Q & A With Rob Zombie
When you’re a musician who has built his whole persona around horror movies—christening your first band after an obscure 1930s Bela Lugosi film, decorating your house with dead things, and, well, naming yourself something like Rob Zombie—and you decide to actually make horror movies yourself, you’d better be ready for some serious scrutiny. Imagine if a guy who named himself Johnny Homer ended up sucking at baseball, and you get the idea.
Of course, Zombie has proven that a lifelong love affair with ghouls and demons has, indeed, made him the ideal man to set pulses racing and send audience members running for the exits—or, in some cases, into walls (but we’ll let him tell that story). After he hit us with the double-barrel nastiness of House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, he took on fright icon Michael Myers in a bold remake of Halloween. The success of that film has led to H2, a sequel he promises will be “off the rails.” From a guy who’s literally seen it all—from the inner workings of Pee-wee’s Playhouse to his own face tattooed on people’s bodies—that’s not something you should take lightly.
INKED: When did you get your first tattoo?
ROB ZOMBIE: It was 1989 or so, and I had been hearing a lot about this one tattoo artist, Guy Aitchison, from somebody I knew who was friends with him. I saw his work and I was like, Wow, that’s pretty amazing. When that guy comes to town, I’ll get a tattoo. That’s pretty much what happened.
Did you already know what you were going to get, or did you work it out with him when you went to get it?
I had no idea, and I pretty much drew something up, like, an hour before I went over there.
Have you stayed with Guy, or are there new shops and artists you go to?
I had gone to Guy pretty regularly for a while. I mean, I was living in New York and he was in Chicago, so if he came to New York I would get a tattoo and if I passed through Chicago I would usually get something. Then he sort of disappeared off the scene a little bit, but I met someone who had apprenticed under him. I started to get tattoos from her because her style was kind of similar and I sort of wanted mine to look fairly cohesive and not look random.
What was your first tattoo?
It was kind of a ridiculous tattoo in a way—it’s sort of Robert Williams-ish. It’s a big chrome skull with a cowgirl sitting on top of it with these eyeballs shooting out of the skull and wrapping around. It was kind of ridiculous, and it took, like, eight hours—which was probably a big mistake for a first tattoo.
Did they get easier for you over time?
I think it gets worse as time goes on. I feel like getting tattooed less and less with every year that goes by, and every time I get a tattoo it gets smaller and smaller. I have less and less patience for it. Like I said, my first tattoo was eight hours, then the next one was seven, then six, then five, then four, then three, then two, and now it’s like, “Is this going to take more than a fucking hour?” [Laughs.] I don’t know what it is. I’m glad I did it all when I was younger.
Do fans ever request tattoo designs from you?
Yeah, all the time. I don’t comply. I think I did in the early days when I had time for shit like that, but I haven’t done that in so long. I can’t remember. Usually the only thing that I do now is people will come up and go, “Oh, sign my arm, I’m gonna go get it tattooed.” That happens a lot. I try and talk them out of it, but they do it anyway.
What’s the worst White Zombie tribute tattoo you’ve ever seen?
Nothing that stuck in my head. I’ve just been shocked by how large some of them are. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of tattoos of my face on people. Sometimes that is actually quite shocking—how large they are. I’m like, “Really? You want someone else’s face that’s actually larger than your own face on your body?” But it is what it is, I guess. It’s flattering, but it’s pretty extreme.
You’ve just finished H2, the sequel to your Halloween remake. Were you freer to really do your own thing this time around?
That’s totally been the case. In the first movie, I sort of created the origin of my version of Michael Myers, and some elements of the first film—like the second half—were John Carpenter-esque. … Now, in the follow-up, I’m totally off the rails. I don’t feel like I need to adhere to anything. It has nothing to do with the original Halloween sequel.
You work with your wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, in all of your films—is there a downside to that?
Probably more of a downside for her. A lot of actors, they don’t have to deal with hearing about everything. There are a lot of problems with every movie that the director deals with and the producers know about, but the actors are usually completely oblivious to it. Not in her case. She has to hear all about it. It probably drives her crazy. In fact, I know it does. [Laughs.]
Speaking of problems, it seems as though you’ve consistently run into interference when it comes to the content of your films. Does fighting for every inch get exhausting?
It’s completely exhausting at all times, because—I don’t know if it’s just the nature of the way I see the world—but it seems like every project that I set out to do has to be a fight. You spend more time fighting and battling than actually working on the creative aspect of the film. You sometimes hit a wall and go, Why do I even do this? I can’t even remember why this was fun. I’m so busy fighting with people over money issues and scheduling, it’s crazy. Making movies is awesome, but with everything that’s great there’s a lot of downside that comes with it. If it were easy, everybody would do it.
But is that a good sign, maybe?
