Is there a more unfairly marginalized filmmaker than Rob Zombie? Over the course of a relatively short career behind the lens, he's managed to deliver one certified masterpiece (The Devil's Rejects), one superior source material remake (Halloween), a baffling work of singular vision (Halloween II) and a half masterwork/half mess (House of 1000 Corpses). Outside of the fact that he knows more about the horror genre - including aspects both old school and psychotronic - than most so-called fright fans have ever even imagined about their favorite film category, Zombie appears to be the victim of unrealistic expectations and consistently compromised ambitions. He always appears on the cusp of brilliance. If you've been disappointed by the former shock rocker before, if you think he's nothing but a bunch of recycled spook show strategies filtered through his own undisciplined designs, you should definitely give his latest offering, the toon poon fest The Haunted World of El Superbeasto a shot. Not only is it one of the best thing's Zombie has ever done, it's the perfect primer for understanding the rest of his often insular macabre mannerisms.
El Superbeasto is a celebrated wrestler and action hero who appears to be coasting on his considerable fame. Far more interested in sex and substance abuse than saving lives, he leaves most of the heavy lifting within his company, BeastoWorld Enterprises, to his buxom sister Suzi X. Theirs is a world filled with monsters, madmen, and the occasional foul mouthed stripper. As his sibling takes on hordes of Nazi zombies, her horny mechanical robot companion Murray right beside her, Beasto falls head over heels for a tantalizing tramp named Velvet Von Black. Unfortunately, some one else has his eye on the slutty sperm bank as well - the diabolical Dr. Satan. This villainous little turn, desperate to get his full blown dominating demon on, needs Velvet as part of some unholy marriage ceremony ritual. Once wed, he can take over the world. Beasto decides he will step in and save the day. Of course, as with many of the beefy masked grappler's plans, it will require a lot of help from Suzi, fate, and pure cinematic coincidence.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is the anarchic animated freakout that Ralph Bakshi has been trying to make for the last 40 years. It's a sublimely sleazy combination of Ren and Stimpy surrealism, old EC comics, amphetamines, and just a touch of Tijuana cartoon porn for good measure. It is undoubtedly the best thing Rob Zombie has done as a director, as fun and filthy as The Devil's Rejects is grim and gratuitous. From the moment we enter this bizarro world of luchadores, lunkheads, and the living dead, we instantly recognize the all or nothing approach. Zombie is going to comb through his entire life as a fanboy, picking out the sexiest, stupidest, and sickest material he can remember and then turn it into one of the cleverest, most entertaining "adult" cartoons since Mr. Fritz the Cat went Coonskin on his followers. There is stuff here that will offend, that will confuse, and that definitely will delight. Indeed, this Zombie's most assured movie, a true test of his entire mantle as a storyteller, character creator, and media mirror. That's it's based on a comic book he helped shepherd makes all the difference. El Superbeasto has already had a chance to work out all the kinks. All we have here is pure scatological bliss.
Even the voice acting breaks the norm. Cast as our homunculus hero, Tom Papa isn't some kind of stunt casting name. Instead, he really breathes a clueless kind of life into our masked marvel. As his sexy sis, Sheri Moon Zombie turns on the high pitched pipes and really delivers. She's great, and her character deserves her own Little Annie Fanny inspired spin-off. Paul Giamatti is his usual amazing self as Dr. Satan, working all facets of the fey little imp, while there are plenty of cameos from recognizable members of the Zombie company (Sid Haig, Ken Foree, Tura Satana, Danny Trejo). Perhaps the biggest surprise is Rosario Dawson, almost unrecognizable as you-go-girl-ghetto-fabulous queen Velvet. With her two snaps attitude and salty sailor mouth, her reading is a revelation. She singlehandedly steals every scene she is in, turning this lap dancing load into a thing of STD soaked beauty. Zombie is a maverick when it comes to hiring talent, finding things about their range and recognizability (Monkee Mickey Dolenz in the first Halloween) that we just don't expect. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is loaded with misdirecting moments like these.
And then there is the animation. For those who've missed the pen and ink polish of good old fashioned 2D drawing, this movie is loaded with such confident cartoon treats. The action is fluid and smooth, the character design inventive - and most importantly - consistent. Even the R-rated material maintains a specific level of detail. The Nazi zombies look marvelous, the arterial spray nice and gooey, while the various moments of female nudity are given added spark and sensuality. This does not look like some low budget bit of on the cheap sketching. Instead, Zombie has clearly been aided by some of the best in the business and it really shows. Sure, the humor is often sophomoric and juvenile. Yes, there is as much shock as entertainment value. Granted, Zombie is indeed aiming this material at those who "get it", fans who worship at the grindhouse gates and understand implicitly the true meaning of the exploitation genre. As media mash-ups go, however, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is the best. It offers everything you imagine Rob Zombie would find frisky and foul - and then adds in the rest of the raincoat crowd conceits just to be on the safe side. This is a fantastic, fascinating gem.
In a word - stunning! While one can only wonder about Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release of the film, the DVD treatment here is near reference quality. The colors explode, the details are definitive, and the overall transfer is just terrific. Indeed, the 1.76:1 anamorphic widescreen image is just spectacular, giving the artistry involved an added boost. All animated films only wish they could look this good.
Since it contains several songs by the comic musical duo of Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman - also known as "Hard 'n Phirm" - the sonic reproduction here is crucial. Again, Anchor Bay hits it out of the park, providing a pristine Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound master that does the music proud. The dialogue is also treated with dignity, allowing all the jokes and off-color asides to come across flawlessly. From a technical standpoint, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto looks and sounds amazing.
If there is a downside here, it's in the added content department. There is no Making-of, no behind the scenes documentary or commentary clarifying how this project came about. Initially, many thought this would be Zombie's next theatrical release, a Halloween-themed effort that would eventually become an alternative holiday season standard. Instead, the obvious hard R material made such a strategy impractical. It would have been nice to hear the director discuss this. Instead, we get some deleted scenes and images, as well as a few alternate sequences. While fun to experience, they don't really complement the main feature - at least, not in the way real cinephiles would like.
If it had offered better bonus features, a compendium of conversation and clips explaining every part of the El Superbeasto process, this fantastic film would have easily earned the DVD Talk Collector Series tag. It is easily one of the best digital titles of the year, from feature presentation to the tech specs involved. Sadly, with the lacking extras, we are stuck solidly in Highly Recommended territory. If you've ever grimaced at the thought of another Rob Zombie film, if you believe his best work on screen was back when he was directing music videos for Beavis and Butthead's favorite "Thunderkiss '69" band, then The Haunted World of El Superbeasto may be your moment of eye opening Zen, especially if you are a fan of the kind of hipster animation that made the rounds during the '60s and '70s. As re-inventive as it is retro, this is some of the most scandalous, sacrilegious, and sublime stuff in quite some time. And the best part about it? It's a friggin' cartoon! How cool is that? In the case of The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, it's very cool indeed.