This post was originally published on April 19th, 2003 as a companion piece to the author's film review.
Rob Zombie is a Hellbilly cutthroat. Bob Freville is a Long Island sociopath. Witness the SHOCK & [Conversational] DECAY as the two team up for an eerie interview that will leave you on the edge of your beanbag! WARNING: JUST KEEP TELLING YOURSELF...'IT'S ONLY AN INTERVIEW! IT'S ONLY AN INTERVIEW!
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROB ZOMBIE
Anyone who is familiar with rock star/horror meister Rob Zombie knows his keen eye for the campy, the macabre and the outright horrific. That same anyone knows that Zombie lives to entertain and, some might say, entertains to live. As he said in an interview for his first solo album Hellbilly Deluxe, "I'm just not happy when I'm not working on something." This fact must have been a damn brutal one when Mr. Zombie, former frontman of the genre-bending heavy metal act White Zombie, first learned that Universal Studios was going to shelve his directorial debut.
Zombie, who has the added recognition of serving as director on most of his popular music videos (see: Dragula, Living Dead Girl, etc.), was excited as all Hell in 2000 when he completed his first feature-length film House of 1,000 Corpses for Universal. But before the corks could come out of the champagne bottles or the spooks could rise from their graves for celebration, Zombie was faced with the fact that Universal didn't want anything to do with the film. The movie was too violent to meet their distribution standards and too American for them to sell the foreign rights away. So they were going to shelve it.
However, before they had the chance to bury House, Zombie finagled the rights from them and brought it to the then inviting arms of MGM. It wasn't long, though, before MGM was axing the project too. Once again, Zombie had to salvage his dusty movie and what was left of his cinematic ego and make for the door. Now, three years after the fact, Lions Gate Films has a commercial announcement to make: "The Film Nobody Wanted You To See Is Not Being Released...It's Being Unleashed!" So goes the title card for the film's trailer.
After seeing the film, I can honestly say that a more convincing and satisfying horror film hasn't been produced in at least twenty or twenty five years. Much of this might have to do with Zombie's love of vintage horror memorabilia (Boris Karloff collectibles, Tales from the Crypt comics, skulls and crossbones, etc.). But there was no way to be sure unless I first spoke with the man behind the Evil. In order to properly understand the story behind House of 1,000 Corpses, I felt it incumbent upon me to get the straight jive from the real Hellbilly himself. Yes, an interview with Rob fucking Zombie! The Specter behind the Spookshow International.
Wow! Imagine all the crazy, high-powered "demon speeding" fun we could have zipping around Manhattan in the Dragster, drinking goat's blood from an Anton LaVey flask and gnawing on the cadavers of every fuckwit police officer dumb enough to cruise around on horseback. Hell, yea! And while we are at it, maybe I'll have him back to Long Island for the night. We can sleep in the graveyard where my grandmother is buried and wake up early to go on a thrill kill mission to Rosie O' Donnell's house. Shit, maybe if we have time, we can even pick up Kim Basinger and Winona Ryder and go for a five-finger discount at some local boutiques.
All this was sounding pretty tangible, until my editor informed me of the interview agreement. It would have to be on the phone. No funny business. The questions and nothing else...or else. Or else what? Or else Zombie'll come by and chop off my head with a sling blade before filleting my nuts in a pan full of nutmeg. No, nothing that severe. But Zombie was gonna be in LA and would be unable to meet me anywhere.
Immediately, I threw together some questions for the Modern King of Monster Rock, hoping more than anything that he wouldn't hang up on me the minute he heard my voice.
“You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Zombie. I have a bit of a head cold. Don't be alarmed or annoyed if I sound like Ben Stein on Quaaludes."
Okay, here is the Q & A. Prepare yourself for a conversational ride you won't soon forget. Get ready to join "a place where life and death are meaningless and pain is God." You are now entering The Spookshow International...
First off, let me just say that House of 1,000 Corpses was one really far out movie...
I'm curious, though, how did you arrive at the visual nuances of the film? The inverted colors and the strangely Argento-esque footage of Dr. Satan's grave are two good examples of what I'm talking about. Did you write those scenes like that or did you decide to do that when it came time to edit the movie?
Rob Zombie: Some were both. Some I had in mind from the get-go, and then some...once you get into editing, you kind of experiment a little.
Now I understand that you had some trouble getting this movie distributed. Its original home was at Universal, wasn't it?
RZ: Yeah, yeah.
And how did you end up getting it put out with Lions Gate? What were the stipulations of that deal?
RZ: There was really only one stipulation. It was basically the same thing that every single person who saw the movie said. It was, as long as it has an R-rating, they'll put it out. That was the only problem. At the time, we had an NC-17. And, ya know, some of the psychedelic, inverted stuff was meant to help that along. There are some scenes that are pretty gory there, and so they're kind of tinted red to take the edge off 'em. Anything to get passed the MPAA.
Um, I read an interview where your significant other mentions all the horror movies you introduced her to. Among the films that she mentioned was Last House on the Left. Was that a movie that you would credit as an influence on House of 1,000 Corpses? Because the slow-mo sequence where the father and deputy are gunned down by Otis really reminded me a great deal of the last scene of Last House where all the carnage segues into that upbeat oldies number.
