by Patrick Bromley
So I know this article is a little out of date, as Rob Zombie's latest directorial effort 31 was released last October and there's no "newsworthy" justification for bringing any of this up. Truth be told, I wasn't a big fan of that movie; even as someone who has liked every one of his past films, this one felt like Rob Zombie was autopiloting to the point of self parody. Because it was one of the movies I was most looking forward to in 2016, it also wound up being one of my biggest disappointments.
I come here not to reassess 31, however, nor to defend what I agree are its many problems. But I have been listening to a lot of Zombie's music in the last few weeks (unusual for me, as I haven't really been in to anything heavy since my Ministry/Body Count/Pigface days in high school), and as a result have been watching a number of his videos on YouTube. His wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, appears in many of them -- most famously "Living Dead Girl," still one of my favorite music videos of all time.
Seeing Sheri Moon pop up in so many of his videos reminded me of a common criticism of Zombie's work: he needs to stop casting his wife. This complaint dates back to 2003 and Zombie's first movie, House of 1000 Corpses, in which fans mistook an obnoxious character for an obnoxious performance. Sure, Baby Firefly's constant shrill cackle and self-consciously "playful" personality can be grating. That's the way the character is written. She's the spider designated to catch flies, so she has to appear the most normal of the Fireflies while still a psychotic who really, truly enjoys being a psychotic. Sheri Moon plays all of that. Don't confuse the part with the actor.
But it is not my intention to defend each of Sheri Moon's performances, despite the fact that I believe they get better with each movie, culminating in The Lords of Salem in which I think she is genuinely quite good. Even if she wasn't, that's not the point. The point is that I want horror fans to stop complaining when Zombie casts his wife. I want him to continue casting whoever the fuck he wants.
Watching "Living Dead Girl" and "Never Gonna Stop (Red Red Kroovy)" and the much more recent "Hideous Exhibitions of a Dedicated Gore Whore," I was reminded of how much I love the relationship between Zombie and Sherri Moon. They love each other a lot. They like to spend time together and work together. Zombie isn't casting his wife because she's "available." He's writing parts specifically for her. Sherri Moon isn't using her husband's films as a platform to a bigger acting career; in fact, she's hardly appeared in anything that he hasn't directed. Theirs is a love story played out across two decades and dozens of collaborations. They act as muse for one another. I think that's totally beautiful.
This does not mean that Sheri Moon -- or any actor, for that matter -- is entirely inculpable on screen. But I simply do not believe it's possible for someone to love everything about a Rob Zombie movie but draw the line at a single performance. He is a filmmaker with a very specific, very distinct and sometimes overpowering personal aesthetic. It's in the writing, the costuming, the production design, the songs he chooses for the soundtrack, the casting of familiar genre faces -- all those things that make a Rob Zombie movie a "Rob Zombie movie." You're either on board for this stuff or you're not. If you're into it (and I am), it's difficult for me to imagine that you can like all of the big choices Zombie makes but then determine that a Sheri Moon performance is simply a bridge too far. And I also totally get it if you're not into it. His work is not for everyone. But saying that he shouldn't cast his wife is ignoring all of the larger issues you have with his work because pointing to something like nepotism is easier and widely acceptable as being "wrong" (even if that's bullshit). I don't care if it's Helen Goddamn Mirren playing Michael Myers' Ghost Mom leading a horse around, no one is suddenly going to like Halloween II with a change in one actor.
We're seeing the same thing happening now with Kevin Smith, who has been casting his wife Jennifer Schwalbach since the early 2000s and is now writing and directing starring vehicles for his teenage daughter Harley Quinn Smith. Again, there are the critics and internet mouthbreathers who cry nepotism and suggest that Smith shouldn't be casting his family and turning his work into glorified home movies. I'm someone who found Yoga Hosers fun, and a big part of that is because Smith cast his daughter. Not only do I think she gives a charming and likable performance, but I also really like that Smith is creatively inspired specifically because he wants to showcase his daughter and give her the chance to play in a band and fight Nazis and do yoga and clown around on screen. Would the people who hate the movie -- and there are plenty -- like it better if Elle Fanning was in the lead? Without Harley Quinn, there's a good chance the film wouldn't even exist. Of course there are plenty of folks who would argue that it shouldn't exist, but I have to call bullshit on that, too. Love them or hate them, I'm glad that Kevin Smith is getting to make exactly the movies he wants to make right now. And if what he wants to make is a love letter to his daughter, well, that's beautiful too.