It’s 1:00 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, on Friday, July 22; and there’s only one thing on Rob Zombie’s mind. For two years he’s been waiting for this day – the day that his second major motion picture, The Devil’s Rejects, opens in theaters across the country. The word “excited” just doesn’t seem to cut it.
“It’s just crazy . . . the movie is probably playing somewhere right now,” says Zombie, who is currently touring with his solo band on the newest incarnation of the Ozzfest tour. It’s a day off for the traveling music circus, so there’s nothing to distract Rob from the anxious anticipation of the movie’s official launch. “The last two years have been built for this day,” Zombie continues. “Not that this day is what it’s all about, but it is exciting. Today is the day you kind of figure out what you’ve got, whether people are responding to it. Movies are a big mystery; you just don’t know until the movie is out what the deal is.”
In fact, one could say that this day was actually two decades in the making. It was 20 years ago, in 1985, when a band called White Zombie emerged from New York City’s underground metal scene to record their first EP Gods on Voodoo Moon. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to decipher that there was something different about this quartet. Perhaps it was their sound – a “dark and gloomy, half-paced thrash” – as some described it. Or perhaps it was the band’s vocalist, then known as Rob Straker (real name Robert Cummings), who had a penchant for writing song lyrics filled with references to old horror and sci-fi B-movies.
Whatever the case may have been, White Zombie was getting noticed. By 1991 the quartet found themselves signed to a major label, Geffen Records, and in 1992 they released the now legendary La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1. The album went double platinum while its popular single “Thunder Kiss ’65” earned the group a Grammy nomination. And while horror and sci-fi references had been relegated mostly to song lyrics on prior releases, they found themselves front and center on La Sexorcisto. Tracks like “Welcome To Planet Motherfucker,” “Cosmic Monsters Inc.,” and “Grindhouse (A Go-Go)” feature clips from such movies as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, and The Mummy, which allowed Zombie to further showcase his affection for the films that helped fuel his creative endeavors.
It wasn’t long after Rob Zombie had embarked on his solo career in 1997 that he revealed his desire to take his interest in horror movies one step further. It was then that House of 1000 Corpses was born, and by 2000 Zombie had already wrapped up production on his first major motion picture. The buzz around the film, both from Rob Zombie fans and horror aficionados, was that House of 1000 Corpses could be the savior of “true horror.” But those people would have wait: Though the film was originally picked up by Universal Studios, that studio found Corpses to be “too dark and disturbing under their corporate releasing guidelines.” It was three long years before Lions Gate Entertainment finally released the movie (albeit after some edits that brought the movie down to an R after an NC-17 rating was initially recommended).
For many House of 1000 Corpses was worth the wait. While it certainly paid homage to Zombie’s favorite horror flicks from the ’60s and ’70s, Corpses demonstrated Zombie’s own talents as both a screenwriter and director. By now dreadcentral.com readers have all seen it – or at least you should have – so there’s no need to get into a long diatribe on the many ruthlessly demonic merits of Corpses. Suffice it to say, Zombie now had a following both as a musician and as a film director.
Not surprisingly, the DVD for Corpses had barely hit the shelves before fans were clamoring for a sequel. And while The Devil’s Rejects both is and is not a sequel to that film (it’s more of a dark, violent Western than a horror movie in the classic sense), it puts everyone on notice that Rob Zombie’s movie career, like his music career, is clearly not a one-hit wonder.
Dave Manack: Movies are for entertainment of course. But with The Devil’s Rejects do you expect audiences will be entertained…or disturbed? Or both?
Rob Zombie: The number one point of a movie is to entertain people; it’s not the only thing, but it’s the main thing. If they’re being entertained, then you can do anything with them. You can make them feel good, you can make them feel bad, you can teach them something, you can do whatever. For a lot of people, they aren’t going to know how to feel with The Devil’s Rejects. I know a lot of the people who have seen it who have talked to me have said they loved it, but they were totally freaked out by it. These types of movies are a weird experience.
DM: As a musician, one of the biggest thrills is to be able to play the music you’ve written in front of a live audience and to see and feel their reaction to that music. Do you have the same feelings about your movies? In other words, would you like to be able to watch The Devil’s Rejects anonymously with a crowd of people to see and hear their reactions to it?
RZ: Maybe if I hadn’t already been in a few screenings, but I’ve done that a few times with Rejects. But I also find that to be a very nerve-racking thing to do. With live music, you can really gauge people’s response. But the way people watch movies is so different; sometimes people have no response whatsoever throughout the whole movie. But at the end of the movie, they’re like, “That was fucking awesome!” The times I have watched the movie with people…maybe if it were a comedy it would be easier, because you would hear the laughter [which did occur at the screening I attended in certain moments between the Firefly family — DM]. I know, for myself, I’m a pretty emotionless watcher because I get sucked in.
DM: You’ve already played a few dates with Ozzfest. Has there been a buzz among fellow Ozzfest bands and fans who have been waiting to see The Devil’s Rejects?
RZ: Every time I play a show the fans say they are dying to see it. They already have Rejects posters and T-shirts that they want signed; I feel almost as if I’m doing appearances for the movie! Guys in other bands have come up and told me, “I can’t wait to see this movie” and “I loved the last movie,” so it’s pretty cool.
DM: Famous athletes are always asked questions like, “How does your first Super Bowl win compare to your second?” In this case, how does the opening of The Devil’s Rejects compare to the opening of House of 1000 Corpses?
RZ: It’s definitely different. House of 1000 Corpses had a very small opening, except amongst hard-core horror people. There was very little fanfare or expectations or anything, really. Whereas with Rejects the opening is much, much bigger. It’s still small compared to your average blockbuster like Spiderman or Harry Potter, but it’s still a pretty wide opening. There’ve already been a lot of reviews – really good reviews – from mainstream outlets, which makes me feel very good but is very shocking at the same time. You know, Ebert and Roeper give it two thumbs up, and the New York Times loved it, and all these weird things like that.
DM: With a bigger opening is there any thought at the chance of debuting in the top two or three at the box office? [Note: This question was asked the day the film opened – DM.]
RZ: We really have no chance at all based on pure numbers. I think we’re opening on something like 1,500 screens, so there is a limited amount of money we can make. A movie like Bad News Bears, on the other hand, will open in 3,000 theaters. We could do the highest per screening average possible and still be number four. So that’s why I’m really not too concerned with that because it’s physically impossible. But it’s not about being number one; it’s about the movie succeeding on its own terms. And it’s hard to compete because you’ve got these movies like The Island, and their advertising campaign is probably $100 million. We’re definitely like David fighting Goliath. [After the first weekend The Devil’s Rejects, which debuted in 1,757 theaters, finished eighth at the box office. However, it had a higher per theater average than either The Island or The Bad News Bears, both of which debuted in over 3,000 theaters – DM.]
DM: With all of the reviews and all of the hype from the fans who loved Corpses, it seems that there is little doubt that Rejects will have a substantial impact at the box office, even with the release’s limitations. There is huge core following that wants your movie, and no one will be able to ignore that.
RZ: I hope it does great for myself, but I also hope it does great just to show that people do want to see different types of movies; that it doesn’t have to be formula Hollywood stuff. There is an audience for other things.
DM: And as I’ve heard you say in the past, as a musician you’ve felt the same way about the music industry – that it’s gotten too corporate and that we need to get back to the idea of giving real musicians a chance rather than this pre-packaged, Ashlee Simpson garbage.
RZ: That’s exactly the same thing. Most of the movies coming out right now are Ashlee Simpson in movie form. Just like these corporate, watered down, fake things. You watch these movies and you get the sense that these actors don’t give a shit, the directors don’t give a shit, nobody gives a shit. There’s no heart, no soul to a lot of the things coming out.
DM: With two motion pictures to your credit now, how did your craft as a filmmaker evolve from Corpses to Rejects, and what did you learn doing Rejects that will help you with your next film endeavor?
