Making The Case for Rob Zombie, Auteur

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A new video poses a polarizing question.

Here’s a question you’ve probably never asked yourself: is Rob Zombie an auteur? Don’t leave yet, at least wait until you hear out the argument presented by Jose Sarmiento-Hinojosa in his video essay for Fandor which tries to determine if Zombie is a true auteur – that is, a filmmaker whose voice and aesthetic is so strong from picture to picture that he or she is considered the ultimate author of their work – or if he’s merely wallowing in graphic violence. Using clips from Zombie’s films to date (except 31, not yet released), Sarmiento-Hinojosa provides proof that leans more towards the former assumption than the latter, but for me it’s right in the middle where Zombie stands.

Because yes, Zombie as a director has a very specific and recognizable aesthetic. Visually he favors stark and dramatic lighting, static wide shots, and close-up assaults, while narratively he has worked to update the American horror movie to a level of brutality more consistent with the world as we understand it. But to call him an auteur, in my opinion, is perhaps one step too far at present. After all, the two films he’s best known for are Halloween and Halloween II, which while distinctly his in some regards will always, ALWAYS, retain John Carpenter as their ultimate author. And yes, it’s true that in regards to his other work there’s a clearer argument to be made for Zombie as an auteur, but as he’s only directed four other features, meaning the Halloween flicks constitute 33% of his filmography, I don’t think we’re there yet. If you have to label him anything, you can call Zombie highly-stylized, but “auteur” isn’t just a term we throw at anyone who’s made a few pictures in a similar vein. It is reserved for the most original and distinctive of filmmakers, ones whose voices carry over decades and resound in the generations of filmmakers that follow them. Being an auteur isn’t just about the work one makes, then, it is also about the work one influences as well. Hitchcock is an auteur. Truffaut, Godard, Kurosawa, Bergman, Argento, Lynch, Spielberg, Scorsese, Stanley Freaking Kubrick. Another couple of original pictures down the road and the issue can be revisited for sure, but for now, for my money, Rob Zombie isn’t yet among that particular canon.

But don’t take my word for it – and don’t take my words as negative endorsements of Zombie’s films, I love them and personally think his Halloween II is the best film in the franchise behind Carpenter’s 1978 original – take it under advisement along with Sarmiento-Hinojosa’s video and make up your own mind.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist