||With the DVD release of The Devil’s Rejects due over Christmas (how festive!), we thought it high time we caught up with Rob Zombie and talked about his latest movie, as well as his old one… and his new one!
The Spinning Image (TSI): Were you disappointed by the critical response to House of 1000 Corpses?
Rob Zombie (RZ): Not really. Movies of that nature don’t really do well critically and a lot of my favourite movies are ones that did not do well critically. Of course, you would like people to say, “Oh, I love it,” but I was finding that it had quickly broken down into two camps, even with the fans. People that absolutely loved it would come up to me, like, “That’s my favourite movie I’ve seen in ten years” and other people were like, “I hate everything about this movie, everything. It’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” So as soon as that started happening I was like, “Whoah, whatever.” What are you going to do, you know? People were rating it the greatest movie of all time and the worst movie of all time.
TSI: Were you happy with it yourself? I think, personally, as a fan of your music and the videos you had done, my expectations were way too high and, in hindsight, there was no way you could have made a film to satisfy those expectations. I was wishing it to be the greatest horror film ever made and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to say that it wasn’t.
RZ: It’s hard to discuss it in that sense because… if it was my tenth film or something… but with your first film, in a certain way you’re just happy if you got it on film. It’s such an intense experience that no one’s prepared for their first film. I mean, maybe some people are, but I wasn’t really prepared for the first time around, the craziness that can ensue with different things that you never even thought of. At the end of the day, was it the film I was trying to make, one hundred per cent? No, of course it wasn’t, at all. There were parts of it I was really happy with, parts of it I was really unhappy with. Did I want to keep changing it and working on it to try and fix it? Definitely. But, it’s funny, it seems to be a movie that gets better with time in a weird sort of a way.
TSI: It does…
RZ: I sort of put it out of my mind when it was finally all said and done. I was like, you know, I’m so over it, I need to get away from it. And I really hadn’t seen the movie for about three years, then I saw it yesterday. It was on TV and I just caught it by accident and I was like, “Wow, this seems a lot better than I remember it.” In my mind I’d really built it up into this giant thing that I was trying to do that didn’t work out and I was watching it and thinking, “This is pretty cool” on a level that I would have really liked it as a kid, like a bizarre… y’know, the same way I would fall in love with bizarre movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You’d show them to other people and they’d be like, “That’s the most unwatchable movie I’ve ever seen.” And you’re like, “What are you talking about? It’s pure genius.”
TSI: I think you’re right. I went back to re-watch House of 1000 Corpses after watching The Devil’s Rejects and because I had no longer had any expectations and knew what I was going to see, I enjoyed it much more for that.
RZ: Yeah, it’s really weird. The first time it got built up really big. It kind of ran away with its own press – “Oh it’s so gory, it’s so intense…” I’d never said any of those things, but this bizarre legend grew around it that wasn’t really true at all. But as I look back on it now, I’m really happy that that’s my first movie because I do feel like it’s a movie that will last on some level. Sometimes people’s first movies are just forgotten.
TSI: For a debut movie, it’s not bad at all.
RZ: Yeah, I know and out of it spun Captain Spaulding, who is definitely a character that has lived on larger than the movie itself, which is kind of nice. And now with Rejects, I’m totally thrilled with that movie because that was more of what I was trying to accomplish. By having the tools that I learned to use on Corpses I could achieve it this time around.
TSI: Well it’s quite obvious you got what you wanted with The Devil’s Rejects. It’s easily the scariest film of the year. It’s very realistic and I think that’s what makes it so shocking. It’s almost like a documentary.
RZ: Yeah, it sounds ridiculous but that was more what I was trying to achieve with the first movie on a certain level but I just didn’t have the right people and things in place. I knew at a certain point during filming that it wasn’t happening so I decided to go in a different direction and have it become more over the top and campy and bizarre because I knew that’s where it was headed anyway.
TSI: Did you always plan to do a sequel as your second movie or was it a financial situation that pushed you into it following on from the success of House of 1000 Corpses?
