Rob Zombie Interview Part 1: H2 (Halloween 2), Michael Myers as a Serial Killer, “White Trash,” and Weird Al
Posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
Last month, /Film visited the set of H2 (Halloween 2). After flying into Atlanta, Georgia, a colleague and I followed a publicity firm’s map and drove far out into the country, down winding roads encased by high trees that exhaled into healthy farmland. The sun was setting, the temperature was cooling, and our cell phones were no longer getting reception. We were lost. We finally came to a local cop car blocking a road, lights on spin. The cop exited—he was alive—and said, “Here for the movie?” and pointed us in the direction of Haddonfield, a fictional town that millions of people all over the world have watched Michael Myers terrorize for years.
Since 2007, the grisly lore of Haddonfield has rested in the determined hands of writer/director Rob Zombie. And in my opinion, so does the current state and fate of the American horror film, an institution predictably oft-sniffed at, but that is vital to our culture. As exemplified in our epic interview—divided into two parts—Zombie is a filmmaker who is unapologetically forthright about detractors of his vision for Halloween and horror, and much more. There is great irony to be found in that so many 20somethings wake up to Zombie’s music cuing The Howard Stern Show, and that the same guy is creating cinema that aspires to haunt our grandkids’ nightmares more so than the last president. (Click here for part two of the interview.)
Hunter Stephenson: In December, it was officially announced that you were on board for the sequel. So, between then and the release date this August, you have had to write, cast, prep, shoot and now you guys are editing. That’s such a small window. When you first sat down to write the script, where did you want to go with Myers and this new mythology you created?
Rob Zombie: Well, I looked back at the first film and I thought, What would be the most realistic fall-out from the events that occurred previously? So, I started with Laurie Strode. The reality now is this: here is a girl who wakes up, her parents are murdered, most of her friends are murdered, and she finds out her brother is the person who killed everybody. What is the reality of that? What does that do to a person? I felt it would be much more interesting this time to make Laurie this dark, damaged character. And everyone else too.
You’re enjoying this. [laughs]
Rob Zombie: [laughs] You know, it’s not just Laurie. I’m looking at all of the other characters, everyone is so fucked up. Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) is basically stabbed to death in the first film but survives. Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), he’s another one, finding his daughter like that. They’re all in a dark place, and that’s where a sequel became really interesting to me.
It seems like you were able to really shakes things up and make this film your own…
Rob Zombie: Yeah. Well, with the first movie there were a lot of bizarre constraints. It was a remake of someone else’s film, so you’re dealing with how much do you change it, how much do you leave alone? And I, like everybody else, was a big fan of Halloween, and that’s how I originally perceived the characters, as John Carpenter had done them. So, they were stuck in my head like that too. And it wasn’t until later, after I had finished that movie, that I could really see where to take all of this. Now, it’s 100% me. I felt like the last movie was 50% me, 50% John Carpenter. Young Michael’s world was all me—that had never come before—but once we go to Haddonfield with Laurie Strode, that was me filtering through the “John Carpenter Land”…
Yeah. Essentially, you were paying respects to the original. I wondered how much of that was contractual.
Rob Zombie: Yeah. I mean, there was no other way else to see it. I grew up on that movie too, so it was lodged in my brain. [laughs] But once that was done, once that was erased, I found it to be much more interesting.
