The inside of Rob Zombie’s brain, as his guitarist John 5 told us in the latest issue of Famous Monsters, is “really, really twisted” — but the man himself is surprisingly chill.
Zombie released his first film, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, in 2003, after first establishing himself as an industrial metal legend in his band White Zombie (named after the classic Lugosi film) and then afterwards as a solo artist, penning perennial hard rock hits like “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl”. Zombie’s music has long contained horror and Sci-Fi themes, although since CORPSES and two HALLOWEEN movies, his film projects have veered more into crime-thriller territory. This includes the sequel to CORPSES, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, which was met with critical enthusiasm in 2005, and now, fourteen years later, 3 FROM HELL, which continues the adventures of Baby Firefly, Otis Driftwood, and Captain Spaulding following their pseudo-death and capture at the end of DEVIL’S REJECTS. In 3 FROM HELL, they are joined by Richard Brake’s Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane on a mad journey into Mexico.
Zombie is very matter-of-fact about his creative process — completely free of pretense, he admits that he had no “master plan” for the release of the upcoming sequel, but that he just felt “now was the time”. And whether making movies and music is truly “torture” or not, as he claims, what results is consistently entertaining, bizarre, and boundary-pushing, so FM jumped at the chance to pick his brain.
Famous Monsters. Did you always know there would be a third entry in the Firefly family saga, or did it come to you in an unexpected moment of inspiration?
Rob Zombie. I never know what I’m going to do. There was never a master plan. My plan wasn’t [evil voice] I’m going to wait fifteen years and then follow this up! It was just something that a couple years ago, I got the bug… I thought, you know what? Now’s a good time. It’s now or never. Nobody’s getting any younger, everybody still looks like themselves, we can make this work — let’s do it. I don’t know if it was a moment of inspiration. I just felt that now is the time.
FM. Spontaneity! And you tend to work with the same actors over and over — Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, and obviously your wife. Would you say that you write roles for these people at this point, or do you come up with the story first and then fit everyone in?
RZ. It depends. The story of what I’m going to do comes first, obviously. Then as it’s coming together and the characters become a little bit more defined, I will hone the character for a specific person. I would say ninety percent of the time. Not always. In 3 FROM HELL, certain characters changed a lot. Like Richard Edson who plays Carlos, that role went through a lot of changes, and Emilio Rivera… there’s a lot of new people that came in, and things changed. I always like to bring new people into the mix in every film.
FM. Do you just find people you have chemistry with and then keep calling them whenever you do a new project?
RZ. It’s almost like a theater group, in a way. I have my stock bunch of actors that I vibe with. Everybody likes to work differently, and the way I work may not work for everybody. I’ve cast people that I thought would be great, and then it wasn’t. It was difficult. When you can find somebody new… it seems like I’m always using the same people, but I find new people. Kevin Jackson is someone who’s new; I used him for the first time on 31 — never knew who he was, but he came and auditioned and I thought, that guy’s great! So I brought him back for 3 FROM HELL. Richard Brake had a tiny cameo in HALLOWEEN 2, but I remember thinking, that guy was cool. I liked that guy! It’s finding the right people who have the right chemistry with me and with each other, because when you’re making films on a tight schedule, you don’t have time to f–k around. You need the right people in the right place.
FM. 3 FROM HELL continues the grounded-in-reality tradition from DEVIL’S REJECTS. There’s a marked difference in the perception of reality between HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and DEVIL’S REJECTS, although one of the deleted scenes for DEVIL’S REJECTS features Dr. Satan. Did you ever think of veering back into supernaturally tinged territory for 3 FROM HELL, or did you want to stay in the fully grounded world?
RZ. No, I never even considered it. I mean, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is in its own world — it’s so wacky and psychedelic that you could do anything. You could bring in Dr. Satan and go, “Okay, I guess that makes sense!” But once the movies became more reality-based, it was more difficult. I mean, I tried, on REJECTS, with the Dr. Satan thing — I had Wayne [Toth] redo the makeup to try to make it look a little more realistic. But as soon as I was shooting the scene, I was like, this is silly. This isn’t going to work. I finished shooting it, but I knew I was never going to use it.
FM. People consider you — especially with 3 FROM HELL and DEVIL’S REJECTS — to be heavily influenced by 70s and 80s slashers, and obviously the HALLOWEEN films. But every single one of your movies, and this includes 3 FROM HELL, contains a scene with a classic black and white horror film playing on TV. What would you say is your relationship with these classic horror movies? Are the choices significant each time, or is it more of an aesthetic?
RZ. It fluctuates. My aesthetic for film is the 70s, whether it be horror or, for this film, the look and feel of dirty crime movies. When it comes to the black and white movies playing on TV, sometimes they’re there to reflect the character that’s watching. Or they’re there to play off the scene, like somebody will say something, and then you go to the TV, which sort of ties into it.
FM. If you could remake one of those classic horror films in Rob Zombie style, what do you think it would be?
RZ. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about remaking anything, after HALLOWEEN. I mean, I hadn’t even been thinking of doing HALLOWEEN when I was doing HALLOWEEN. [laughs] I never thought about it. I don’t know. Certainly not BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA. That would not be the first one I would go to.
FM. [laughs] I’d like to know what the biggest difference between your creative process is with music and movies. How do you approach each project?
RZ. It’s similar, in a way. All projects start from the point of view of having this very vague idea floating around in your head. Maybe it’s an idea for a script; maybe it’s an idea for a song. And you just start working on it — you start mucking around with a song, or you start with page one and start writing the script — and slowly, with time, it forms into something. When I’m on page one of a script and it’s like, oh, Jesus Christ, where is this going — it’s the same feeling as when we start making a record and we’re just starting to write the first song. You’re like oh, f–k, how are we gonna write another album? Where are these ideas going to come from? You just slowly… torture yourself and you get it done.
FM. Torture, eh? Like a certain family…
FM. Well, with 3 FROM HELL you’ve taken characters from DEVIL’S REJECTS, spun them off, and added new ones, but if you could create another spinoff of one character from 3 FROM HELL, which one would it be?
RZ. Oh, I wouldn’t spin anybody off. There’s only three characters left! Everyone else is dead. [laughs]
FM. So you’re done, then? Fair enough!
RZ. No, I’m just… not going to spin anybody off. If there’s more, they stay together. It’s not like STAR WARS where I’m gonna make a movie with Han Solo all by himself. They need to stay as a group.
FM. And they’ve got so much chemistry now, so why bother?
RZ. Especially with the way this one ends, bringing in a new character and having them all blend together. I would love to see what these three maniacs do next.
FM. I would love to see that too!
RZ. Well, maybe in fifteen more years… [laughs]
In memory of the great Sid Haig (1939-2019), forever our Captain Spaulding. RIP.