RZ: It was more because of the success of Corpses. I didn’t plan to do a sequel because I didn’t know if there would be one or whatever. But it’s so hard to get anyone to make a movie. It’s insane. Everybody has a script, everybody has a movie, everything’s in production but hardly anything ever gets fucking made. You know, you hear about things for years and years and years. So when Lion’s Gate came to me and said they really wanted to do this I said, Great. I mean, I still liked the characters and in my mind I was thinking, “Good, I can get right the second time what I was trying to achieve the first time.”
TSI: What sets The Devil’s Rejects up so well is that the first on-screen murder comes completely out of the blue and it’s so shocking. From that point on, you think, “Well, he can do anything now,” and that really places you on the edge of your seat for the rest of the film.
RZ: Yeah, I tried to keep it real, as if these people actually existed. They are such loose cannons that they’re not going to talk to people. That always drives me crazy in movies, there’s so much talk. But, really, people who are waving guns around usually just shoot and they don’t say anything. That’s why Otis is so irrational. He just shoots (laughs).
TSI: The hand-held camerawork in the film captures that classic 70s style of filmmaking so well and actually works to make the viewer feel exhausted while watching the film.
RZ: It is kind of an exhausting style, yeah. I wanted it to never feel like you were watching a movie in the sense that the camerawork was always a little rough and loose on purpose. I mean it’s a great testament to our Director of Photography because nothing’s accidental; it’s what we were trying to achieve. It never lets up. It always makes you feel like you’re there, like you’re in the middle of it, whereas sometimes when you watch a movie it very much feels like a movie. You feel apart from it. But I wanted this to feel like you were stuck in that motel room the whole time, like you can’t get out either.
TSI: Is that style of filmmaking something you miss these days? Watching the film I was constantly reminded of films from the 70s, the works of Peckinpah specifically and even Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point. Stylistically, The Devil’s Rejects really reminded me of Vanishing Point.
RZ: Yeah, I love those movies and I love the way they look. I’m such a big fan of the look of movies. Sometimes I can’t even tell if it’s a good movie or not because I’m so caught up in the look of it. Like, just the other night, I saw this movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, that George Clooney directed, and it’s such a fantastic looking movie, visually. And if someone said, “Well is it any good?” I’d be, “I’m not even sure if it was any good, I was so caught up in how it looked.” So many movies these days, to me they look like television shows…
TSI: They are way too glossy…
RZ: Yeah, they’re too glossy and every actor is so concerned with looking fantastic at every moment that they’re overly lit, they’re overly made up, nobody looks real. That was thing with Rejects; I wanted everyone to look real. No one’s even wearing make-up in that movie except for the clown make-up. I wouldn’t let the girls wear make-up. Everybody had to be natural. I wanted them to look how they would for real and sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes people don’t look good but there’s something about it that’s great.
TSI: Did you have trouble getting the actors to agree to do the motel scene? It’s a very intense and revealing sequence for an actor or actress to have to play.
RZ: A little bit. I had trouble casting a girl to play Wendy because it was really difficult to find a girl who would do full nudity and was a good actress. It was easy to find girls who would do full nudity but they couldn’t act, and I certainly wasn’t going for that. And to find a girl that looked natural and vulnerable and real, because I didn’t want it to be sexy. We wanted it to be horrible for this person in the shower. It’s like Psycho, it’s just the most vulnerable moment. So that was difficult, but once people got in there [the motel] they did what they had to do. The person who, strangely enough, had the most problems with that scene was Bill Moseley in playing Otis. He was the one who every five minutes was like, “Oh my God, I can’t…” and I would have to take him aside and we would talk and start back up again. He was the most bothered of anybody. Everybody else seemed fine with it. Priscilla seemed upset in her acting but she was so convincing I thought she was upset for real but Bill was the only one having the moral dilemma.