Personally, I’m still shocked at how divisive your Halloween has become. I saw what you were doing as being…at least somewhat analogous to the different takes on Batman in comics; like what Frank Miller did with Year One, or Paul Pope’s vision for the character [Year 100]. You’ve created like a one-off, or a two-off, that exists both in and outside what came before. But what is your take? There are fans and critics who say it’s sacrilege to mess with the iconic nature of Myers, to demystify his past…
Rob Zombie: I don’t think it’s sacrilege. I think what is sacrilege is all of the shitty sequels. [laughs] I mean, is that what everyone enjoyed? Is that what they want more of? I think that right from the get-go, the mask that Wayne Toth (Tranformers) made for us, Tyler Mane playing Michael, to me, that’s not sacrilege; that is someone taking this dead seriously and investing the time. With the exception of the original, when you look back at the rest of the Halloween movies, they look pathetic to me. The mask looks silly, like a cheap Halloween mask you can buy anywhere. It’s like “Who’s playing Michael Myers?” and with every single one of the sequels it’s like, “Who gives a shit?” They just don’t feel like anyone really invested the time, the blood and guts…
I think what has sparked the most controversy so far over the sequel is the mask. Once that statistic hit the Net that had Michael only wearing the mask for 30% of the movie, it was on. To be honest, I thought the figure sounded like bullshit, it sounded iffy, so I didn’t report it. Would you care to clarify?
Rob Zombie: It is total bullshit. [laughs] See, I think Wayne said that, put the figure out there when you guys were down on the set. Wayne wasn’t bullshitting, but that was taken out of context and to an extreme [online]. We’ve filmed so much stuff and at this point nobody but me knows what we’re going to use or not use. There are more shots of Michael Myers running around in his mask in this movie than any of the other movies. I don’t think anybody has to worry. Yeah, Michael Myers in his mask never looked so good. [laughs]
What I like about the first film—and I think this was overlooked and often misunderstood—is that you posited Myers into our world, a place where serial killer Americana is already established; in your film, Myers is a mortal psychopath who, like, also happens to be evil incarnate. [laughs] With the sequel, are you addressing how the myth of many American serial killers grows over time?
Rob Zombie: There is some of that. What is interesting is that we see the evolution of each character. In the sequel, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is rich, he’s now rich and famous off of Michael Myers, to a greater extent than in the first one. He has completely exploited Michael. But on the other hand, Michael is now literally this guy living on the fringe of society. Nobody even notices he’s there. So, Loomis is famous, but Michael is like this forgotten person. Until he returns. And you’ve seen it, I’ve made him this raggedy sort of homeless guy. And for me, that was the only realistic way to play it. I think it’s pretty ridiculous that this guy would just disappear and then pop up, and he’s wearing his brand new white mask and his brand new mechanic’s overalls. [laughs]
[laughs] And this explains the mask’s new weathered look…
Rob Zombie: Right. I love the fact that he’s carrying this mask around; this mask is significant to him because he’s had it since he was a little kid. And it’s deteriorating. And in a way, we can literally make the connection between the mask and his state of mind. As the mask deteriorates, so does he. His brain is rotting away and in the sequel he’s becoming more and more insane.
That’s cool. It reminds me of Johnny Depp’s war paint, how it starts to vanish the closer he is to death, in Dead Man. One of the things about Michael that has always been iffy is his leap into the supernatural. In the original film and in yours, he is inherently evil, but he’s a mortal, he’s a mortal killer. After the first film… how are you confronting the supernatural seeing that the reality, even time like you said, is eating at him? It’s confusing, right?
Rob Zombie: See, these things are interesting and funny because everyone creates their own mythology. Someone made Halloween thirty years ago thinking it was a one-off movie. And that movie ends with that guy disappearing. And then, with each movie, more and more baggage was added, weird mythology, and cross-stories. And to be honest, I really just don’t give a shit about that stuff. It’s like what you said earlier about characters like Batman. I mean, even in films and in TV, what does The Dark Knight have to do with Adam West dressed up as Batman? Nothing.
Totally. It’s fun and I think it’s needed for Myers. And after 30 years, I think that Batman analogy is fair. It also seems like you are touching on Michael’s impact on the media and in entertainment in the sequel. For instance, this guy, Uncle Coffins, has this scary, little TV show in the sequel. Loomis is writing these bestsellers. And then Weird Al is appearing as himself on a talk show…
Rob Zombie: Yeah. And I’m sure a lot of people are confused about how Weird Al Yankovic is worked into the show, and into the movie. Throughout the sequel, Dr. Loomis is promoting his new book, he’s hyping it. And I thought what is the epitome of crassness, based on the deaths of all of these people? Dr. Loomis appears on this TV show, it’s like Jimmy Kimmel, so I wanted to find a celebrity who sits next to him, the other guest. And I thought, who is the opposite of Loomis, a serious doctor promoting a “serious” book. And I thought, god: Weird Al Yankovic. I mean, who else could make Loomis look more like a bizarre sell-out? It’s very surreal. The scene works as this exploitation we are constantly seeing in real life. Dr. Loomis has fucking become, like, Dr. Phil. [laughs] He’s so fucking full of shit it’s unbelievable.