RZ: It's really funny because sometimes movies play an influence. But with Last House, I hadn't watched it in a long time. So there was no particular thing in that movie that stood out in my mind. Because people will mention something like, "Oh, that's an obvious reference to Motel Hell," and I haven't seen Motel Hell in like twenty five years. I can't even barely remember the movie, I just remember seeing it and not liking it. It's weird sometimes because you do things sort of...
Kind of unconsciously, right?
RZ: Yeah, yeah! And there's also stuff that...I would credit slow-motion things to more like a movie like The Wild Bunch. I mean, I watch so many movies, so many different types of movies that I don't know where stuff comes from anymore. People will point out influences, but I can't even do it. It's such a confused mess in my head.
Without giving away too much to your prospective audience, I thought I'd note your ending to House. It reminded me of the denouement to Charles Kaufman's Mother's Day. Was that a homage you were making, or am I mistaken?
RZ: Yeah, I saw that, but I just don't remember how it ended. Actually, I think the last time I ever went to a drive-in was to a triple feature. And the features were Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Mother's Day. And then the drive-in closed.
There're no drive-ins anymore, ya notice that?
RZ: No, I mean, there was just something about it. It was such a vibe, the whole thing. I mean, I know some of it is probably just imagined in my mind, but you're at the drive-in and you're in your car and everybody's watching the Chainsaw Massacre and fucking in the backseat, and mosquitoes are biting you and the speakers sound bad. There's just this whole thing to it.
A subjective thing.
RZ: Yeah, and it's just gone. The feeling is gone. Not that it has to be gone forever. Maybe it can come back.
I thought it was great that you used Karen Black.
RZ: Yeah, she's great!
She just doesn't get enough work.
RZ: No, and she will do anything. It's sad that she went from a sort of A list Hollywood actress to being this person who people think of as like living in B movie obscurity. Because she's still an amazing actress.
[Note: At some point, Zombie and I spoke of Universal Studio's short-lived House of 1,000 Corpses Ride which was erected for only a month when the studio still expected to be releasing the film. For my own selfish reasons, I have decided to omit this portion of our conversation. If you don't like it, you can eat shit and die.]
Can you think of any one thing that bugs you about the finished product?
RZ: Like when you first finish a record, you listen to it and you're like "If I only had a little more time. If I didn't have to mix ten songs in one day. If I only could have mixed one song a day!" That's kind of the way I feel when I watch the movie. Knowing the circumstances it was made under, how quickly it was made and how chaotic it was, I don't ever feel bad about any of it. I just look at it and go, "God, I wish I had an extra day for that scene." And I never really thought of it until the other day when I was watching this documentary about making a movie. And they're saying, "Oh, we only had five days to shoot that scene." The scene they were talking about was just people talking. I was like, Jesus Christ! In five days, I had finished most of the movie...the fight scene, and all this crazy shit in the rain. It would always be nice to have more time.
What would you say the best thing about the film was in your opinion?
RZ: Well, there are two scenes that I love the most, the two scenes that, at the time, Universal pinpointed that they hated. One was the entire opening sequence that took place before the credits roll. They hated that. They're like "You gotta take that out of the movie. It's totally pointless." And that sets the tone for the whole movie because you don't know what's going to happen. And they wanted it to just start with the kids. And I'm like, "No, that sucks!" But when I watch it with an audience, the audience always responds really well to that sequence so it always makes me feel really good. And the other scene they hated was the slow-motion scene with the long, dead silence when Otis shoots the cop. And that's another scene that works perfectly with an audience that I really like.
I loved that scene! It reminded me of all the old avant garde films, ya know?
RZ: Yeah, so basically, if you do anything that's extreme, they hate it. They want everything to be kind of middle of the road.
How does the film's plot coincide with your latest album The Sinister Urge? Would a fan of The Sinister Urge be familiarized with the characters and story of House in a way that someone who read a review and decided to go check it out wouldn't?
RZ: No, there's really no connection. I shot the movie first and when it was tied up in limbo with the studios, that's when I made the album as a completely separate entity. Like "God, I don't even wanna think about this right now." I had worked so hard on the film and it was sitting on a shelf and I was afraid it was never going to be seen. And the only reason I put the "House of 1,000 Corpses" song on it was to kind of keep hope alive and keep the name out there.
What can Zombie fans expect from you next?
RZ: Uh...a lot of weird little things. Probably the very next thing will be a comic book called Spookshow International. That'll be coming out in August, and that's sort of a horror anthology.
And who is putting that out?
RZ: NBC Creations, it's kind of a small company. But that'll be available everywhere. And House of 1,000 Corpses action figures.
A little birdy told me that you are a headcheese connoisseur. Is this true?
RZ: Good God, no. I never had headcheese. I mean, who has? Who the hell eats headcheese really?
What do you think of them making that quote/unquote reconceptualization of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
RZ: Well, I think it's completely retarded. I think the first film is perfect, and anything you do, however good it is, is gonna be totally inferior. But I really like Tobe Hooper and if there's anyway he can make some big bucks off it, more power to him. I don't know if he is involved in it, but he's a good guy.
From what I hear, Jerry Bruckheimer is doing it.
RZ: I can't even imagine how it could work on any level.
With Jessica Biel in the Sally Hardesty Enright role, I mean, I can't picture that at all.
RZ: It's not gonna work, it can't work. It's like remaking Psycho, it doesn't matter what you do, color or not.
Um....what one word would you use to describe House of 1,000 Corpses?
RZ: I don't think I could use only one word. I'd need two really.
And what's that?
RZ: Fucked up.