RZ: What I learned from Corpses to Rejects was huge because no matter what you think you know, you don’t know anything until you’ve actually made the movie. You just learn everything on every level from how to frame a shot to how to deal with actors to how to deal with effects to the daily schedule and the daily grind. Everything! On Rejects what I really learned is that the biggest value a movie can have is trying to get amazing performances out of your actors. That’s really what’s compelling. And that’s really what I tried to do with Rejects. With Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding), Bill Moseley (Otis), and William Forsythe (Sheriff Wydell), I don’t think they’ve ever been better in a movie than they were in this movie. By far it was their strongest performances ever. That’s the key.
DM: As you’ve suggested, The Devil’s Rejects is a very character driven movie with a very gritty, “real” feel to it, much different from the B-movie horror vibe of Corpses.
RZ: When the violence happens, it’s real and it’s nasty and it’s person to person; yet, it’s not a big, crazy splatterfest. Everyone gives a great performance; from Sheri (Moon-Zombie, who reprises her role as Baby) to Priscilla Barnes (Gloria Sullivan), everyone stepped it up to a place that, I think, people have been shocked. They say, “I didn’t think that person could ever act that well.”
DM: Is that what you are most proud of about Rejects? The fact that you were able to draw these performances from these actors?
RZ: Yes. If you can get a performance out of an actor that they didn’t even know they had in them, that’s a pretty great moment. That’s one of your main functions as a director.
DM: When Corpses debuted, you were considered Rob Zombie the rock star who was foraying into filmmaking. Can you see a day when it will be Rob Zombie the filmmaker who occasionally forays into music? Or will both always be equally important?
RZ: I think that as time goes on movies will take over. Not right at the moment but probably eventually. Movies are just so time-consuming to make that even a smaller movie like Rejects, from the time of conception to the finished movie, two years of your life have gone by. And it’s going to be harder and harder to disappear for years at a time and still keep a music career afloat.
DM: But as of now you are touring with your solo band on Ozzfest. While you played on the main stage in 1999 and 2002, you’ve elected to headline the second stage at this year’s Ozzfest. Obviously the second stage is a different experience – no seats, the mosh pits are plentiful, and the screaming, sweaty fans are just a couple of feet away.
RZ: It’s so much fun. It’s great, the band (completed by John 5 on guitar, Rob “Blasko” Nicholson on bass, and Tommy Clufetos on drums) is great, and we’re playing some songs we haven’t played in a long, long time.
DM: Is it true that you had to almost beg Sharon and Ozzy to “let you” be on the second stage?
RZ: Actually I had suggested it a few years ago, and it was before they started putting bigger bands on the second stage. She thought I was crazy; actually it was Ozzy that said (in his best Ozzy accent), “Don’t fucking do it; you’ll hate every minute of it. You’re craaazzzy!” So I did the main stage a couple of times. But this time I told I them I was going to do the second stage; that’s where the fun is at.
DM: You’re also in the middle of recording your new album, and you’re working with some great musicians including Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee and A Perfect Circle’s Josh Freese. Guitarist Wes Boreland is involved in writing your new album as well. Many people probably don’t know that there is much more to Wes than what they’ve heard from him in Limp Bizkit.
RZ: He’s great. The type of stuff we’ve been doing is much more in line with the type of thing he’s about. The darker, weirder music, for sure. You can tell he was always the freak in Limp Bizkit with the monkey suits and the painted faces and so on.
DM: How would you describe the music direction? Will it be much different than your previous Rob Zombie releases?
RZ: It’s very raw, not as polished and electric as the last records. It’s almost as if the music sounds the way Rejects looks. Much more raw and gnarly.
DM: When you say “raw,” White Zombie was very raw sounding band, especially in its early days and on La Sexorcisto. Are you returning to that type of songwriting and approach?
RZ: The only correlation is perhaps in the production but not in the songwriting or the style. With Wes Boreland and John 5, who will also play guitar on the record, they are very different guitar players than (Jay Yuenger) in White Zombie was. Tommy Lee and Josh Freese are just superior drummers. So musically it’s different. The raw vibe might be similar, but that’s about it.
Many thanks to Rob Zombie for talking time to talk with us on the day that The Devil’s Rejects opened in theaters across the country. And don’t forget to check Rob Zombie out on the Ozzfest second stage this summer as well as the few solo shows he’s doing in select cities.