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

Red Carpet cops Disney streaming service CBS CBS All Access DGA Animation IFC X-Men Winter TV zombie revenge adventure Pet Sematary 2018 Super Bowl Toys OWN sequel FOX spider-man politics nature Fall TV cars TNT Superheroe Photos ABC theme song travel hispanic renewed TV shows Premiere Dates Emmys Amazon Prime spanish language disaster Rocky See It Skip It Musical Film TCA 2017 The CW Schedule PaleyFest Marvel Reality canceled TV shows dramedy tv talk Ellie Kemper Tomatazos VICE strong female leads FX 24 frames golden globes 2019 TCM VH1 cancelled TV series kids FXX 71st Emmy Awards Paramount Network Mary Tyler Moore Mary Poppins Returns Calendar blaxploitation Star Wars HBO Crunchyroll Certified Fresh The Walking Dead television ratings Writers Guild of America Mystery ABC Family Comedy finale comiccon Starz The Witch Infographic Trophy Talk mutant TruTV El Rey streaming Warner Bros. transformers President Box Office game of thrones Disney Channel Action Comics on TV Set visit Spring TV Oscars casting Song of Ice and Fire Music children's TV Acorn TV natural history DC Comics true crime Shudder Lucasfilm Anna Paquin Chilling Adventures of Sabrina doctor who ESPN hist Video Games Freeform latino The Purge Ghostbusters DC Universe Emmy Nominations Food Network 2015 Elton John Christmas Valentine's Day breaking bad toy story Captain marvel Polls and Games Family Comic Book TBS Reality Competition BBC America E! comic Hulu spain Tumblr Rom-Com festivals witnail National Geographic SDCC teaser spy thriller Superheroes IFC Films BET Pop Opinion romantic comedy sitcom Syfy Film Festival Amazon sports what to watch The Arrangement Sony Pictures Ovation Extras ghosts Cannes Chernobyl Awards TCA foreign richard e. Grant Summer Nat Geo Spike Bravo YA free movies CMT zero dark thirty war Paramount south america award winner Teen YouTube Premium HBO Max Musicals facebook aliens vampires Logo ITV APB 21st Century Fox GIFs GLAAD Drama Epix Disney video Walt Disney Pictures Apple TV+ Brie Larson dc Spectrum Originals mockumentary singing competition spinoff romance American Society of Cinematographers BBC Best and Worst Binge Guide anthology crossover Thanksgiving Trivia Pride Month diversity Masterpiece Stephen King SundanceTV Turner NBC cancelled television San Diego Comic-Con elevated horror Showtime USA Network TV Columbia Pictures joker 2017 Cartoon Network adaptation TLC Awards Tour canceled Rock halloween CNN space MSNBC AMC Creative Arts Emmys dceu RT21 TV Land stand-up comedy cancelled TV shows thriller game show Black Mirror Election Comedy Central crime Country crime thriller Fox News Martial Arts Women's History Month Horror Watching Series quibi psychological thriller jamie lee curtis Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Disney Plus supernatural WarnerMedia medical drama batman animated Star Trek WGN Shondaland docudrama Sundance green book Adult Swim biography slashers Pixar New York Comic Con Year in Review 20th Century Fox LGBT composers Mudbound series MTV Turner Classic Movies USA cancelled historical drama Trailer cooking boxoffice YouTube Sundance Now TIFF Nickelodeon harry potter serial killer Peacock Sneak Peek DirecTV Podcast Universal discovery SXSW cats Quiz Western Mary poppins Fantasy justice league 007 book NYCC First Reviews Rocketman Character Guide Nominations DC streaming service Britbox Lifetime First Look period drama social media Winners psycho TV renewals miniseries Countdown police drama PBS science fiction LGBTQ Vudu Heroines Sci-Fi 2016 technology Esquire Dark Horse Comics Amazon Prime Video Marathons Grammys MCU crime drama Apple political drama Tarantino Classic Film movies RT History Lionsgate Pirates anime 45 based on movie binge cults unscripted Holidays cinemax Kids & Family Mindy Kaling robots Arrowverse YouTube Red A&E Biopics talk show CW Seed Interview Crackle dragons Netflix GoT Cosplay E3 Television Academy zombies History