Rob Zombie on the Horror of Hollywood, and What's Coming Next

Rob Zombie on the Horror of Hollywood, and What's Coming Next

The master of horror rock and freak-out films shows no signs of mellowing out: his next project just may be his most ambitious yet.

The master of horror rock and freak-out films shows no signs of mellowing out: his next project just may be his most ambitious yet.

Photography: Charlie Engman

Styling: Emma Wyman

Text: Jonny Coleman

Comedy, horror, and heavy metal are such close neighbors, they often overlap. Rob Zombie sits dead center of this Venn diagram, and he might never die. The horror fanboy turned rocker turned director is deep in the third decade of his career as Pied Piper to teenage boys (and those young at heart), and what portends to be his most interesting career move is right around the corner.

Zombie is 51, but you wouldn’t know it from his most recent output. He has shown few signs that he’s traversed into middle age and boasts, “I can function exactly how I functioned and maybe even better than I functioned 30 years ago, which is weird.” Earlier this year he released his eighth solo studio album, which carries the most Rob Zombie title of all time: The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. And his eighth feature film, 31, hits theaters in time for Halloween. 31 is Zombie doing what he does best: torture porn with a mixture of genuine scares, gallows humor, and pervasive meanness bordering on parody.

As the years tick by, his career trajectory has come to resemble that of one person who casts a particularly long shadow over horror and comedy. Zombie is the Gen X John Carpenter: an art school kid who backed into dueling careers of horror metal and feature filmmaking. Zombie and Carpenter do not have a mentor-mentee relationship per se, but they met when Carpenter was directing Escape from L.A.—Zombie had contributed a song to the film. In so many ways, music was the gateway into directing for Zombie. And while the revenues from touring and his music pay more of the bills than directing, it’s clear Zombie is most passionate about film.

For a man so obsessed with death, violence, and the bizarre, Rob Zombie is soft and simply spoken. Unlike his contemporary, Marilyn Manson, Zombie is not into drugs or alcohol. And he’s vegan. Clean living all the way. And he’s gotten into disputes with the local whippersnappers making noise at a nearby skate park. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult to paint him as a mild crank in his private life. Either way, there’s clearly a real, knowable person behind the grotesquery and masking. Zombie even has a functional work/romantic relationship with his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, who has starred in most of his films. She’s a deadringer for his ex-bandmate and ex-girlfriend Sean Yseult and is clearly the auteur’s favorite scream queen.

“I think the fact that we work together keeps things going,” Zombie insists. “I don’t know how it would be if we didn’t work together. I think it’d be harder on our relationship if I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this forever.’ I like it being intertwined in our life.” Reminder: this is the guy whose breakout album was called Astro-Creep: 2000—Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head.

While he is a seemingly grounded adult in his private life, Zombie’s no choirboy. He still likes sticking it to Midwestern American values. One of his other hustles (of many) is hosting an annual haunted house called The Great American Nightmare, which has gotten flak for staging such scenes as John Wayne Gacy entertaining boy scouts with phallic-shaped balloons.

Zombie will next show an unexpected side of his creativity as he tackles the story of Groucho Marx’s final days in his adaptation of Steve Stoliar’s memoir, Raised Eyebrows. Not only is the genre and tone a departure for Zombie, it also marks the first time he wasn’t on scribe duty as well. “It’s based on a book written by Stoliar,” he explains. “He was a college student back in 1974 who became Groucho’s assistant in his house for the last three years of Groucho’s life. So it’s just about those last years in Groucho’s house, which were very dark times. Groucho was very ill, he had this woman who was taking care of him [and] was kind of abusing him and doing all these crazy things. It’s sort of my version of Sunset Boulevard.” This could be his Ed Wood, the film that gets the critics to rethink a ghettoized genre director. He “grew up watching the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges—all that stuff—as much as classic horror films.” In fact, these days Zombie is more apt to watch something funny on TV. “Like, I don’t watch American Horror Story but I’ll watch Veep,” he says.

When asked if there was any specific significance as to why this story needs to be told now, Zombie admits that the timing is incidental. “The project I do next is the project that can get funded first,” he says. The more Zombie has worked in Hollywood, the more he understands the immutable laws governing movie-making.

“Obviously, Hollywood has two things they love to do: they love to make sequels and they love to do remakes,” he explains. Zombie’s gone the reboot route, reimagining Carpenter’s Halloween and Halloween II. But if you’re not doing remakes or sequels, getting a script through development is excruciatingly difficult. Not to mention, in the financing of a project, “those people who are financing it are the exact people that are going to put [up] the most roadblocks, too. Like, they’re the people you’re going to be at war with. It’s a weird situation. Making movies is fucking crazy. It’s a miracle any of them ever get made.”

31 is in theaters September 16, 2016.

Credits:

Grooming Erin Skipley using Dior Beauty (Cloutier Remix)   Production Sylvia Farago LTD  Digital technician Jonathan Hokklo  Photo assistant Michael Tessier  Stylist assistant Coco Campbell  Grooming assistant Tammy Yi  Equipment ACME Camera Company

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