Gene Simmons vs. Rob Zombie: Which Rocker Is Best Suited for Horror?
Gene Simmons and Rob Zombie
Gene Simmons photo by Tony Nelson/Minneapolis City Pages / Rob Zombie photo by Jim Louvau/Phoenix New Times
Deadline reported last week that Gene Simmons, venerable Kiss bassist and shrewd purveyor of Kiss-branded merchandise, has partnered with WWE Studios to found Erebus Pictures, under whose aegis Simmons intends to finance and produce what a press release un-improvably describes as "elevated horror movies." ("Erebus," naturally, is the name of the Greek primordial deity of darkness.) The first of these films, according to the Deadline report, "follows a team of highly trained operatives who find themselves trapped inside an isolated military compound after its artificial intelligence is suddenly shut down," which does sound like a spot of bother. The second Erebus picture is set to begin production toward the end of the year.
Simmons, of course, is not the first to make the sensible leap from music to seize upon horror. It was a little more than a decade ago now, in the spring of 2003, that a certain Robert Bartleh Cummings — known to rock arenas globally as Rob Zombie — made his directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses, his lurid, ludicrous ode to the vulgarity of the Seventies slasher. Over the twelve years since, much to the surprise of critics, Zombie's second career has proven remarkably fruitful, yielding gains in everything from a John Carpenter remake to a bizarre riff on Ken Russell. That's an encouraging precedent. But it leads us to speculate: Can Gene Simmons live up to the high standard set by Zombie? Herein we put them to the test.
Production Design Zombie: Scarcely has a movie looked as palpably filthy as The Devil's Rejects, the loose, Western-inflected sequel to House of 1000 Corpses and Rob Zombie's much-improved second film. Every musty basement and grime-caked dungeon wall has been rendered just so. The arterial spray looks practically artisanal. Rob Zombie is like the Wes Anderson of fussy-looking horror. Simmons: Nobody so dedicated to makeup could be accused of taking production design lightly, and we have to assume that the Kiss penchant for theatricality will extend to the Simmons oeuvre. Fireworks, glitter bombs, flame-spewing pyrotechnics: If nothing else, you can bet that a Gene Simmons movie will be rammed with stuff. People in the first three rows of the multiplex audience may get wet. Edge: Tie.
Screenwriting Zombie: From the screenplay for House of 1000 Corpses: "How could I, born of such conventional stock, arrive a leader of the rebellion? An escapist from a conformist world, destined to find happiness only in that which cannot be explained? I brought you here for a reason, but unfortunately you and your sentimental minds are doing me no good....I have to break free from this culture of mechanical reproductions and the thick encrustations dying on the surface." Simmons: From Me, Inc: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, a self-help book written by Gene Simmons: "I would recommend you watch the movie Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, if you don't have time to read Jobs's biography." Edge: Zombie.
Directing Zombie: An aficionado of horror films before he had an opportunity to make any of his own, Rob Zombie has a tendency, if anything, to overdirect. Modesty and restraint simply aren't in his authorial vocabulary. Which is perhaps why The Devil's Rejects concludes with a ten-minute Bonnie and Clyde homage shot in slow motion and set to the entirety of "Free Bird." Art! Simmons: Though he's yet to step behind the camera, Gene Simmons has spent a great deal of time in front of one, first as the star of little-seen mid-Eighties horror movie Trick or Treat and then, two decades later, as the subject of several reality TV shows. We can only imagine how much he picked up about the filmmaking process through sheer osmosis. Edge: Tie.
Music Zombie: A discography is a handy resource when you need to curate a soundtrack for a feature film, and the temptation to pluck out a hit like "Dragula" and drape it over any given horror scene is no doubt compelling indeed. But while Zombie is credited as "music supervisor" on several of his features — and the composer behind the original score for his first film — he's otherwise been generous and tasteful in selecting his soundtracks, loading them up with songs by (for instance) Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground, and even, in Halloween, a track by Kiss. Simmons: According to IMDb, "Rock and Roll All Nite" has appeared in over twenty films and TV shows, so that'll probably show up in a few Simmons projects. And why not? We all know that Kiss was never about music: It was about the spirit of rock 'n' roll. Anyone can "write" a "song." Have you seen how far this guy can stick his tongue out? Edge: Zombie.
Violence and Gore Zombie: As Rob Zombie's artistic aspirations have increased, there's been a commensurate drop in all that's gruesome and vile — until things more or less bottomed out with The Lords of Salem, a slow-burn nightmare more enamored of things like "interiority" and "psychological nuance" than torture and dismemberment. A perfectly reasonable evolution as director, we suppose, but not one that inspires much faith in the quality of gore on display, even Halloween II's best butcherings were bracketed as a dream sequence. No more gleeful decapitations for this guy. He's an auteur. Simmons: When you pay to see Kiss live, you expect to see a few explosions and a whole lot of fake blood pouring out of grinning mouths and drizzling down the stage. (Simmons used to spew blood on the crowd before tearing into bass solos. God only knows how many dads had their khakis ruined in the fray.) So when you pay to see a movie produced by the guy from Kiss, you expect to see no less. There will be anarchy if the Simmons films don't at the very least afford their audience a few throat-slashings and limb-severings. That's their number one appeal. Edge: Simmons.
WINNER: Zombie. While Simmons boasts the time-tested panache needed for exemplary horror, Rob Zombie remains the shock-visionary to beat.
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