He’s feeding the evil in a way, like a lot of the talking head drones in media these days, I feel…
Rob Zombie: Exactly. I agree. All Loomis wants is money. [laughs]
Obviously, you’re exploring the psychology of “Adult Michael” in H2. That is territory that, until now, has always separated Michael from Jason [Voorhees] and Freddy [Krueger]. Michael has never been depicted as being haunted by his past. What made you so interested in the psychology of a character who, in canon, has always been a faceless monster?
Rob Zombie: Well, we mentioned serial killers, and I’ve read a lot of books about them. Everyone from John Wayne Gacy to Charles Manson to Henry Lee Lucas. And their pasts never justify anything these people did. But when you read about their lives, it makes the crimes seem so different. See, I think these people become scarier when they become humanized. At one point, these guys were little kids. How did this little kid become this psychotic maniac? A lot of people piss and moan and say Michael Myers is so much scarier if he’s just a boogeyman. But to me, that’s already been done. Who needs to see that again? I’m not big on doing the same shit that so many other people already did. I mean, I almost feel bad for Michael. I mean, not really, but you sort of do, because he’s so fucked up inside, you know? [laughs]
In the sequel, we are going to see a genetic connection, beyond being siblings, between Laurie and Michael…
Rob Zombie: We’re not going to spoil anything by saying this, but in my mind, how far does the apple fall from the crazy tree? If Michael is clearly insane, is Laurie a little fucking nuts too? In the first film, Laurie is the nice girl, and in this one—after all of this shit that has happened to her—she is definitely not. She is raging against life.
Rob, what do you make of it when people always bring up “white trash”—to use that euphemism—when discussing your films? Do you see what you are doing as a “white trash” vision of Halloween? And as far as that being a signature of yours. Are you like…the Harry Crews of horror? [laughs]
Rob Zombie: [coughs, laughs] I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to say. With House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects those are the same characters. They continue on in the same vein. Halloween? To me, I didn’t really think of Michael Myers and his family as white trash. I guess it comes across that way. It just is what it is, you know?
In Carpenter’s film Michael came from a normal, seemingly peaceful and stable background…
Rob Zombie: Yeah, I know. And everyone is like, it would be scarier if he was nice, normal. I’m like, “Ahhhh. Fuck it. Who gives a shit?” To me, that’s boring. Basically, I like damaged characters who are weird with fucked up pasts. I don’t know if that’s because that’s just my life or those are just the people I know. But I find it more interesting. I find very clean, normal characters excruciatingly dull. That’s just me. Everybody has the type of movies they make. I think “white trash” is a weird way for them to put it. Young Michael Myers just reminds me of me as a kid and everyone I went to school with. You know what I mean?
Rock ‘n’ roll loner kids, yeah. Most definitely.
Rob Zombie: But is that “white trash?” I mean, I feel like if some of these people and critics watched the original Bad News Bears, they would all go “Those kids are all white trash!” No. They are just like normal kids. They swear all the time, they’re kinda shitty, and they’re outta control. [laughs] I mean, what the fuck can you do, man?
Click here to read part two of my interview with Rob Zombie. H2 (Halloween 2) opens on August 28th, 2009. A set visit report will be published this summer.
On a related note, click here for an essay I wrote earlier this year on the difference between Rob Zombie’s contributions to, and understanding of, the horror genre and horror icons versus what Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes (Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is doing (er, not doing).
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[at]gmail.com and on Twitter.