Kim Lakin-Smith

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

Category: Music

I, Zombie

Originally published in Matrix 187 on 07.03.2008

  • House of a 1000 Corpses released 3 October 2003
  • The Devil’s Rejects released 5 August 2005
  • Halloween released 28 September 2007
  • The Haunted World of El Superbeasto released 2008
  • Future project: Rob Zombie’s Tyrannosaurus Rex

RobZombie_title

Rob Zombie – ‘hellbilly’ rock star, film and video director, inductee of the ‘Splat Pack’, vegetarian, comic book illustrator and author, graphic artist, shameless self-promoter, and ruler of a worldwide merchandise empire. Whether invested with a Godzilla sized ego or just the drive to try his hand at anything that has ever inspired him, Rob is a modern phenomena in the vein of a few other brash individuals who refuse to be boxed – Gene Simmons, Richard Branson, Paris Hilton…Thankfully, Hilton’s love of horror died with her in 2007’s box-office meltdown, The House of Wax. In contrast, Rob has paid homage to the visuals and visceral of 1930s/40s horror movies in every aspect of his colourful career.

He was born Robert Cummings on January 12, 1966, in Haverhill, MA. Despite the apparent allure of his parents’ lives as carnival workers, Rob relieved his boredom with the horror-based b-movies, TV shows, comics, and gory iconography littering his youth. He moved to New York in 1985, but dropped out of an art school education to work as a bike courier and porn mag art director. His break into visual media was as a production assistant on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. At the same time, his legendary rock band, White Zombie, dredged itself up from the quagmire of the music industry.

Rob-Zombie2 Named after the 1932 film starring Bela Lugosi, White Zombie combined the noise metal exemplified by Sonic Youth with songs that served as cartoonish gore-fests – ‘I, Zombie’, ‘Acid Flesh’, ‘El Phantasmo And The Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama’, and ‘Creature of the Wheel’ to name a few. Rob also moved into direction and production via White Zombie’s music videos. These featured pseudo-satanic imagery and another of his great passions, now-wife Sherri Moon Zombie.

In 1996, Rob collaborated with his long-time inspiration Alice Cooper on ‘Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)’ for the X-Files tie-in CD, Songs in the Key of X. The song was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Metal Performance’, but lost out to Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Happiness in Slavery’. But it was a sign to the rest of the band – by 1998, White Zombie had disbanded and Rob was riding high on the success of his solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe – a kitsch-doused ode to vintage horror.

Around the same time, Rob was extending his tenticular reach into film. His first bid was with a doomed script for The Crow: Salvation (2000). He was also supposed to direct and supervise music for the franchise, but clashes with producers led to his being fired from the movie – or as Rob put it, “They hire you and suddenly they don’t trust you. And you say ‘Well, why did you hire me?’ and they say ‘We can’t tell you.'” (Testament to Rob’s scripting skills, or megalomaniacal tenacity, was the fact his Crow script morphed into Legend of the 13 Graves.)

house_of_1000_corpses_wallpaper_001 Nonetheless, 2000 did see Rob realise his directing and writing ambitions. Cult favourite, House of 1000 Corpses, was funded by Universal Studios after Rob designed a horror display for their amusement parks. Geared towards grindhouse and drive-in horror movies fans, the film was a feast of graphic violence, labyrinthine entrapment and visceral imagery, with characters taking their names from horror and classic Marx Brothers films such as Otis Driftwood, Captain Spaulding, etc. It was also a promotional nightmare as far as Universal was concerned. Fearing an NC-17 rating, they dropped the film. Consequently, Rob fought for three years to secure a new distributor. Lions Gate Entertainment eventually secured the rights – and ultimately made back all of their money on the first day of release. While the critics hated it, Corpses was commercially successful, achieving cult status thanks to the internet and spawning a sequel.

While Corpses owed a debt to 1970’s slasher classics, The Devil’s Rejects (2005) was part road-movie, part action film, and shared traits with the western revenge genre. Rob originally intended to create all of the special effects using only techniques from the 1970s, but time constraints meant that he was forced to include around one hundred digital effects. In most cases, these were to simulate gore, throat slitting, people getting shot in the head or neck, stabbings and other garish ways to induce death. Moreover, in an increasingly rare move for Hollywood – land of serialise-it-and-keep-reeling-em-in – Rob killed off his lead characters. His defence? “Every movie ends with the possibility of another one and it drives me crazy. I feel like, ‘Why did I just invest two hours? It didn’t even end.'”

devils_rejects_004

Despite its neatly tourniqueted ending, Rejects was another victim for the film critics. Frank Schrek of The Hollywood Reporter declared that the film ‘lives up to the spirit but not the quality of its inspirations’ and is ‘strangely devoid of thrills, shocks or horror,’ while Clint Morris of Film Threat condemned the film as ‘sickening’ and ‘an hour and a half of undecipherable plot.’ Nonetheless, Rejects fared considerably better financially than its predecessor, and led Rob to try his hand at a hallucinatory sequence in the animated film, Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, and a faux trailer called Werewolf Women of the S.S. for the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino doublefeature, Grindhouse (2007).

* 70’s rock icon Linda Ronstadt praised Rob in the Cape Cod Times, stating that her teenage son has exposed her to his music and “There’s real power and energy there.”

* The song ‘Meet the Creeper’ was featured in the trailers for the movie Jeepers Creepers 2.

*‘Living Dead Girl’ is the opening song for Bride Of Chucky.

* In the episode “Home Alone 4” of comedy series Malcolm in the Middle, one of the characters, Richie, is seen wearing a T-shirt with the Hellbilly Deluxe album art on the front.

* In The Matrix, a remix of the song ‘Dragula’ is played during the nightclub scene in which Neo meets Trinity.

Certainly, then, a key aspect of Rob’s personality would appear to be a bloody-minded exploration of his unique creative vision and screw the consequences. This was never more acute than in his agreeing to direct a new version of John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick, Halloween (1978). Well aware that fans of the original would vehemently oppose a remake, Rob was keen to take up the gauntlet laid before him by producer, Bob Weinstein, and run with it, proclaiming Michael Myers one of the few modern iconic monsters. Less remaking the film as reimagining it, Rob created a backdrop to Myers’ psychoses by exploring the killer’s motivation for murdering members of his own family and consequent institutionalisation as a child. None of this was enough to protect Rob from his own personal slasher attack by the critics on the film’s release, and while the film’s hefty budget ensured that it grossed more than $77.8 million worldwide, its shortfall arguably lay in the fact that Halloween (2007) was not ‘Rob Zombie’ enough.

So what’s next for a man who owns a sarcophagus, taxidermied bats, a giant Boris Karloff poster, and a purported 10,000 DVDs? Rob is slated to direct a new movie for Dimension Films called Rob Zombie’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, a loose adaptation of his comic book, The Nail. 2008 will also see the release of The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, an animated comedy based on the continuing adventure of Doctor Satan, a lead character from Corpses. In between his cinematic duties, Rob continues to tour the US in his guise as rock ‘n’ roll super villain, all of which goes to prove that he is indeed More Human Than Human.

2007_halloween_008

Thirst for the Undead

July 2010 is Vampire Awareness Month over at the blog of writer, editor, publisher, reviewer, filmmaker, and self-confessed cad, Mark Deniz. Continue reading

Pump Up The Volume: The Sound of Steampunk

While continuing to pay homage to its literary origins, noughties’ Steampunk has evolved into a veritable subculture in its own right. Dark aesthetics, combined with a flare for antique fashion, laboratorial curiosities, cybernetics, and the reengineering of all manner of rogue mechanicals, were always destined to appeal to the goth, punk, cyber and industrial contingent. But Steampunk has also cast a wider net; its ‘period’-feel seducing anyone with a soft spot for Victoriana and alternative histories.

Fans have now come to embrace Steampunk, or ‘Steam’ as it is sometimes known, as a culture, a community and a lifestyle. ‘Neo-Victorianism’ infiltrates every aspect of their lives, from fashion to interior design to transport to music.

However, while it is fairly easy to label what constitutes Steampunk attire – corsets, petticoats, suits, goggles, laced boots, etc – Steampunk music is less well-defined. Online discussions list artists as varied as NIN for Closer, the train-like beat of the piano giving it a new world feel, Tom Waites for his use of distortion, electronics and accordion, Björk for her fusion of electronica, roaring twenties’ big band sounds and industrialism, and even Queen for their music-hall spirited, A Day At The Races. And while purists cite classical music or early nineteenth century recordings played on a hand-cranked gramophone, most aficionados agree that any modern performer whose music or stage show evokes a sense of the Victorian era can be classified Steampunk.

Yet even that margin is too small. To do the Steampunk music genre justice, we need to acknowledge a theatrical mélange of artists and artistic styles: gothic, new world, vaudevillian, Brechtian dark cabaret, Eastern European, chamber music, vintage jazz, and more.

Below is a taster of just some of the artists classified Steampunk:

Abney Park

abneyParkGroup

In 2005, Seattle’s Abney Park released Taxidermy which showcased new versions of songs from previous albums, three live tracks and two covers. This album also heralded a switch in stylings from goth/industrial to Steampunk. Reinventing themselves as roving time travellers and airship pirates, the five-strong group continue to attribute their new, eclectic sound to the strange instruments and exotic musical influences lifted from the numerous locations and eras they have visited. In their own words, ‘Expect clockwork guitars, belly dancers, flintlock bassists, Middle-Eastern percussion, violent violin, and Tesla powered keyboards blazing in a post-apocalyptic, swashbuckling, Steampunk musical mayhem.’

recommended tracks: Airship Pirate, Sleep Isabella, The Secret Life of Doctor Calgori

Visit www.abneypark.com for band news, event details, and a market place selling Steampunk attire including leather flight helmets, airship crew dogtags, safari clothing and other gear.

Vernian Process

vernian-process-steampunk3

San Francisco’s Vernian Process take their name from the works of 19th century author and one of the forefathers of the science fiction genre, Jules Verne. They describe themselves as a Darkwave band influenced by Victorian scientific romance and contemporary Steampunk. Founder, Joshua A. Pfeiffer, has made it his intention to take listeners on a cinematic journey, encompassing ‘Industrial complexes, angelic cathedrals, misty cobblestone alleyways, ancient forests, war-torn ruins, deep undersea caves, rotting clock towers, and all manner of timeless dreamscapes.’

In 2008, Vernian Process started work on the soundtrack for the steampunk themed videogame, Shades of Violet: The incredible Adventures of Violet Vendetta for Fly Games Studio.

Visit www.post-punk.com/vernianprocess.html for more information.

Unextraordinary Gentlemen

UnextraordinaryGentlemen5

Unextraordinary Gentlemen have their roots firmly in the Victorian fantasy fiction genre. The bass guitar is used to represent a ‘punk’ element, a drum machine conjures up the steam-driven engine, and keyboards introduce sounds reminiscent of Victorian-era instruments such as strings, brass, and piano. Guitars and live drums are banned. They describe their sound as post-punk, synth-pop, industrial and experimental, and cite artists such as Nick Cave and Tom Waits as their major influences. Their songs range from the darkly humorous to the dour and the self depreciating, but all are infused with a sense of dramatic flair and spectacle.

recommended tracks: Mr. Soot’s Little Black Book, All You Want, Black Iron Road, Frozen Mood

Visit www.unextraordinarygentlemen.com for more information.

Vagabond Opera

VagabondOpera

The Vagabond Opera exists in homage to all aspects of bohemian cabaret. Theirs is truly a spectacular Spectacular, with belly dancing, neo-classical opera in eleven languages, kitsch Americana, Yiddish theatre, and European bonhomie. Originating in Portland, USA, the six-piece ensemble features trained operatic tenor and soprano vocals, accordion, tenor and alto saxophones, cello, stand-up bass, drums, and, on occasion, a burlesque hoola-hooping fire performer.

recommended tracks: Marlene, Svi Te Terran, Goodnight Moon

Visit www.vagabondopera.com for more information.

Rasputina

Rasputina3

Cellist Melora Creager played with Nirvana and, after founding Rasputina, toured with Bob Mould, Porno for Pyros and, most notably, Marilyn Manson. In 1997, the band’s EP Transylvanian Regurgitations was remixed by Manson.

A 3-piece mostly comprised of cellists, Rasputina describe their sound as chamber-rock. Their appreciation for antiquities is reflected in a love for Victorian apparel and period stylings for publicity shots and stage shows. Hard to pigeonhole, their music is bewitching dark and angelically ethereal.

recommended tracks: Transylvanian Concubine, Cage in a Cave, Coraline on the Neil Gaiman tribute album Where’s Neil When You Need Him?

Visit www.rasputina.com for more information.

Other recommended listening: The Peculiar Pretzelmen, Skeleton Key, Decemberists, The Birthday Massacre, The Dresden Dolls, Johnny Hollow, Beat Circus, Bat For Lashes

Wildcards –

Gogol Bordello

Gogol

Their inclusion here may be arguable, but in some aspects, Steampunk is all about the fusion of world music with futuristic sensibilities. No one does this better than New York’s Gogol Bordello, a multi-ethnic Gypsy punk band from the Lower East Side who are renown for their theatrical stage shows. Their Eastern European sound blends accordion, fiddle, and saxophone with an eclectic punk cabaret to create a feast for the ears and eyes so appealing that Madonna cast them in her 2008 film, Filth and Wisdom.

recommended tracks: Wonderlust King, American Wedding, Start Wearing Purple

Visit www.gogolbordello.com for more details.

Sarah Slean

SarahSlean

A classical piano major, Sarah fashions a truly unique sound that is part vintage jazz singer, part vaudevillian pianist, part crystalline vocals. Twice Juno and twice Gemini Award nominated, Canadian Sarah is a performer, artist and poet with a world-wide fan base.

recommended tracks: Pilgrim, Last Year’s War, Lucky Me

Visit www.sarahslean.com for more details.

Other sites of interest:
www.clockworkcabaret.com – a weekly music radio show.
http://steampunkworkshop.com – detailing steampunk projects.
www.brassgoggles.co.uk – blog reporting on all things steampunk.
www.steampunklab.com – for inventions of a curious sort

© 2018 Kim Lakin-Smith

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