The hard rocker turned horror auteur opens up about his upcoming gorefest, horror influences, the state of metal, and much more. “>
Rob Zombies horror movies dont just get under your skinthey get in your face, challenging your tolerance for murder and mayhem while simultaneously making you question why such fiendishness is so appealing. The rocker-auteurs latest, 31, is no different, detailing the gruesome ordeal suffered by a traveling carnival troupe after theyre abducted by psychos and forced to play a game in which they must survive for 12 hours against a horde or murderous clowns (including a Spanish Nazi little-person named Sick-Head)all while sadists in powdered wigs and aristocratic English outfits (led by Malcolm McDowell) wager on their fates.
What transpires is an all-out assault of grindhouse gruesomeness, and while the film wont receive its proper release until Oct. 21, it arrived in select theaters for one-night-only advance screeningsaccompanied by music videos and a Q&A with Zombiethis past week. During a moment of downtime on his nationwide tour alongside Korn in support of his latest album The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser (say that five times fast), Zombie spoke to us about his love of 70s horror cinema, 31s relationship to 2005s The Devils Rejects, the current state of heavy metal, and his fondness for his movie monsters.
Youre the rare modern filmmaker who seems to understand that memorably nightmarish visuals are more terrifying (and lasting) than jump scares. When youre conceiving a project, what comes first: the basic story idea or the images?
Sometimes, Ill have an image of something and Ill be like, I dont even know what this is for. You just see something in your head. But for the most part, [the films] just start as a vague idea, and thats it. Like a one-sentence idea where you go, OK, how do I flesh this out into something. Whos a part of this? What are the characters? Where is this going? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Thats usually the journey of it. For the movies I make, I was never really into jump scares. I was always more into just developing a world that you sink into when youre watching the moviebecause I think people sometimes think, Well, if I jumped, it was scary. And to me, sometimes you jump because you were startled. I like movies that, after the fact, you go, Oh, I cant stop thinking about this movie. Its really freaking me out. Did it scare me? I dont know, but I cant stop thinking about it, there was something disturbing about it.
2012s The Lords of Salem boasted a dreamy, unreal supernatural atmosphere, whereas your latest, 31, takes a grittier grindhouse-y approach to horror. Why that tonal shift?
I arrive at the tone based on what the story is. With The Lords of Salem, I toyed with it for a long time, because I could have made it more tonally like this  by the way the cameras moved, the way I lit it, the way I did things. Then I thought its story seemed like it wanted to be like an Italian art movie: slow, the cameras not moving a lot, the takes are drawn out, its more about the mood its creating, not the story its telling, where the whole movie feels like a dream. Thats what I always feel like when watching a [Dario] Argento film: I dont even know if this makes sense, it seems like a weird dream I had. Like Suspiria or something. With 31, it seemed like time to go back to something more grounded in a gritty sort of in-your-face reality. So tonally and style-wise, theyre totally different.
How did you come up with the premise for 31?
The idea came out in a funny way. Id been working on this movie Broad Street Bullies for like two yearsa true-life hockey film about the Philadelphia Flyersand it just wasnt going anywhere. Movies get caught up in this development phase, and youre like, God, this could go on for like 10 years. I was on the phone talking about it, and my frustration, and I go, I bet I could make up a movie right now on the phone, in one second, that we could sell and get made before I ever get this made. And I just blurted out, Five people get kidnapped on Halloween night and get taken to this place and they have to fight to survive against clowns. I almost said it as a joke. Then, on the other line, theres a pause, and then hes like, I think we could sell that. [laughs] So its weird how things go sometimes.
Broad Street Bullies has been in development for years, and youre now trying to make Raised Eyebrows (about the final years of Groucho Marxs life). Is it difficult getting such projects off the ground when youre so closely associated with horror?
Not really. At this point, its kind of all the same. The Groucho Marx film is good to go. That has been for a while. The only thing thats making that not happen yet wasIm not writing the script on that one. This other guy, Oren Moverman, who wrote Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson movie, and a bunch of other film, hes writing it. So hell write it, Ill get the script, Ill give him my notes, Ill give them back to him. Its just a much slower process. But as far as the money to make the film and all that type of stuff, its all in place and ready to go.
Broad Street Bullies was all good as far as me making the movie. It was just one of those thingsit was just a lot of cooks in the kitchen, because youre dealing with real-life people, youre dealing with an NHL franchise, youre dealing with so many things. There were just so many hurdles to get over. Whereas, when you just come up with an original idea, you dont have to answer to anybody. You just do it.
Like a number of your prior films, 31 has a distinctly 70s look and feel to it (and, in fact, its set in 1976). What is it about that eraand that eras horrorthat you find so appealing?
70s horror is almost like 70s punk rock, in a way: It existed, it happened, most people were not there for it, but for the people who were, it was just special. Now these films are so famous, but at the time, when youd go see these movies, you were seeing them in these shit theaters in the middle of nowhere. I never like to use the term grindhouse, but I was lucky enough to live in New York City in the early 80s and go to 42nd Street to see movies like Cannibal Holocaust or Make Them Die Slowly. And it was a crazy thing. I mean, you felt like you were going to get killed just being in the theater. They were filled with junkies and prostitutesit wasnt really like going to the movies, because it was 42nd Street. It was dangerous and weird and you always saw people get into fights and get stabbed. It was crazy!
