Hello, Mr. Zombie: An Interview with the Director of ‘Halloween’
by Gary Schultz
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Everyone at this point knows I love Rob Zombie, how influenced by his art I’ve been, and how excited I was to finally get to talk with him. I watched the minutes tick by on the clock, waiting for my phone to ring, and then it did. I let it ring once, to not appear desperate, and answered. It was Amy, from Rob’s management team. She asked me a few questions and put me on hold. Then, some really good reggae music started on the phone while I was on hold. I’m not sure what I expected to hear while on hold, but for some reason, not reggae (which I love). Then, Amy came back: “Gary, I’ve got Rob here…” This is my interview with the one and only master of monster-rock and metal, director of House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects…ROB ZOMBIE!
Gary Schultz: Rob, how’s it going?
Rob Zombie: Good. How are you doing?
GS: Fantastic. I have been following your career for almost 20 years. Your career has been so vast, and there’s so much I want to talk about, so let’s get started with the obvious, Halloween.
GS: Everyone knows your passion for horror, and in a day where remakes are everywhere, what made you choose to tackle re-imagining not only one of the most recognizable horror films of all time, but the biggest horror franchise in history?
RZ: Well, I suppose if you’re going to do it, you might as well start at the top, right? (laughs)
GS: (laughs) Good point.
RZ: No sense in remaking a movie nobody cares about. It was just the opportunity that arose. What I liked about it…well…the main thing was, a lot of these remakes don’t have a central character within them. Something like, say, Dawn of the Dead is about the concept of the whole thing, but there isn’t a central figure. What I like about Halloween is, there is a central figure, Michael Myers, who’s like Frankenstein or Dracula. He’s an iconic movie monster at the center of it all. That’s what’s most exciting—you get to retain a classic element. No matter how much you change it, you still have that.
GS: Would you call this a dream project?
RZ: Um…it’s pretty surreal. I had never thought about it before. This isn’t something that I had thought I wanted to do or had ever imagined. When it came up, it was kind of out of the blue. But it’s pretty cool to be able to do…well, you know, it becomes that more and more as it progresses. There’s so much work that you are just doing and you don’t really think about it. But if I stop and do think about it, you know, it’s Halloween, I have Malcolm McDowell—you realize it is pretty amazing.
GS: What can the fans expect from your version of Halloween?
RZ: What I was trying to accomplish was, I wanted to make it different than the original, because there’s no sense to make it like the original, but I wanted to retain the classic elements. And the main thing I wanted to do that I felt, as I think a lot of people did, is that Halloween and Michael Myers had really gone down the drain after seven sequels, and really was one step away from being sentenced to direct-to-video land. So what I wanted to do was go back and make a serious film that takes the subject matter seriously again.
GS: So, basically, after The Devil’s Rejects kicked everyone’s ass, the studios came to you and said, “Do you want to do Halloween?” Is that pretty much how it went down?
RZ: Well, I mean, many things came to me over the course of the year following The Devil’s Rejects, and this was definitely the most interesting.
GS: I love the way you cast your movies, long time horror and cult film stars, old television stars and actors with gritty aged faces. Malcolm McDowell is probably the only guy in the world that could replace Donald Pleasence. Can you talk about some of the amazing cast you have in Halloween?
RZ: I mean, I like to cast people that I’m a fan of. Even if it’s just from one movie, that’s all it takes. I mean, there’s so many great actors out there, like Ken Foree. Ken Foree is an amazing actor, who’s is just so under appreciated and so under seen. William Forsythe is an incredible actor. I like really interesting character actors who have a really strong presence. And I think for a lot of people that works against them, because if you put William Forsythe on screen with Tom Cruise, he’s gonna eat him alive because a lot of these guys, they’re just so magnetic that they just can’t work like they used too. But you know, if you watch an old Clint Eastwood movie, there will be Clint Eastwood with lots of these incredible character actors and that is just disappearing. I like to use all of them. I just think there are so many great people out there.
GS: This had to be probably the largest budget you’ve worked with. Has the studio been cooperative with the film?
RZ: The studio’s been amazing. The film is one hundred percent what I wanted to do. They gave me the money and gave me the freedom, and I pretty much ran with it. You know, you hear stories all the time about everything, but really, they’ve been great.