TSI: The film’s supporting cast features a lot of genre favourites, the most noticeable perhaps is Leslie Easterbrook because she replaces Karen Black as a character we’ve already seen before. How did that come about?
RZ: Well, I always thought Karen was going to do it. I didn’t replace her on purpose. As we came down to the wire and people were signing their deals and all the final things were being done, Karen just had a problem with something and we tried to resolve it and couldn’t and I had to move on.
TSI: It has to be said, Leslie adds a whole new dimension to the character.
RZ: I love Karen and I think she was terrific in, and perfect for, the first film but I think Leslie really embodied the spirit of the second film.
TSI: And for anybody familiar with the Police Academy movies, it’s quite a revelation…
RZ: Oh, I know. I never really saw the Police Academy films. I knew she was in them and I think I saw one of them when I was a kid but she came in and auditioned and she was so amazing I didn’t recognise her from those movies. I was like, “Wow, there she is.”
TSI: You’ve also got Deborah Van Valkenburgh from The Warriors, who I don’t think I’ve seen on screen since then. It was great to see her again.
RZ: Yeah, that was like a last minute thing. It was really funny, I just needed… it was a very small part. I was looking for someone who was almost an extra. I was sent a bunch of headshots and hers was one of them. I was like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to get her.” And she was only supposed to work one day but I loved having her around so much, even though she doesn’t have a lot of lines, I kept throwing her in more scenes just to have her around.
TSI: And of course Rugrats fans are going to pick up on Elizabeth Daily
RZ: Oh, yeah, I know…
TSI: You’ve got Tommy Pickles playing this sex goddess…
TSI: If we could just talk about the music in the film, there’s a great moment where you use the David Essex track Rock On. It was odd to hear something so British in an American context. Was that song a big hit in the US?
RZ: I don’t really know for sure. I just remember as a kid loving that song and remembering it as a huge hit, but I don’t know if it actually was. I think it was because it was on the radio all the time when I was a kid. You couldn’t escape that in the 70s on the radio over here.
TSI: The music is so important to the film, almost to the point of becoming a character itself. I read somewhere that you actually cleared the rights to a lot of the songs before you started shooting.
RZ: Yeah, for a lot of the songs I cleared the rights in advance. I always knew I was going to end the movie with [Lynyrd Skynyrd’s] Freebird and I didn’t want to shoot the movie and then try to get the rights to it and fail. So I made sure, like with [The Allman Brothers Band’s] Midnight Rider for the opening credits sequence, as with Freebird, certain songs I knew I had in advance. I wanted the cast to know what we were doing because I felt it was better if they had an idea of what we were about and I think it made a big difference for them to be in the right mind-frame.
TSI: Was it difficult obtaining the rights to Freebird, given the nature of the film and the context in which it was going to be used?
RZ: No, it really wasn’t a problem. It was weird. I was really paranoid about it all the whole time because I thought, if this doesn’t work what the fuck am I going to do. There’s one Freebird. What else are you going to replace it with, you know, Stairway To Heaven? Freebird’s such an odd song but, no, luckily we got that cleared way in advance.
TSI: And it works so well.
RZ: I love it because it’s such a great song and it’s almost become like a cliché, like you hear Freebird and you want to laugh, at least over here because it’s so overused, but I felt like we could bring it back, give it the respect it deserves.
TSI: Well, the ending was something I wanted to talk about later but we might as well do it now. The music and the way the final sequence is shot present a terrible moral dilemma because you actually begin to feel sorry for the Firefly clan. Did you know it was going to work in that way?
RZ: No, I didn’t know it was going to work. I didn’t know until I finally showed the movie to an audience. I thought it worked but I didn’t really know if it did. And especially before I shot it, I really didn’t know if it was going to work. My whole dilemma was, if I can’t somehow trick the audience during the course of 90 minutes into feeling bad for these disgusting people, there’s no real power in the ending at all. If you’re just like, “Good, die,” who cares? But somewhere during the course of the movie – and I know exactly where it happens because I’ve seen the movie enough times with an audience – there’s that “nothing” scene in the van where they’re arguing about ice cream. For some reason that scene seems to erase people’s minds as to what they just saw those people do. It’s really weird. I don’t know if it’s because everyone can relate to the fact that they like ice cream or something. But you forget that this guy just shot another guy in the head, he raped a woman, he did this, he did that… everyone seems to forget suddenly and go, “Oh yeah, ice cream, I love ice cream.”
