Posted on Friday, May 15th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
In the second installment of /Film’s in-depth chat with Rob Zombie, we discuss the limp yet horny state of the American horror film. Zombie also rants on why getting original projects made in Hollywood has become a lamer development hell. Given that his last theatrical movie as a writer/director was a remake (Halloween), and that this summer’s H2 (Halloweeen 2) is a sequel, it’s interesting to hear Zombie get the lead out in such bold fashion. But consider that a release for his $10m animated film with Paul Giamatti, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, is on the burner indefinitely; and that his T-Rex—a violent ’70s-set flick about a heathen war vet/boxer—now revs at a yellow-light. The status of both projects is discussed below.
While Zombie’s vision for Michael Myers has proven divisive, the privilege to re-shape one of the top three monsters of modern horror was well-earned. His directorial debut, 2003′s House of 1000 Corpses, has held up nicely in the years since; a fun-house experience akin to falling down a broken disposal, Corpses wallows in the slime of decades’ worth of deranged genre influence. 2005 brought his signature film, The Devil’s Rejects, arguably the most nefarious celluloid celebration of murder and nihilism set loose in theaters this decade. Four years later, even he’s a little surprised that it exists. But exists it does; a major studio picture that feels like the extroverted, distant Southern cousin to William Lustig‘s ode to the NYC lurker Maniac.
Rejects solidified Zombie as the rare, talented filmmaker sitting high on the pop-cult ladder whose work craps on any and all moral barometers. And after speaking at length, we’re convinced that there isn’t a working director in the U.S. more dedicated to the hard-R picture-show. (Click here for Part 1)
Hunter Stephenson: How you depict violence on film sets you apart. It seems like much of the violence in American horror films these days, it’s very routine and mundane. A lot of the violence in your films seems flat-out wrong, but in a really good way. [Zombie laughs] You were never part of the torture-porn trend, when Hostel and Saw came out, and what not.
When you show violence on screen, it serrates but then you move on, and I think it’s very effective. I’m wondering, what films do you watch to get your kicks for violence? What films do you draw on when you’re making them?
Rob Zombie: Well, I like when violence seems real and I like when it seems ugly. I like when the act doesn’t seem fun. I was never a fan of ‘80s slasher movies. I think they are cartoony and silly. I was more into the violence in movies like Taxi Driver, The Wild Bunch, and Bonnie and Clyde. The violence in those films makes a statement in some way. You know what I mean? It’s saying something. And it’s either brutal, or depressing, or it’s real. But it’s never fun.
And even now, a lot of horror coming out of America centers on horny teens getting slashed. But now the teens are like…these tanning bed people off The Hills. I feel like that takes away from the essence and strength of horror as a genre. It needs to progress.
Rob Zombie: I think it’s gotten really boring, sure. That was one of the things that I struggled with, with [the first] Halloween. I’m not into making movies with teens, about teens. What I like about the sequel, Laurie Strode and her friends are older. Compared to the last film, this one is really dark, gritty and nasty. It is a twisted psycho-drama. The MPAA will be bad news. I don’t know how it will play out. [laughs] But it’s always like that. And this movie also focuses a lot on Sheriff Brackett. I’m really excited about that. Brad Dourif (Deadwood) has a huge role in this film [as Brackett], and he’s spectacular. He becomes very much like Laurie’s surrogate father. He feels responsible.
We’re fans of Blue Velvet, so it was cool to see him on set. I think Criterion is actually releasing a John Huston movie he did [Wise Blood]. Looks awesome. You’ve mentioned that you are much more satisfied with the team you’ve assembled for the sequel. Can you talk about working with Brandon Trost as your cinematographer? His work on Crank 2 was…that movie was just amazing, so well-shot.
Rob Zombie: See, what I love about Brandon is that he works like how I like to. I wanted the movie to look raw and real. A lot of times when you watch movies now, they’re over-lit, they’re over-manipulated. Like I said earlier, they don’t feel real. Whereas, you go back and watch older films, especially horror films, they look real, believable. Brandon was really great at achieving that. I also like to work fast, because I think it keeps the energy on set really high. And when you do that, you tend to get really great results. Devil’s Rejects was like that.
Yeah. I remember seeing Rejects in the theater. You could feel this crazed adrenaline bleed into the audience…
Rob Zombie: Yeah, see, that’s great. But on the first Halloween, we didn’t have [that energy]. When horror movies are raw, when they have that quality, those are the great ones. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [Tobe Hooper’s, obvi], the original Dawn of the Dead, you can feel it, you feel [how they were made]. But when horror films look too “perfect” and refined, like a lot of the ones now, I have to laugh. What I love about the girls in this movie—Scout Taylor-Compton and Danielle Harris—they were fine with me making them looked fucked up. Like you said, how many times do you watch a horror movie now where the girls look soooo perfect? It’s laughable. Even when they’re in danger, nothing changes. These girls are real actresses. They go for it.
