Photo: Rob Fenn
Rob Zombie seems like he was the type of kid who would inch closer to the TV when something gory came on. “We never even called them horror movies, we just called them monster movies,” says Zombie, who cites films like Frankenstein as being among his childhood favorites.
Raised on a healthy diet of monster movies, Rob took his love of the macabre and turned it into a lifestyle with his long-running horror metal music career. In 2003, Zombie stepped into the film world with his directorial debut, House of a 1000 Corpses, a film that was largely panned by critics but built him a cult following as a filmmaker, which grew larger with follow-ups like The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem, The Haunted World of El Suberbeasto, and his controversial remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween. “When House of 1000 Corpses came out, especially when we made it, horror movies at the theater were dead. There were thrillers and the like, but horror was kind of dead,” he remembers. “So when we made it, thinking back on the time, it seems like it was made by a kid obsessed with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Put 'em together, and you get that movie."
Zombie has crafted his own distinct directorial style that’s often raw and unpolished, with an aesthetic quality deliberately below that of his horror peers. “I try and keep that quality even though it’s not something people get. They’re like, ‘Why aren’t you making it fresh and clean with people that are pretty to look at?’” Zombie laughs. “It’s because there’s enough of those films being made already.”
Now, Zombie is currently working on his next project, 31, a new film which fans can fund via its official website. We recently talked to the horror lifer about horror flicks and got his take on on some of the most notable ones.
Let The Right One In.
Yeah, I only saw the original but not the remake. The original was fantastic, and I heard the remake was pretty great too. I think the thing I like so much about foreign horror films is it just creates so much of a different atmosphere. You get so used to American films with American actors set in America. There’s not so much mystery. But having the film set in Sweden, just the people and the way they look and the architecture and the snow and the darkness, it just brings the whole thing together. That’s why I think Americans respect foreign films so much more. The whole vibe is so different. Scaring people is difficult and it’s easier when you have an approach they’re unfamiliar with.
I saw the first one. I thought it was cool in the way Blair Witch was cool—where it’s something different that people respond to so heavily. Found footage in movies was kind of a unique gimmick for a minute, and then when it became its own genre, I was like, “Enough of that.” I’m not a fan of that technique, but before it was beaten to death, it was cool.
Please don’t hang up, but did you see The Human Centipede?
I did see this, but God, I don’t remember it that much. It was one of those things that people were referring to it so much that I had to see it. It was fine, it was one of those things where like, there’s just so many types of film. Sometimes you watch a film and go, “Oh that film is really well made, I get it, but it’s so unpleasant and I don’t really like it.” It’s one of those films where I have nothing bad to say about the movie, because everything is so effective, but it’s not the type of thing I’d want to be like, “Let’s watch it again!” And even though there’s a bunch of films I’ve watched a million times you could probably say, “Why would you watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre a million times?” There’s something about that that isn’t so unpleasant to me for some reason. There’s something about the characters and the situation that I find really compelling. So Human Centipede and the sequel, they’re pretty unpleasant, but I can respect somebody doing something that normally in that landscape that wouldn’t get that attention. So in that view, it’s great. I’ve heard it referenced in a lot of mainstream things, so to be able to create something new that seeps into pop culture, it’s great.
Human Centipede 2, I actually thought that was a pretty brilliant idea, because the idea is there’s a character emulating the first movie. Like he’s watching the first movie and is trying to copy the movie and that’s the sequel. I actually like the second one better.
28 Days Later.
I thought it was great. I like the fact that, I don’t know how much credit [Danny Boyle] gets for it, but the zombiemania that’s going on with everyone, no one could really figure out what to do with zombie movies. Everyone was just sort of retreading what George Romero was doing. And he was the first person to come along with a fresh take on it, which came along in kind of a stagnant genre, and I never really thought of it of being stagnant until I saw that film.