GS: That’s dynamite, especially after all the struggles of House of 1000 Corpses getting released.
RZ: The Devil’s Rejects was a great experience with Lions Gate, and this has been a great experience with Weinstein.
GS: One of my favorite features on The Devils Rejects DVD is the behind the scenes making-of documentary, 30 Days in Hell. It’s, like, two hours and follows everything. It’s almost a mini-film school. Any plans for something similar on the Halloween DVD?
RZ: Well, we shot one in very similar fashion, where we started in preproduction and shot everything. We haven’t edited it together yet, so I don’t know how it’s turned out, but we have it in the can.
GS: Did John Carpenter have any involvement in the remake of Halloween?
RZ: No, nothing at all.
GS: I know there’s a comic book, but what is going on with your animated film, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto?
RZ: Basically, nothing at the moment. I was working on that before Halloween came about, and I just had to put it on hold. I think they’re doing a little animation and still kind of working but it’s pretty much on hold. I couldn’t do two things at once. I wanted to focus one hundred percent on Halloween, so I didn’t even want to think about El Superbeasto until this was completely finished.
GS: Is this something you’ll finish after Halloween runs its course?
RZ: Oh, yeah, a lot of the movie is finished. All the voices are recorded, Paul Giamatti and the actors, most of the animation is done. A lot of it is finished. One good thing about animation: it can hold. It can sit on a shelf and it’s not going to affect it.
GS: I’ve seen you in concert, since 1994, about 20 times. I saw you last fall here in Chicago with the new band, a stripped-down stage show, and I thought it was the best I’ve heard you sound in years. I was blown away. What’s the plan with your music career? Will you completely phase it out or will you still continue to put out albums and tour?
RZ: Well, I have a live record coming out finally that we recorded on the last tour. Starting in October, I’ll be back on tour.
GS: Any plans for a new record in the next couple of years?
RZ: Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t have anything scheduled at the moment. I’m gonna do the live record, tour, and see what happens.
GS: You’ve been a songwriter for years. What is you’re approach to writing a screenplay, compared to songwriting?
RZ: They’re totally different, and totally the same. I mean, it’s a totally different animal, but at some point, you just have to sit down and start writing. With a screenplay, I’m working on one now, and what I do for a long period of time is, as I think of things, I write them down. I have tons of notes. Oh, this could be a cool situation, this could be a cool character, this could be a cool this or that…I slowly start compiling it all and making sense of it.
GS: I have some fan boy questions for you. Who are some of your favorite film directors?
RZ: Arthur Penn is one of my favorite directors. Don Siegel, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg those are some of my favorites.
GS: Do you have a favorite horror film? Or is that too vast of a question to answer?
RZ: As far as more modern stuff, and by modern I mean still kind of old…Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Tobe’s Chainsaw Massacre, but as far as classic stuff, you know, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein—those are always my favorites.
GS: Any films you love that people may not know about or heard of?
RZ: Well, I don’t know if that’s possible with DVDs now, but there’s a Paul Schrader movie called Hardcore—George C. Scott is this Christian guy and his daughter runs away to L.A. and gets involved in pornography. It’s an older film I just love.
GS: You have legally changed your name to “Zombie,” right?
RZ: Yeah, like one thousand years ago.
GS: So when the electric bill comes to the house it says Rob Zombie…?
RZ: I don’t know what it says. It never seems to come to the house. I think we’re getting free electricity.
GS: Are you planning a cameo on Entourage anytime soon?
RZ: Not as far as I know. Although I do really like that show.
GS: I think everybody likes Entourage.
RZ: It can be stressful to watch.
GS: The constant cliffhangers at the end of each episode?
RZ: No, just because what’s going on in the show sometimes is going on in my real life. It’s the same thing as watching Spinal Tap when you’re on tour—sometimes it isn’t funny. It’s just stressful.
GS: Rob, Halloween comes early this year.
RZ: Yeah… August 31st.
GS: It’s been a pleasure, Rob. Good luck with the film.
RZ: Yeah, man, thanks a lot!
Gary Schultz is a filmmaker and film critic living in Chicago.
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