If the studio loved everything maybe the end result would be too vanilla? I don’t know if anyone ever has an easy time, truthfully, with anything. Making movies is just crazy, and … the more success you have, the harder it gets. You kind of fool yourself that somehow it’s going to get easier, and it seems to get even more difficult. When you’re flying under everybody’s radar, no one’s paying attention, but as soon as something is a certified box office hit, now everyone’s paying attention. And that always makes things harder. It’s like, when you’re just some band playing clubs, it’s easy. But as soon as you have a platinum record, suddenly everyone’s paying attention.
Was going from music into movies always a plan of yours, or did it just happen as it happened?
It was always my plan, basically. I directed all the [White Zombie] videos and it was always something I wanted to do—it’s just not an easy transition. In fact, it’s a virtually impossible transition.
Why do you say that?
It’s hard to be successful in one field and try to move to another field. It’s hard to do, mostly because you’re kind of asking for lightning to strike twice. If you’re unknown at something, people are more likely to give you a break than if you’re successful at something else. Because the fact that you were successful at something else makes them think that means you can’t be doing this. So that’s a little weird, but it kind of happens that way.
You directed Ozzy Osbourne’s “Dreamer” video. How good was Ozzy at taking direction?
It’s kind of like anyone you work with: Once you know the person—I knew Ozzy by that point—you don’t bang your head against the wall trying to get somebody to do something you know they’re not going to be able to do. You sort of play to their strengths. And I know that he, um, doesn’t have the longest attention span. [Laughs.] So you kind of want to get through it and not let him get bored and plow through the work. But it was fun. I’m happy with that video.
For a few years, you designed attractions for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios theme parks. Did you ever try to do something that they thought was over the line?
They were fine with anything, which was kind of surprising, actually. I remember one part we were showing, on these big screens, real autopsy footage—they didn’t care! They literally let us do anything we could think of. We tried to push everything as far as we could, and we made it pretty extreme. It was pretty terrifying. We had to shut the ride down many times for people who were literally so scared they knocked themselves out. Me and my friends would hide in there, in costume, scaring people. That was a blast. People would just scream and run. This one girl ran straight into a wall and knocked herself out cold. So we shut it down and had to bring in a stretcher. It is amazing how scared people will become. They would react as though it were real. Funniest thing I ever saw.
That sensibility extends to your home decor, too, which leans toward lots of gothic art and taxidermy. What’s the oddest dead thing you’ve ever gotten as a gift?
Wayne Toth is the makeup effects guy on all my movies, and he gave me a bear that mounts on the wall, and it sort of looks like it’s crashing through the wall. That was pretty cool.
Is it true that one of your earliest jobs was on Pee-wee’s Playhouse?
Yes. I was just, like, a production assistant. That was in 1984, I think. It was the first season. It was funny, though, because one of the cameramen on Pee-wee’s Playhouse was actually the cameraman who shot The Devil’s Rejects and both Halloween movies. But we hadn’t talked to each other in over 20 years until [we reunited] just by chance. I thought that was pretty wild. Small world.
Are you satisfied just putting your stamp on the Halloween franchise, or are there other established horror properties you’d like a shot at?
No, I’m happier doing my own stuff, really. Doing the Halloween films has been very cool, but when you do your own stuff—which is getting harder and harder to do these days because nobody actually wants to produce anything original anymore—it’s more fun because there are no rules and there’s no preconceived ideas of what it’s supposed to be. And Halloween comes with a lot of the fans and things, and they go, “Well, it’s supposed to be like this…” And I’m like, “According to who?” There’s no official rule book you’re supposed to follow. So that’s what’s cool when you do your own stuff. Everyone’s just watching it with no preconceived notion of what they think it’s supposed to be.
What’s the status of your movie Tyrannosaurus Rex?
There was a poster, a rumored 2009 release date, then nothing. That movie hasn’t been made yet. I would like that to be the next film that I do, and it quite possibly might be. Unfortunately, it got announced way too early that it was going to be my next movie, and it was never really officially my next movie. And then Halloween 2 came up. So I’m hoping it’s the next thing I do. I’m going to finish [H2], I have a record done, I’m going to release a new album, go on tour, and then after that, hopefully, T-Rex.
Is there any chance of a White Zombie reunion?
No, that’s over with. We haven’t played together since 1995 or something. That’s a long time ago. That’ll never happen. And it shouldn’t happen, either. Not only would it not work, but it wouldn’t be good. People remember it a certain way and are like, “Oh, it would be so great.” No, it wouldn’t. Better to remember it the way you remember it. Things are trapped in time in your mind and you’re remembering how you saw it when you were in high school and it was so cool. Then you see it 20 years later and you’re like, “Ack! Shit. This isn’t how I remember it.” I’m not big on going backward. If you were there and you saw it, great.
So is there anything left that still disturbs or freaks out Rob Zombie?
No. I’m pretty numb at this point.