The Fourth in a 5 Part Look at the Career of Modern Cult Horror Icon Rob Zombie.
In the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been systematically going through Rob Zombie’s filmography, I’ve tried to be as objective as possible. I don’t mean that I’ve shied away from sharing my opinions on these films, because I absolutely haven’t: I’ve pretty much hated most of them, and I’ve made that pretty clear. What I have tried to do, however, is to approach them analytically, break them down to their component parts, and explore what works and what doesn’t. I want to be fair to anything that I watch in an academic capacity. I think every movie has at least some merit to it, even if you have to really look for it. But, man, I really, really don’t think I can do that this week. I may have finally stumbled onto a Rob Zombie flick that’s just too bad even for me to find something worth talking about. I feel like this series is probably going to inevitably read as my descent into madness, with this specific entry marking the point where they finally haul me off to a nice, comfy, padded cell. Buckle up, folks, because this is gonna be a rough one.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is Zombie’s ill-fated attempt at an animated comedy, which is apparently based on a comic series by the same name that he wrote. It’s clear, based on his Firefly trilogy (of which this film is somehow a spin-off of), that Zombie likes black comedy, as his writing is saturated with it. Whether or not his particular brand of humor is effective is entirely up to you, but it’s comedy nonetheless. Albeit, somewhat demented comedy at that, but still. And while he writes quirky characters and occasionally has some decent visual gags every now and again, his films have still stayed fairly grounded within the horror genre for the most part. El Superbeasto is the exception to that rule, and proves pretty definitively that he should probably just stick with what he’s good at. Not that he’s particularly “good” at horror either, really, but it suits him far better than whatever this abomination was supposed to be.
The movie’s plot, if it can be said to really have on, is as follows: A mad scientist named Dr. Satan (the same character from House of 1000 Corpses, somehow) kidnaps a stripper to force her into marriage because of a prophecy from Hell that will give him the powers of the literal Devil. This being a Rob Zombie film, where everything must be as edgy and awful as possible, the prophecy of course refers to a birthmark on the stripper’s ass. A Luchador superhero/actor/porn-director who calls himself El Superbeasto, alongside his scantily-clad, secret agent sister (and her sidekick, a horny C-3PO rip-off), try to rescue the stripper from Satan’s clutches. Not to prevent the end of the world, mind you, but because El Superbeasto wants to sleep with her. It’s a super classy movie, honest. Along the way, they fight Nazis, werewolves, and virtually every other grindhouse/Hammer-studios cliché you could conceivably imagine, while at the same time attempting to parody and namecheck as many famous horror films as they can in the film’s short runtime. Every scene is a non-sequitur, every line is a sad pass at a joke, and every single moment where it seems like maybe something story-driven is happening is immediately undercut by some other random, disgusting nonsense. It’s full of graphic cartoon nudity, gore, and all other manner of gag-inducing visuals that makes the whole thing a literal battle to get through. There’s jokes about incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, and pretty much anything else you can think of that would probably come from the mind of an edgy 14-year-old who watches too much Adult Swim. It’s less of a movie, and more of an 85-minute-long, R-rated cut-away gag from Family Guy.
I think the closest thing I can compare it to is Drawn Together. If you’ve never seen it, Drawn Together was an animated comedy series on Comedy Central styled after reality shows like The Real World where a group of analogues to famous cartoon characters must live in a house together and complete in weekly challenges. There’re parody versions of Betty Boop, Superman, Pikachu, Spongebob Squarepants, and Disney Princesses, all serving as stand-ins for their respective franchises and eras/genres of animation. It’s full of gross-out and offensive humor, but done in the same vein as shows like South Park: It’s all satirical, and full of social commentary. The humor may be childish, but it’s masking some legitimately clever observational comedy. El Superbeasto mimics both the style and particular brand of humor as Drawn Together, with none of the actual substance. Which is certainly par for the course with Zombie thus far. There’s no greater meaning, no point to be made, no intelligence behind it. It’s just aimless rambling set to nonsensical, hideous imagery.