I love The Shining. I mean, I love Stanley Kubrick so any time he tackles a genre like science fiction with 2001 or Clockwork, it’s brilliant. And so is The Shining. It’s considered an actual classic and I don’t think anyone would argue with that, but when it came out everyone trashed it! [Laughs] All of his movies are like that though, they all had terrible reviews. It’s weird.
Cabin In The Woods.
Didn’t see it. [Laughs] It was one of those things where someone said, "Don’t bother, you’ll hate it!" [Editor's note: Rob, you should see this movie. It's not what you think it is.]
I love the original Thing, big fan of that movie, and the John Carpenter one is fantastic. It seems as though the remake has eclipsed the original in some respects. People always go, “I hate remakes” and they don’t realize that’s a remake sometimes. It’s great, I’ve always loved John Carpenter. He was one of those directors as a kid you just cling to. I saw Robert Rodriguez interview him, and it seems like our whole generation grew up with that, and John Carpenter was one of the first directors you were conscious of his name. So you put the name John Carpenter on the film, and it’s like, “Oh it’s by John Carpenter!” But again, it’s funny how The Thing came out, and it was eclipsed by E.T. and it was buried in bad reviews too.
Carnival of Souls.
Yeah that’s a great movie, really liked it. Back in the early days, we used to always play the Salt Air Palace where they filmed that. And it was always so cool being there, even though it was sort of reconstructed because it burned down. That’s a great movie, I love movies that [rely on] the atmosphere and it’s just so simple with no budget.
Yeah, Freaks is phenomenal. I love Tod Browning, and there’s so many great films he’s made. If ever there was a biopic, I would want to do it. He’s responsible for so many classics, especially in the silent era, and I’m a big fan of silent films. Especially Lon Chaney and all the great ones are by Tod Browning. I love all those movies too, because they’re so short and impactful. Movies now, and this might sound stupid, but they’re so fucking long and dragged out. Every time I see a movie now I’m always like, “Boy, I would’ve loved this movie if it ended 20 minutes earlier.” So over it right now. [Laughs]
I love the Universal stuff cause a lot of it is 69, 70 minutes. Get to the point, boom, body out of the grave, let’s build a monster! After 90 minutes, I get a little squirrely in the feet. Especially if you’re seeing simple things, like I don’t want a two and a half hour superhero movie. Cut out an hour of that. I guess some people feel like they get their money’s worth if it’s longer, and it seems more epic, but I never felt like more is more in that sense. I like things to be concise. I was on a plane the other day and was watching The Thrill Killers, which was a completely cheap, nothing movie. Like why was I more entertained by this more than a blockbuster movie? One day of catering on The Dark Knight cost more than this movie. I’ve always liked really simple premises, like The Sadist.
Obviously phenomenal. [Laughs] Definitely had a lot of atmosphere, which is lacking in quality in modern horror movies for the most part. I like atmosphere, nothing is happening but it’s so creepy. I did that in Lords Of Salem, purposely making it slow with nothing happening. And it’s really divided where some people think it’s the best movie I’ve done, or the worst. It’s funny, it’s more Americans that hated it, whereas Europeans think it’s my best movie. There seems to be a different sentiment, where it’s OK to not always know what’s going on. That’s very frowned upon in American film. Not necessarily blaming the audience, I think they sort of become the product sometimes of what they’re fed. The producers are like, “I’ve been watching this movie for almost four minutes, I don’t know what the fuck is going on. You have to explain this.” [Laughs] Every note I get is “Why? Why is this happening?” In real life, if someone was possessed by the devil, how can you explain these things? It’s so stupid, would you have some guy who bares it all out constantly? I like being confused.
Well, I love Wes Craven, the stuff he did before, but I didn’t get Scream. I remember going to see it, and it just was like talking to someone who wasn’t me. I should probably go back and watch it, it was probably a great movie and inspired a phenomenon, but it was one of those weird things where like, “This was not made for me.” You know certain bands and artists that are so huge that people love, and I can appreciate what they did, but yeah.