The movies and the surroundings became one and the same, almost. And most people didnt know about these movies. They werent popular at the time. There was something special about them. There was just a vibe; they were movies being made for such a select audience that most people didnt know about. And I was fine with that. Thats what I liked about it. They were so different, so outside the mainstream. If you could even find one other person in your high school who had even heard of these movies back then, it would be a miracle. Now, with the internet, everybody knows everything, nothings special, everythings on a blu-ray, you can watch it whenever.
As you said, you were going for a hypnotic, Argento-style film with The Lords of Salem. Did any particular classics inspire 31?
Not really. Whenever Im working, I never look at other movies. You dont want to be influenced. Early on, you might look at stuff, or do research, but once youre in it, you dont. If anything, strangely enough, it was my own film The Devils Rejects that was the most influential on it. I never want to go back and try to recreate something Ive done, and I still didnt with this. But I wanted to capture that vibe again without remaking that movie.
You know, youre sort of always working against yourself once you have some success. The fans are comparing you to you all the time, and, Why dont you make another The Devils Rejects? And its like, Because I already made that movie, so why would I make another one? [laughs] But I would say 31 seems to me like a film that would satisfy that urge, as much as possible, without saying that thats what we were trying to do. Thats how it seemed to me, anyway.
In The Devils Rejects, and Halloween, and now in 31, it seems as if youre more interested in your monsters than your nominal protagonists. Is that a fair assessment?
Definitely. Thats what draws me in, because really, what exposed me to these films at first, when I was a kid, was the classic stuff. We didnt even call them horror movies (I dont even know when I first heard that term); we used to call them monster movies. And what drew you into them was Frankenstein, or the Wolf Man, or the Creature From the Black Lagoon, or King Kong. You were all about the monster. You werent all about [King Kongs] Fay Wray. Or all about [Frankensteins] Colin Clive. You were all about Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi.
Especially with Halloween, when youre going back to something that already exists, I thought it seemed silly to just do what had already happened. How can I take this sort of legendary story and flip it on its head? And I thought, well get inside Michaels head, rather than Lauries heador both their heads, but Michael more so, so the monster has some sort of other dimension to him, hes not just a ghostly shape in the shadows. Some people loved that, some people didnt, but it didnt matter. I just wanted to do something different, and I always thought I played Michael Myers more like he was Frankenstein. Because you know, all those monsters always had a sympathetic edge to them. There was always some sort of misunderstanding going on, or they were thrown into a world that they didnt understand, and what they did was horrible but they just didnt get it.
The Devils Rejects and 31s villains definitely get it, though.
With The Devils Rejects, theyre horrible and they get it, but I wanted to make them filled with personality so youre like, Why do I like the killers? Theyre horrible. Because they have pizzazz! People are always drawn to people with pizzazz. You know, if Charles Manson was boring we would never talk about him, but hes interesting, so we always talk about him. And with 31, it was the same thing: I wanted all the good people, who are all dirty carnies, to be interesting, and then we have the killers, who are all insane people. I always get bored when [in horror movies] youre given the most vanilla, nice people, and then there are the bad people. Im like, Give me a break! Where do these super-nice everyday people live? Those are always the victims.
Even with Halloween, people were like, The girls are too foul-mouthed, theyre too rough-edged. But they just seemed like regular teenage girls, because I made the crazy idea of casting teenagers as teenagers [laughs]. Thats how they were. You know, teenagers are not sweet and innocent, by any degree. So rather than casting 35-year-olds to play teenagers, I figured it was better to get someone who was 17 and see how they act.
Are there any current horror filmmakers you particularly admire right now?
Theres probably something Ive seen recently that was great, but I cant think of what it is off the top of my head. I dont just sit around watching horror movies by any means, and if I do, Ill probably go back and watch old stuff again. I know a horror movie was No. 1 at the box office this weekend [Dont Breathe], but I havent seen it. I thought that movie The Witch was cool. I dug that.
Youre on tour with Korn supporting your new album [The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser]. How is that going, and how do you find the current state of the music industry, especially given that hard rockand metal, in particularnow occupy such a small place in the mainstream?
Its two things. From my point of view, everything is great. Weve toured with Korn many, many times since 1999, when I think we did our first joint tour. And of all the times weve toured together, this is the biggest tour weve ever done. Every night is huge. Even when we go to bed, were like, What the hell, man? How can we be playing in front of 15,000 people every night? Its just huge. Its crazy. So from our point of view, its alive and well and everything is awesome.
But the other thing Ive also noticed is, most of the acts when we play festivalsits us, or older acts, that are at the top of the bill. So I can see how its not been a great environment for new bands to break through, because rock radio is struggling to survive, and music videos are just thrown onto YouTube. Theres nothing thats really driving it. So I do see how hard it is for newer bands. I wouldnt want to have to break through now, with so few outlets. Not that there were a ton back in the day, but at least you had [MTVs] Headbangers Ball, so you knew that at least for one second, your video would get some kind of national exposure. And you would always feel the repercussions of thatit would actually make quite a difference. So yeah, its botheverythings great, everythings bigger than its ever been, but on the other hand, depending on who you are, its a tough scene for people.