The heroes in Rob Zombie’s movies have more in common than an inclination to stab random strangers. They all share—how can I say this kindly?—a lower income tax bracket. They have greasy hair and American flag t-shirts and an unironic appreciation for the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, especially when it’s used for a bloody final stand-off with the cops (as it was in Zombie’s 2005 opus, The Devil’s Rejects). It’s never stated explicitly, but they probably vote Republican, have a red-state Zip code, and hate big city queers. They live in squalor, love their family holidays (particularly Halloween), and as one Zombie character has openly confessed, they’ve at least “thought about fucking some chickens.” When they kill someone, it’s not just because they’re psychotic (although that’s certainly part of it). More often than not, murder is class warfare. In Zombie’s first film, 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses (which the New York Post lovingly described as a “demented dung heap”), a kidnapped cheerleader was repeatedly tortured and raped while being reminded that she’s a “middle-class Barbie piece of shit.”
I called Zombie to talk about his latest piece of cinéma de gore, Halloween 2 (which opens nationwide on August 28th), the sequel to his 2007 remake of the horror classic. Although his first attempt at overhauling the franchise broke box office records, it met with a tepid response from some critics and fans, mostly because Zombie spent a little too much time exploring Michael Myers’s backstory. Do we really care that the murderous maniac with the William Shatner mask had a unpleasant childhood, growing up with a stripper mom and a drunken cripple dad? Probably no more than we cared about Darth Vader’s pre-asthmatic adolescence. Only time will tell if Halloween 2 features more gore and less exposition, but this much is certain: as with every other movie in the Rob Zombie oeuvre, there’ll be plenty of redneck high jinks.
Eric Spitznagel: Given that your entire film canon is devoted to homicidal psychopaths, is it fair to assume you have more than just a casual interest in serial killers?
Rob Zombie: (Laughs.) I’m something of an enthusiast, yeah.
Do you have a favorite non-fictional serial killer?
I love ’em all. Not, you know, as people or anything, but they all make for great stories. I think Henry Lee Lucas is probably one of my favorites.
He’s the guy who killed something like 600 people, right?
Yeah. That’s the story, anyway. There was a movie based on him called Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that came out a while back. He and his buddy Ottis Toole were just a couple of deranged rednecks. But given his upbringing, y’know, it’s just not that surprising. Some of these guys, you think, “What would make a person do something like this?” And then you read about their upbringing and you’re like, “Oh, okay, well I guess that might do it.”
How does a crappy home life turn somebody into a deranged killing machine?
I’ve read so many books about these guys, I start confusing their backstories. But with Henry and Ottis, I remember it was pretty horrible. Stripper moms, alcoholic dads, I think they were both forced to dress up like girls at some point. Henry killed his mom and raped her corpse, and Ottis had a thing for arson and cannibalism. They were into some really perverted stuff, like having sex with dead animals and that kinda thing.
So these guys were a class act.
(Laughs.) Pretty much, yeah. They had a lot going on.
Most of the A-list serial killers were also amateur artists. Charles Manson was a struggling folk musician, John Wayne Gacy painted clowns. What is Michael Myers’s secret artistic ambition?
I think he works in pastels. Actually, no, he’s probably one of those guys down at the Venice boardwalk, drawing caricatures for tourists. You pay him $10 and he’ll do a drawing of you with a big head and a tiny little body driving a car or jet skis, something like that.
Why do the psychos in horror movies always go after the hot girls? Aren’t fatties worth butchering too?
I try to murder everyone equally in my films. I try to cast people across the board to be believable, so it’s not, “Oooh, there’s the girl with the giant boobs. She’ll be dead soon.” It’s like in any episode of Star Trek, when the landing party from the Starship Enterprise beams down to a new planet and it’s always the guy in the red shirt who gets killed first.
You also enjoy murdering comics. Brian Posehn get shot in the head in The Devil’s Rejects. Rainn Wilson was mutilated beyond recognition in 1000 Corpses. Do you just like to make funny people suffer?
I didn’t really know that Rainn Wilson was a comedian when I cast him. He was just a guy who came in and auditioned for that part. So it’s never anything I did intentionally. Brian Posehn is a friend and I knew he was a fan of horror movies, so I wanted to get him in the movie somehow. What’s great about comics is they have such great timing. Sometimes they can take dry material and make it something special. Mary Birdsong, who’s sort of a comedic actress, plays Dr. Loomis’s publicist in Halloween 2, and I think she’s amazing.
Horror films tend to be thinly-veiled morality tales. They’re basically warning teenagers about the perils of extramarital sex. What’s the moral lesson of your movies?
I don’t think my movies have a lesson. Or if they do, I guess it’s that it’s a fucked up world and you are probably fucked.
Bravo, sir. An inspiring message of hope for future generations.
(Laughs.) Yeah, the kids can learn a lot from that.
I think there’s something to be learned from Michael Myers about patience. He really knows how to take his time. He never runs after any of his victims, just kinda ambles behind them at a casual stroll.
I would say he’s the tortoise, not the hare.
Who do you identify with in your films; the one doing the murdering or the one with their insides being splattered all over the floor?
Everyone in my movies is me, in one form or another. I only know me, so eventually every character becomes me.
It’s impossible not to psychoanalyze that. Are you telling us your films are some sort of self-destruction fantasy?
(Laughs.) No, no, it’s nothing like that. Everything in the movie is a reflection of how I think or feel. If somebody says something insane or does somebody crazy, I’m probably like, “I know somebody who acts like that. I know somebody who talks like that. I know somebody who’s said that exact thing.” It’s all very much me. Who else do I know? I can’t make it about you, I don’t know you.
The characters in your movies tend to be… I don’t want to say white trash. They’re… economically challenged. Is there some significance to that?
Not really, no. Everything in my movies is just based on what I know. And growing up, that’s just how I remember things. Where I come from, that’s how people talked and looked and acted.
Jesus Christ, Rob. Were you raised by carnies?
(Laughs.) Not at all. Remember the character Otis from House of 1000 Corpses? He was the long-haired, weird albino guy. When I was growing up, there was this family of albinos that lived down the street and they were fucking weird, man. They all had long, stringy hair, and they all looked like Edgar Winter. As a filmmaker, you just pull things from your life.
So this family of albinos that lived near you, roughly how many kidnapped cheerleaders were chained in their shed?
I have no idea. I figured they probably had at least a few.
The killers in your movies have some impressive skills. The Devil’s Reject family in particular are really, really good at skinning a person’s face off. How does somebody with their economic limitations learn that level of craftsmanship?
Well, I think you start first with an orange, and then maybe move on to peeling an apple. After that, you practice with a dog, a horse, a monkey, a chimp, and so on. Eventually you move on to a person. Some people are just naturals, to be sure. There’s a skill to skinning people alive.
You’re not gonna learn something like that at the local community college, are you?
That’s right. And not everybody who sits down in front of a piano is gonna be Mozart. Some things just can’t be learned, let’s put it that way. You either got it or you don’t.
At the end of Devil’s Rejects, you romanticized the serial killers. They’re facing off against the police, Bonnie and Clyde style, with “Freebird” playing in the background. Surely we’re not expected to root for the cops.
I’m not really sure what you’re supposed to do, truthfully. (Laughs.) I always identify with the bad people and I have a tendency to want to make the bad people sympathetic. Because I think the world isn’t so black and white. You can’t just say, “Oh, here are the good people and here are the bad people.”
In most cases, yeah. But then there are people like the family in 1000 Corpses, who kidnap women and rape them while wearing their dead father’s skin. That’s unequivocally a bad, bad human being.
I guess so. (Laughs.) Anything for the devil, y’know? There are really no good people in my movies, if you think about it.
Are you planning another Halloween sequel?
No, it’s not gonna happen. There’s not enough money in the world to make me consider it.
Seriously? You can’t be tempted to remake Halloween III: Season of the Witch?
Absolutely not. Are you kidding me?
What if Busta Rhymes agreed to come back for a kung-fu rematch with Michael Myers?
No, no, never! There is nothing they could do to convince me to do another Halloween movie. This movie is a good place to stop, or at least a good place for me to stop. They can hire another director to come in and do whatever they want.
How has The Love Guru affected the franchise?
(Laughs.) I don’t feel like The Love Guru had much of an impact, but the series definitely took a hit after So I Married an Axe Murderer.