It visually resembles Drawn Together as well, to the extent that I actually had to check and see if they were done by the same animation studio (as far as I can tell, they weren’t). That comparison isn’t meant to be a compliment, either. It’s an ugly, hyper-exaggerated style with an over-emphasis on gross-out humor and juvenile sex gags. Think Ren & Stimpy, only somehow less mature and more debauched. It works for Drawn Together, as it’s meant to serve as a parody to several different animation styles, but here, without the same thematic content backing it, it’s just an eyesore. It looks cheap, hastily made, and is almost offensive to look at. Which, frankly, matches the plot, tone, and humor of the film perfectly.
The film tries to come across as smarter than it is by constantly referencing the fact that it’s stupid and gross and incredibly derivative, as if being self-aware of the fact that it’s terrible somehow makes it less so. What it doesn’t seem to realize, however, is that, if you continuously call attention to the fact that your film is disgusting, obnoxious, and painfully unfunny, then all you’re doing is reinforcing those notions, not disproving them. It’s like those people who say that “I’m an asshole, but at least I know I’m an asshole,” like that somehow makes them enlightened. No, if you’re aware that you’re an asshole, that makes it worse. It means you’re aware you have a problem, yet choose to do absolutely nothing about it. Likewise, if you recognize that your film is terrible, yet still continue on that same, awful trajectory anyway, then you aren’t “subversive” or “irreverent.” You’re just a bad filmmaker.
I’m also absolutely baffled by the music in this film. Rob Zombie’s music is fairly tongue-in-cheek, and I can honestly say that I genuinely do enjoy some of his earlier stuff. It’s catchy, well-produced, and full of fun references to horror culture. If you like 90s heavy/industrial metal, it’s not terrible. And most of his previous films feature similar musical tastes, with a slight deviation in The Devil’s Rejects for a more 1970s pop/rock soundtrack. But for some reason, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto completely abandons this notion, in favor of a series of comedy songs written by comedy musical duo Hard ‘n Phirm (made up of stand-up comedians Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman). It’s the most cringe-worthy, unfunny music I’ve ever heard in a film. I found myself eventually just muting the sound whenever another musical number started. I have no idea why Zombie couldn’t just use his own music, even. He already has a song called “Superbeast.” It writes itself.
As far as the voice talent here goes, it’s probably the least offensive thing about this travesty. The cast, on paper, is actually pretty stacked, with big names like Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson being joined by veteran voice actors, including Tom Kenny, Rob Paulson, and John DiMaggio. Giamatti gives it his hammy best playing the film’s villain, Dr. Satan, and Dawson seems to be having fun as his stripper bride to be. Unfortunately, we’re also subjected to more of Zombie’s wife, this time playing El Superbeasto’s hyper-sexualized femme fatale sister, Suzie X. As annoying as she is in live-action, she’s somehow worse in VO. Her grating, childish tone, combined with her stilted, clunky delivery, becomes like nails on a chalkboard within about five minutes of screen time. I think at a certain point I just started to mentally check out every time she started speaking, for my own sanity.
I could honestly go on about this movie forever, but I absolutely refuse to give it any more of my time or energy. I’ve managed to find at least something redeemable about every Zombie film I’ve watched as part of this hellish crusade so far, but I’m at an absolute loss for this one. I didn’t dislike this movie: I hated it. Loathed it. I’d rather watch Michael: The Murder Hobo on a loop for 12 hours than have to watch just the opening 10 minutes of this movie again. There is absolutely no reason for this movie to exist. The fact that it has as high a score as 40% on Rotten Tomatoes is the most inexplicable mystery I have ever encountered in my life. My only solace is in the fact that this travesty was only a little over an hour long, because if I had to watch any more, I may have legitimately started to suffer permanent brain damage. Frankly, just looking for pictures to put in this piece caused me physical pain. Please, don’t ever watch this movie. In fact, after you read this, just forget that it exists. You’ll be all the happier for not knowing about it, trust me.
Next week, the final entry in this masochistic marathon of self-harm I’ve subject myself to for the past month, covering Zombie’s last two films: 31 and Lords of Salem. I have absolutely zero faith that either of them will be anything less than awful, but it genuinely can’t get worse than what I just watched. I cannot accurately describe in words how happy I am for this whole ordeal to be over with.