TSI: You do suddenly make those characters appear human…
RZ: Yeah, and I think that was because at that point they officially become the hunted. It’s not that I want people to side with them. I just wanted there to be a conflict in people’s minds, because I thought if it was just like “good guy/bad guy” – that’s pretty boring. And I didn’t want to play it like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where they turn the outlaws into heroes. I wanted it to always be a case of not being sure who you’re rooting for.
TSI: Did you have any fears that you might be appealing to the wrong type of people in doing that; by making heroes of the villains, and very extreme villains at that?
RZ: Well, not really, because I figured that most people would say what you said, that you didn’t know how to feel at the end. There’s always going to be a portion of the crowd who approaches a movie like this with the villains as their heroes, the same way they do with Hellraiser, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, where Pinhead is the hero to them, no matter what. So there’s always going to be the people that love the villains. I’m sort of that type of person too. I watch A Clockwork Orange and I love Malcolm McDowell, and I watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I love the Chainsaw family. I always side with the bad people for some reason, so I understand it.
TSI: That’s very much a thing with horror fans. They seek out the anti-heroes…
RZ: Yeah, because they’re always more interesting. That’s why I wanted to make the sheriff psychotic because if he was all good, he would be boring. But by getting William Forsythe, who already seems like a villain, just by his presence, and then having him become psycho, you’re sort of like… I knew that he would create a strong enough foe for them.
TSI: And it gets away from the very stereotypical sheriff model…
RZ: Yeah, because he’s not really a good guy. Well, he is good but he’s sort of like Charles Bronson in Death Wish or something.
TSI: Do you have any plans to revisit the Wydell brothers?
RZ: No, not really. I love all the characters and I would love to do another movie but I just don’t know what to do. It seems like the reason this movie works is because it ends. It has an ending and we don’t try to pick it back up.
TSI: Moving on to the forthcoming DVD release of The Devil’s Rejects, I’ve been watching the “making of” documentary 30 Days in Hell. It’s almost unprecedented to have a “making of” that runs for around two-and-a-half hours…
RZ: I know. It’s twice as long as the movie (laughs).
TSI: It’s really going to please the fans. Was that something you always had planned?
RZ: Yeah, we had a film crew starting early, as you can see in the documentary, when we first started, and I wanted to make a very real documentary, not like a phoney press kit talking about how wonderful everything is. Really to just have someone there all the time filming everything constantly. I love that stuff when it’s real. I love really seeing how movies are made so I thought that the fans would like to see something very real.
TSI: It’s almost the opposite of most of the “making of” documentaries we tend to see today, where they don’t actually reveal very much.
RZ: Yeah, on one hand I hate revealing anything because I think it hurts the magic of movies, but on the other hand, for fans of something like that, I wanted to show people just how exhausting it is to make a movie in 30 days. The amount of stuff… even for me, I’d be watching it, having forgotten, and go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we filmed that much on one fucking day.”
TSI: It’s also a real insight into how unglamorous filmmaking is.
RZ: It’s like, film, run to the next thing, film, run… It’s exhausting but also it’s the greatest experience in the world.
TSI: You obviously enjoy it.
RZ: Oh, I love it. I never wanted it to end. I wish we were shooting the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I mean, 30 days is so short.
TSI: How’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto coming along?
RZ: That’s going well. That should be finished ready for a theatrical release sometime in 2006.
TSI: Does that follow an adult theme or will it be for kids too?
RZ: It’s adult. It’s definitely not for kids. At this point it’s X-rated (laughs).