I remember when I was a kid and the name Michael Myers could still send shivers down my spine. That doesn’t really happen in a post-Wayne’s World world.
We actually reference that in the movie. You’ll see. It’s pretty funny, and the way we reference it is quite shocking.
Some critics have questioned your reasoning in remaking the Halloween movies at all. If you’re going to remake a movie, why not something that needed a do-over, like Nail Gun Massacre?
Truthfully, I wasn’t ever tempted to remake anything at all. I’ve never been a big proponent that remakes are necessary. But unfortunately, I do not control Hollywood. They only want to do remakes. Even if they’re remaking something you’ve never heard of, they want to remake it. You may think a movie is original, but do a little research and you’ll find out it’s a remake of some obscure French movie. That’s just the way it is. Of course I’d much rather do original material. With Halloween 2, I tried to steer it as far away from anything resembling a Halloween movie as I could, just for that reason.
If you had to overhaul another classic horror movie, do you have a short list of favorites? How about Leprechaun? Or maybe Cannibal Ferox?
I’d love to do Creature From the Black Lagoon. What I liked about remaking Halloween is that you had an iconic monster. Michael Myers is like Frankenstein. And with something like Creature From the Black Lagoon, the original movie was okay, but it wasn’t a big Universal film, it’s not Frankenstein or Dracula. But the creature itself is one of the best, most iconic monsters ever. Although I’m sure if they redid it, they’d go in some CGI direction and just ruin it.
When are we finally going to get a feature-length version of Werewolf Women of the S.S.?
I can pretty much promise you that it’s never going to happen.
Rob, can you hear that snapping noise? That’s the sound of a thousand hearts breaking.
I know, it’s a bummer.
Is the time just not right for an exploitation movie about Nazi werewolves?
I think the time is definitely right. I just don’t think it’ll happen. The time is always right for Nazi werewolf movies, that should go without saying.
Maybe you could convince a French filmmaker to make an obscure version, and then you could just remake it.
That’s not a bad idea at all. Either that or I’ll just wait 10 years and they’ll let me remake the trailer.
Are you still working on Tyrannosaurus Rex?
We haven’t even started it yet.
All I know about the movie is that the main character is “51 percent motherfucker, 49 percent son of a bitch.” How did you come up with that percentage?
I just looked at the facts and did a little calculus and that’s what I came up with.
So he’s not even 3 percent cocksucking dickhead?
No, no, no. That’s off the charts. It looks very easy on the surface but none of this is taken lightly.
You’ve said that you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a director of horror movies. Now that your first four movies have been horror, have you officially given up on tackling another genre?
Not at all. Everything’s about having a career, and you have to realize that you’ve got all the time in the world. I think the biggest mistake some people make is trying to switch out of things too quickly. “Oooh, I don’t want to be a comedian anymore.” You have an audience and they have certain expectations of what you do.
None of your fans would be especially happy with the tagline “the new romantic comedy from Rob Zombie.”
That’s probably true. You have to find a way to move on and keep them happy at the same time. Tyrannosaurus Rex isn’t a horror movie, but it’s a good transition that’ll satisfy both me and the fans. At least that’s what I hope.
Back in the early 90s, when your band White Zombie was still going strong, Beavis and Butthead were probably your most vocal proponents. What do you suppose the boys would think about your horror movies?
I’m pretty sure they’d be happy. I think it has everything to satisfy those guys.
How do you think life worked out for those two retards?
(Laughs.) Honestly, I’ve never given it much thought.
Not at all? After all the free PR they gave you, you don’t care what happened to them after the MTV gravy train dried up?
I guess there’s a good chance they’re still living in somebody’s basement. One of them probably works at Quizno’s and supports the other. And they do play a lot of Guitar Hero. That’s all I can figure.
What do Mom and Pop Zombie think about their son’s career?
They always seem fairly horrified when the lights come up at every screening. I don’t really see too much joy on their faces. But I think they’re pretty used to my antics by now. I think they stopped being shocked a long time ago, maybe some time around the third grade.
The Devil’s Rejects alone should’ve given them reason to feel like complete failures as parents.
(Laughs.) Yeah, that one in particular was a little unsettling for them. I remember after the screening, my mom had this look on her face like, “Okay-dokey. What happened here? Who raised this kid? Oh yeah, that’s right, it was us!”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)