucky 21st Century Fox black comedy First Look aapi President comic books Esquire TV One Pet Sematary TV renewals biography Masterpiece doctor who Chernobyl venice Arrowverse YouTube Red Fox Searchlight stop motion Polls and Games Netflix AMC Rocketman indie GoT Television Academy stoner docudrama video NBA nature DGA Comic-Con@Home 2021 Native scorecard 24 frames child's play Emmy Nominations movie MCU Rock Ovation trailers Marvel Reality Paramount Network Netflix Christmas movies italian The Walking Dead dceu Mystery ABC Signature YouTube Christmas cancelled Lucasfilm blockbuster live event ID teaser Brie Larson kong Chilling Adventures of Sabrina casting toy story directors BET Awards PBS The CW award winner cartoon hollywood NYCC laika mission: impossible MTV sopranos Epix sequel Video Games Schedule RT21 cancelled TV series book adaptation ratings Fargo Adult Swim Hulu facebook Hallmark Christmas movies AMC Plus ViacomCBS NBC Valentine's Day gangster Box Office cops slasher king arthur Emmys transformers emmy awards TV Land asian-american strong female leads Indigenous disaster Nat Geo comic 45 The Walt Disney Company space animated Black Mirror golden globes dreamworks BBC Podcast SXSW San Diego Comic-Con Neflix target scene in color Biopics heist movie Vudu zero dark thirty deadpool Photos films Cartoon Network Tomatazos summer TV preview Disney Plus anime Apple marvel cinematic universe ABC Watching Series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt jamie lee curtis Interview TCA Awards Shudder batman Discovery Channel Disney Channel superman monster movies archives Tags: Comedy Thanksgiving Horror Writers Guild of America mockumentary Music political drama obi wan Anna Paquin quibi Tumblr adaptation 73rd Emmy Awards Logo Character Guide Pop TV binge The Arrangement Dark Horse Comics new zealand Universal Pictures canceled tv talk Comic Book nfl critics richard e. Grant miniseries Calendar theme song psychological thriller BET fast and furious scary movies Sundance TV Disney science fiction IFC serial killer black Tubi Captain marvel independent reboot First Reviews south america news PlayStation Martial Arts dexter dramedy robots Apple TV+ Trivia Cannes Hollywood Foreign Press Association nbcuniversal USA Network Food Network Crackle Film Festival new york japanese DC Comics Amazon Prime Shondaland E! genre Fox News Wes Anderson Country slashers legend kaiju WarnerMedia Star Trek dogs Comedy Central rt archives Lionsgate CW Seed GLAAD Stephen King Paramount Pictures HBO Go Sundance Trophy Talk Women's History Month TCA 2017 suspense renewed TV shows mutant TNT blaxploitation 94th Oscars documentaries lord of the rings cooking remakes godzilla Spectrum Originals 007 royal family FXX Musicals DC Universe RT History E3 79th Golden Globes Awards Sundance Now SDCC IFC Films Certified Fresh comiccon Premiere Dates Disney+ Disney Plus series composers Reality Competition Drama Acorn TV psycho worst Extras Mudbound Best Actor stand-up comedy Geeked Week technology universal monsters DC streaming service Universal festivals Toys dark discovery Holidays japan know your critic name the review what to watch best BBC America classics fresh police drama Pixar TCA Winter 2020 Pride Month MGM 90s Binge Guide Alien action-comedy Year in Review Awards Tour comic book movie Sci-Fi razzies golden globe awards streaming movies Cosplay Britbox rom-coms Ellie Kemper war historical drama Crunchyroll TV movies Western Set visit wonder woman Ghostbusters Family romance FX on Hulu CBS Song of Ice and Fire ABC Family king kong superhero sitcom Heroines National Geographic comedies Best Director halloween Winners Image Comics TV concert X-Men die hard cats Mary Poppins Returns The Purge Best Actress christmas movies talk show Black History Month Rocky Marvel Studios APB rt labs joker Tarantino crossover aliens New York Comic Con Syfy dc TBS politics MSNBC cars Paramount Comics on TV crime VOD See It Skip It children's TV documentary elevated horror Apple TV Plus scene in color film series art house spy thriller CMT cults a nightmare on elm street worst movies unscripted adventure Legendary international El Rey TCM FX TIFF Academy Awards crime drama Pacific Islander franchise Freeform cinemax french screen actors guild FOX video on demand Lifetime Rom-Com Teen 2016 halloween tv SXSW 2022 free movies debate high school popular TruTV sag awards dragons scene in color latino CNN Musical Grammys 93rd Oscars boxing Baby Yoda ITV target revenge Elton John true crime blockbusters Amazon Studios screenings leaderboard IMDb TV broadcast boxoffice twilight anthology Spring TV period drama VH1 WGN scary LGBTQ The Witch zombies jurassic park Animation ESPN Classic Film summer preview spain critic resources football Marvel Television Turner Classic Movies streamig versus live action 72 Emmy Awards Fantasy Election Sneak Peek Columbia Pictures Lifetime Christmas movies Oscars Countdown book saw 2017 SundanceTV spider-verse james bond Creative Arts Emmys rotten OWN marvel comics movies singing competition Film romantic comedy 2019 Red Carpet 99% Superheroes interviews HBO 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards