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
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.
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.)
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.'”
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.