To be honest, I felt like your first film didn’t have enough Halloween spirit. People said there weren’t enough trick-or-treaters out. On this film, there seems to be much more Halloween décor. You even had strands of jack-o-lanterns in the hospital. Was that something you were much more aware of this time around?
Rob Zombie: Yeah. This film is really, really rich in that atmosphere. The whole movie basically takes place on the three days leading up to Halloween, and most of it is on the day of. This time, I wanted it to drip with Halloween atmosphere. That’s why I was so happy to shoot in Georgia, because we could get those barren trees and gray skies, that fall look. I think that is essential. Last time, shooting in California [laughs], it is difficult to achieve that.
I wanted to talk about a few other projects. On the set, Andy [Gould] sounded very confident that Tyrannosaurus Rex would be your next film. He sounded stoked. You’ve released a ton of promo art for it already. But, skip ahead just a few weeks, and the buzz sounds less certain. What’s the current status?
Rob Zombie: Right now, it’s on hold. I thought it was going to be the next movie, but nothing ever happens the way it’s supposed to happen. In fact, I wouldn’t have even announced the film, but it was announced without my knowledge. But maybe it will, maybe it won’t happen. Every year it gets harder and harder, you know what I mean? I look back at Devil’s Rejects now, and I’m like, “Jesus, could I even get that movie made today?” The only thing anyone in Hollywood wants to make these days are [sighs, gets in litany mode]: remakes, sequels, prequels, comic books, graphic novels…They really do not want to greenlight anything that is 100% original. And if they do, it’s just a few projects. [pissed off] I mean, I’ve gotten offered a million movies and they are all fucking remakes.
Yesterday, a remake of Mother’s Day was announced. The original was made by Troma. I mean, Troma is fucking amazing, but the mainstream brand recognition is zilch with that one. Where does it stop in your opinion?
Rob Zombie: Yeah. All of them. Seriously. I figure it’s about 10 years until someone wants to remake House of 1000 Corpses. I don’t know how I feel about that. Let’s see how I feel in 10 years. [laughs] But that’s all they want right now. It’s difficult.
Your animated film, [The Haunted World of] El Superbeasto, is finished, but where does its release stand? Will it be released in the fourth quarter [of 2009]?
Rob Zombie: The movie is completely finished. But we’re not sure about a date. There are rumors about releasing it in the fall. But the company that owns El Superbeasto, the problem is, that company has changed hands, like, at least five times since I started. So, every time we’re near release, it gets sold, new executives come in, and it derails the project. The movie is fucking awesome, but it’s been the most…[pretty angry] the fucking behind-the-scenes stuff on that movie has been so fucked up. You would not believe the shit that has been going on.
I’ve heard footage described as being like Hanna-Barbera meets a really violent porn film? Is that right? [laughs]
Rob Zombie: Well, I didn’t say that, but that might be accurate. [laughs] It’s really unlike any movie. It’s very adult. I don’t know. I like to say that it’s Scooby-Doo meets NC-17. That’s probably the best way to put it.
Would you ever direct a black-and-white horror film? You had [1932’s] White Zombie playing on a TV [in the first Halloween], and seem to dig horror films from that period.
Rob Zombie: Yeah, that could be cool. Maybe. Unfortunately, I think it would be close to impossible to get that made, to get the money for it. Like I said earlier about the remakes. I really love black-and-white movies though.
At one point, you were attached to direct a segment of David Fincher’s Heavy Metal anthology movie. Zack Snyder was attached, several others. The producers on set said that you would still be open to contributing.
Rob Zombie: Right. With that film I was never really attached. Somebody asked me if I would be interested in being part of it. And I said, “Yeah, sure, that would be great.” I haven’t spoken to David Fincher about it, and I really don’t know anything about it. I’m not even sure if it’s still happening. It would be cool. I would love to be a part of it, I think it would be great, but I don’t know where it stands.
There is one project I want to ask you about, because I really hope that it eventually gets made by you. A few years ago, you were rumored to be involved in a Sasquatch feature. But we haven’t heard much since. Similar to a werewolf—well, probably far more so [laughs]—there has never been a great Bigfoot movie. I feel like you could make a great one.
Rob Zombie: Thanks. Well, Steve Niles and I did that comic book together, Bigfoot, and we planned on adapting it into a movie. But then Halloween and T-Rex came along. But it could be cool. Obviously, I don’t think Bigfoot is real [laughs], but as a kid in the ‘70s, Bigfoot was all over TV (the Patterson-Gimlin tape). I was fascinated by it. I think it’s a really scary idea. And it’s always been done in such a super cheap-o way, so…you could make something really substantial. All I can say is you never know.
I figure you are the guy to ask since you’ve worked with them: Given the state of popular music, isn’t it time that Beavis & Butt-Head made a comeback?
Rob Zombie: Honestly, I don’t think they’ll ever come back. I think Mike [Judge] is too busy to revisit them. If he was going to do it, he would have already done it. But yeah, it would be nice.
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.