Rob Zombie gets to finally unleash house
April 13th, 2003
Rob Zombie, dressed in his characteristic dreadlocks and a shirt that says "I Drink Your Blood," slumps into a chair at the posh Mondrian Hotel in the heart of the Sunset Strip where he's giving interviews about a baby he's been laboring over for three years. "It got done," he sighs with some disbelief. "I'm here." Even less than a week before his "House of 1000 Corpses" horror film is slated for a limited release around the country by Lions Gate Films, the heavy metal star-turned-director isn't holding his breath for a project that was shelved for years and seemed destined to go to video. "I'll believe it when I see it," the 37-year-old lead singer says. "You have to understand, I've already won, this project has been shot in the head and left for dead so many times." Shot in the head, because the former Robert Cummings (yes, he legally has changed it now to Rob Zombie), has been through a torture chamber in the Hollywood studio system not unlike the fictional underground tomb of horrors he's created on film. In 1998, he was asked to create a spooky maze for Universal Studio's temporary Halloween exhibit, and it was such a hit that they offered him a movie deal. Handing him $4 million, he wrote and started filming a creepy horror film set in the 1970s and starring B-film stars such as Karen Black, Jeanne Carmen, Michael J. Pollard and Sid Haig who's a staple from the Roger Corman fight films. Then, he threw in his girlfriend Sheri Moon, who is on cover of his "American Made Music to Strip By" CD, and whom he has since married (this past Halloween). He made her a blood-thirsty ghoulish character named Baby who's part of a country family that murders travelers who stumble across their ranch house. Then, after the film was done, Universal chairwoman Stacy Snider sat in for a successful audience screening, but she had just returned from Congressional hearings urging studios to tone down violence in film and have more sensitivity about peddling violence to youth. Bad timing. "I could see it in her face after the screening, she said, 'Come to my office tomorrow,' " Zombie recalls. He never thought Universal would can the project altogether. He doesn't hold any grudges to Snider. "No, I didn't think they would dump it, but I have to give them credit, they could have chopped it up and made guitar picks out of it." The Universal chairwoman wasn't thrilled with the film. "She told me that she had to go by the instincts of her own set of values, under her own set of beliefs, and she could not release the film based on that," Zombie recalls. Instead, they let the project go, with the condition that they get a percentage of any deal made later, and so MGM picked up the film. Then, Zombie made an unfortunate statement to Ben Affleck on MTV one night, saying, "Universal dropped it because they said it was morally corrupt, so MGM must have no morals." Within a week, he found out that the second major studio was dumping the project, giving no explanation. Universal's Snider was quoted in Variety as saying, "the film is a significant accomplishment for Rob yet there is a visceral tone and intensity that we did not imagine from the printed page." On the other hand, last August, Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg said it was an "in-your-face unrelenting horror film experience" and picked up the film -- now with a price tag of $11 million. That's the studio that released Halle Berry's best actress performance in "Monster's Ball" and they took a chance on Zombie. The delays and controversy has created publicity and fan buzz about the Film That Would Never be Released that can't be bought. Born in Haverhill, Mass., Zombie attended Pratt Institute in New York, worked as an art director for a few porn magazines, then formed "White Zombie" named for 1932 Bela Lugosi horror classic. Oh, and he worked for Paul Ruebens as an assistant for "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" when it was filmed in New York. "Yeah, I was doing crappy P.A. work in 1984 when I was there," Zombie smiles. He's sold 15 million records and then he wrote the script for the film that would become "The Crow." He wrote songs for films such as "The Cable Guy," "End of Days," "Idle Hands," "Valentine," "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" and the upcoming much-anticipated summer movie "Matrix Reloaded." Alice Cooper is his idol, as is Ozzy Osbourne, but -- even though he made a quick appearance on "The Osbournes" once -- he says, "I couldn't possibly have cameras follow me around like that all the time, and I think they regret it now, too." Growing up, he says he was a fan of 1970s dark films such as the "Godfather" movies and "Chinatown" and he also loved cult horror films such as "Last House on the Left," "I Spit on Your Grave," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the movie he remembers being delighted by an early high school date movie, "Dawn of the Dead," the sequel to "Night of the Living Dead." "You watch those movies and wonder who could make that kind of stuff," Zombie says. "I wanted to make a high-quality drive-in movie. I used a lot of first-timers in the cast and crew because I couldn't afford it." He used Karen Black because he admired her work not in her B horror resume, but in her classic roles such as "The Great Gatsby." "Karen Black was perfect to use as Mother Firefly, (the matron of the murderers) and I'm glad that the studio didn't want to have big names or ask me to put Britney (Spears) music in or something like that," Zombie says, only half-mockingly. "Universal did suggest at one point that we shoot every murder two ways in case we didn't get an R rating, and well, that wasn't going to happen." He used old character actor Dennis Fimple, who plays a creepy Grandpa Hugo and who died last year and never saw the film in its completion -- and so the film is dedicated to him. "He was a character, grabbing at the girls off-camera too, he was very much like the character," Zombie recalls fondly. Grandpa is part of a family that tortures and scalps people to songs like "Living Dead Girl" and "Demonoid Phenomenon" which Zombie wrote for the film. He knows that the Slim Whitman representatives only knows that his song would be playing "while police were doing some investigating" and not while they were also being slaughtered to the song they use. And, he fears Lionel Ritchie may be mad about "Brick House" being used while blood is being splattered as well. The story is about two couples who are writing a book about weird road-side stops across the country and they stop at a Murder Ride run by Captain Spaulding (played by clown-faced Sid Haig) that recounts gruesome killings. Then, the couple go exploring in the area looking for a legendary tree where Dr. Satan murdered his victims. "I set the film in 1977 because it's more distant, it's not a time that you could call for help on your cell phone," Zombie says. Zombie himself has broken down in his van in remote areas of the country with his band and ended up taking out his guitar and jamming with the locals. As a kid, he recalls his family going to a strange roadside place where monkeys dressed as the Beatles with wigs on and playing guitars and then dressing as astronauts going to the moon. "And clowns never bothered me," he says, being reminded of the scary clown Haig plays in the film. "There's a Super 8 movie of Dad forcing me on the lap of Ronald McDonald and I just look like I'm not happy about this crazy stranger in a red wig," the director recalls. He managed to get an R rating after only five different edits, and the extra footage isn't more pornographic, but more bloody, and he promises it will all be on the DVD, including more of a graphic surgery scene and more torturing of the cheerleaders. He laughs about a scene torturing one of the captives, played by actor Chris Hardwick (who will later be seen as an engineer in "T-3: Rise of the Machines.") The actor didn't like being restrained and had a phobia of confined spaces. "I used that fear in the actor and after two hours when he said, 'I have to go the bathroom,' I just asked for take after take and said, 'I don't care' and he freaked out more, it was great," Zombie smiles. With beard, goatee and tattoos on his arms that he designed, Zombie says he hopes to continue directing -- next perhaps a weird slice-of-life comedy drama like "Ghost World." Perhaps not a romantic comedy. He has never tried to create a persona about himself, but his fans seem to have created one for him. Some things about him may surprise his fans, however. "What people may not know about me is that I'm obsessed with hockey, I'm the Jack Nicholson of the Kings, I'm at every game," he says. And his advice for getting into heavy metal, or directing, is simple: "If you can deal with people saying 'You suck, I hate you' then go ahead with your work," Zombie advises.