From Dusk Till Dawn.
I never knew how I felt about From Dusk Till Dawn. I remember going to see it when it came out, and I was really into it. Because it was split in two, and I loved the first half, and it got to the second half and was like, “Did it get too goofy?” I’ve never been a fan of goofy horror, it’s never really been my thing. So it kind of lost me in the second half, but I really love the first half, and really like stuff about the whole thing. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I really like it, but I like the first half better.
Dawn of the Dead.
Dawn of the Dead is probably the movie I love the most, and watched the most. I went to see it in high school, and it had already been out for a year or so. I saw it at a midnight screening and it was nuts. Just being there at midnight and the place is packed, and the crowd going wild, I’ve never seen a movie crowd react since. I was actually on a date, and the date I was with was like, “I can’t watch this,” and I said, “I’m not leaving! You’re gonna have to wait outside or go home or something, but there is no way I’m leaving this movie.”
I’d seen Night of the Living Dead a bunch, and it was hard to see movies. Like no VHS or nothing, so it’d be like, “Dawn of the Dead’s playing!” That’s when you hop in your car and drive for three hours to see Andy Warhol’s Dracula or something. I remember driving down a highway with my friend, and we heard a commercial for Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein playing that night and we literally slammed on the brakes, and drove in the other direction. Otherwise, we would never had seen it. But yeah, Dawn blew me away, I loved it. It became one of those things where I had it on VHS and I’d watch it every single day. Even if I wasn’t paying attention to it, the sound in the background was soothing.
That’s why I always wanted to work with Ken Foree, I’ve always loved Ken in that movie, and really all the people in that movie. When I started touring, I couldn’t wait to get to Monroeville to visit the mall.
The remake wasn't too bad either.
Yeah the remake was cool. Remakes are tough. It must’ve been good because I thought it was pretty cool, and I’ve watched the original thousands of times, and this one once so I don’t remember it. It’s funny because it feels like, “Hey, we’re gonna get you some new parents! Do you like new mom more than old mom?” “Well, I’m kinda used to old mom.” [Laughs]
Does that add pressure when you make a new Halloween because there’s people who feel that way about Halloween?
The funny thing is it sounds stupid to say, but I didn’t think about it that much. It was more after the fact when people asked me about it. Strangely, going in, I wasn’t thinking about it. The reason being, there have been so many, in my opinion, sequels to Halloween and they destroyed Michael Myers and everything around it, to the last one, Resurrection or whatever. But I thought if there had been only John Carpenter’s Halloween, it would have been crazy. But with all these sequels, where Michael Myers looked like shit and it was just a stunt guy who didn’t give a fuck… I know some people that worked on them that were like, “Oh yeah we worked on the masks the night before with never anything special.” So I figured we go back, get an actor to play Michael Myers, really spend forever trying to get the mask right, and make it cool again. I didn’t think of it as desecrating a legend, I thought it happened already.
Movies are very personal, and you have a personal relationship to them. So it doesn’t matter what someone does, maybe they made a better film, maybe some remakes are better, but it doesn’t matter. You sort of react to them at whatever age you saw it and the time in your life you saw it. So when younger people go, “Oh I liked yours better,” it’s because they probably saw mine at the movies, and they go back and watch the other one and it seems dated to them. I didn’t think anyone that loved the original would suddenly go, “Oh I like yours better.”
Well, if nothing else, it brings awareness to the franchise again for people who saw yours first that might not have seen the original.
It definitely did because some people say the stupid phrase, “Oh you killed the franchise.” No, I restarted the franchise. The franchise was already dead, and they hadn’t made a film for so long. So I made one, walked away, they tried to get another one going again, so I came back and made another one. And it’s been five years since my last one, and they’re still having trouble. You might not have liked what I did, but if anything, I brought the franchise back to life because it was just laying there. It pumped the life back into it, whether you liked it or not is a different argument.
Dan Ozzi hides under his covers every time that dude's face melts off in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi