Sundance 2016 Interview: Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie On The 31 Horrorshow

Contributor; Toronto
Sundance 2016 Interview: Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie On The 31 Horrorshow
Happy Halloween motherfuckers! Rob Zombie is back in the house! And what a horrific fuckshow of a house it is too. In House Of 1000 Corpses, Zombie took us back to all Hallow's eve '77, only a few years after Leatherface pillaged a band of friends in the musky backroads of Austin, Texas. In Halloween, after Michael Myers is first outed as psychopathic on the 31st of October, 1990, we jump 15 years to a bloody holiday rampage. Now in 2016, roughly 15 years after the filming of Zombie's maniacally enthralling feature debut, he takes us back to 1976 for his latest ultraviolent massacre. In doing so, not only will fans of Corpses be pleased to see the return to Zombie's trashy southern 70s and all the classic rock contained within, 31 (which takes place on the Halloween one year prior to the Firefly family terrorized a car of tourists with their warped sense of recreation) also offers fans satisfying narrative parallels to his original enclosed-space mousetrap.

Zombie's latest funhouse on bad acid is more elaborately sick than ever in its relentless taunting of the latest batch of rootin' tootin' victims, subjected to terror beyond comprehension. Whether or not you can get into his sickly comical brand of hyper-heavy horror - and lord knows I wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone did - like him or hate him, you have to admire Zombie's commitment to stretching the medium to the furthest depths of the American nightmare. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Zombie's craft is how funny his films manage to be in their presentation of images you'd have to be sick to laugh at. But his villains are so full of blackly comical charisma, you can't help but respond. It's a juxtaposition that can make for complicated viewings with polarizing responses.

31 plays like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Running Man meets Amadeus - an unlikely masala adding up to one of Zombie's wildest nightmares to date. With the help of his one-in-a-million muse, star and wife Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's vision transcends its influences into works of brazen originality. Despite the violence and gore that comes with the territory, horror can actually be one of the most boring and overplayed genres at the movies. So it is all the more spellbinding when a voice enters the landscape with so much inherent authenticity, it evokes those who defined the virtues of the genre, all the while raising the ante ten fold, adapting to an ever desentized era with macabre true grit. Directors like Tobe Hooper may have written the rules, but nobody working today understands them quite as well as Zombie - which is exactly why he's so adept at smashing them to pieces.

The day after 31 premiered at Sundance to a loudly responsive audience who filled the air equally with gasps, revolt, and hysterics, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie to discuss their latest horrorshow.

ScreenAnarchy: Last night during the Q&A you were talking about how you were at some spookfest where you saw psycho clowns and thought, "that's still a thing?" Did that inspire you to want to do clowns correctly?

Rob Zombie: Well there was something I just saw happening. People were running ... Sometimes in those haunted houses, people run. It's not real people, but they are screaming and running - guys with chainsaws, whipping them around dressed as clowns. I just filed it into the back of my brain, "That works."

I always see something and I'll just file it, and I don't know, it may come up two months from now or ten years from now, and I'll just go, "That's an idea I'm going to return to at some point," and this was it.

You were also talking about how there's a bit of a nod to your reckless youth - working at a carnival, getting fucked up and doing fucked up shit.

RZ: Well, It wasn't because I was a little kid. It was all in my mom's side of the family, what her family did for a living. It was that time period. It was the early seventies with me and my brother. We weren't really working, we were just little kids, but we'd be all around them and that's how everybody was.

These guys are the much more glamorous version of what it actually was. They wouldn't have any teeth if we are realistic.

That gave you a flare for the voice of a lot of your characters?

RZ: Well it's just my life. I was saying this earlier. As a director, you pull from what you know, and when a director is making a movie about something he doesn't know anything about, it's so obvious.

Whenever I see a movie about the music business, made by someone, I go, "This guy knows nothing. He's never been in a band, he's never been on tour, he's never been backstage, he's never even probably been to a fucking concert because everything about this movie is fake." Then when you see the real deal, like say Almost Famous, you go, "This feels like the real deal."

Sheri Moon Zombie: It's good like that.

RZ: That's because you've lived it. That's what I'm saying. I pull from the types of fucking weirdos and things that I've experienced in my life. Just like when I had the one character ranting and raving about this idea for turning a girl into a gorilla, that was a real thing that I used to go to as a little kid. They'd bring out the woman in the bikini. They'd do some weird trick and she'd turn into a gorilla, and it was terrifying as a second grader... and quite sexy at the same time.

Going back over 15 years, Sheri, can you talk about the first time Rob came up to you and said, "I want to make a movie and I want you to be in it," and then what were your first impressions of collaborating in this way?

SMZ: Well yeah. I don't remember the exact moment. We had done a bunch of music videos, and that's how you started directing and I made an appearance in a lot of the videos. I think I was just like, "This is just something cool we are going to do." Just another fun project.

RZ: I don't think either of us were thinking like what a big thing we were jumping into. Really it just escalated.

SMZ: No, it was fun! We were on the Universal backlot!

RZ: Yeah...

SMZ: We'd go on breaks and take the tram - take the tour. It was just a fun, crazy experience that we'd never be able to have now. We're friends with all of the actors that we worked with.

RZ: Yup.

SMZ: And the crew from that movie.

RZ: It's amazing.

SMZ: I didn't feel pressure so much for House of 1000 Corpses. Now I look back and I'm just like, "I'm so embarrassed."


SMZ: Because I feel like I can see how naïve I was, and maybe that's part of the charm of why people like it.

It is, it comes out in the character.

SMZ: For me it's a whole different perspective that only I have

Oh my God, I love your performance in that film! I really, really do.

SMZ: Great, I'm glad!

RZ: Everything you love about it was a complete conscious choice. Whatever that might be.


No, but it's true. I've memorized all those unconscious choices and all that.

SMZ: Well you already said, "Get fucked up and do some fucked up shit."

That movie is endlessly quotable!

RZ: Actually that was the first scene you ever filmed in a movie with me.

SMZ: I think it was, yeah.

It's a hell of a scene.

RZ: That was the first time you ever spoke on camera. Wow. 

SMZ: Amazing. 

Can you talk about this production, maybe the best moment, the worst moment? I'm sure there's a bit of both?

SMZ: The best moment was "that's a wrap.

RZ: I knew you were going to say that.

SMZ: It was really brutal. We shot it in 20 nights. The locations were really dark and dank, and smelly. There was cat piss smell.

RZ: It was freezing cold.

SMZ: It all contributed, so in the end it worked out. I loved working with all the actors that I worked with. The crew were all just like a big family. I had just quit smoking, so that added to my misery. I really loved it, and I loved Charlie, and I loved the characters. Actually at the end of the movie, tears would come to my eyes when that super eight footage pulled up. Just thinking about it now, I am a little upset because we all love each other so much, and I was talking to Kevin after the premier last night briefly and he was teary eyed too. It's such a testament to how well Rob writes characters and how the actors all feel about Rob. He's really an actor's director. We all wanted to do the best we can for him to make his world come alive. You know?

Yeah, I do. Similarly to the end of DEVIL'S REJECTS, it was shockingly emotional.

SMZ: Yeah! He did it for Lords of Salem too.

RZ: I feel like the movies that I loved as kid were violent brutal movies, be it Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, but you felt something. It wasn't just like, "Oh, look at all this crazy violence, it means nothing." You were like, "Oh no, Bonnie and Clyde are going to die." Even though it's just a hail of bullets, it wasn't Rambo, it was something different. You had to care about it in a weird way, even if you were conflicted, "Why do I care about these awful people? They got what they deserved."

It just goes to show if you get inside anyone's head enough, you see something. I would get that sometimes from reading books about serial killers, and you'd see that their lives were so fucked up. This kid, the only job he was qualified for was a serial killer. He was so fucked up, his life. I sort of feel an odd sympathy at times because they just... At some point that was just a baby before someone fucked that person up so much, that they started burying bodies in the basement.

I would never accuse you of thinking what your characters are doing is right, but I do think you admire the freedom that the characters have.

RZ: All my characters are 'fuck the system' characters.

Yes, exactly.

RZ: I do believe in what they say. When they are spouting some kind of philosophy, it is mine.

Right. And not Charlie Manson's.


RZ: It's very misguided perhaps, but it is fuck the man.

Getting back to eight millimeter or even a footage that isn't yours, I love when you include archival footage. You've been doing it since CORPSES and it really adds to this vibe you've got going. Can you talk about your archival selection process and how you incorporate it?

RZ: Well, in this movie nothing was archival. I shot everything.

Oh, really?

RZ: The whole opening that looks like old footage is all stuff I shot myself.

SMZ: The hot air balloon landed in our field next door.

RZ: All those driving shots, that was all stuff I shot myself, because we drove across the country and that's when I shot it all. We were really driving across the country because I couldn't take the whole cast across the country. I was, well I'll just shoot it all myself, and that's what it was yeah.

Cool, I didn't even realize that obviously.

RZ: Good, I tricked you.

Yeah, you did. One thing that I think your films also delight in is horror as entertainment. Horror obviously is entertainment, but usually in your films, the villains are very much entertained and it's a horror show and you have 'showtime' - you like the show elements of it.

RZ: Yeah, I do. I want everything to be visually rich so you say, "whoa!". You remember things because the characters are all visually interesting. I'm more about that. A lot of horror movies I think sometimes are about the twist or the gimmick. The characters are all sort of forgettable, and that's why I like simple premises. 31 is a very simple premise, but I wanted all the characters to be complex because that's really what I care about.

It's like any movie that I like. Okay, three guys are going to rob a bank, okay, that's all I need. It's the three guys that I care about, and their crazy infighting or something while they rob that bank. That's the type of shit I always got into. Every time I hand in the script, the first note will always be like... No, I should say the second note. 

The first note will always be, make everyone younger. The second note will always be, there's too much back story in all the characters, and I go, if you don't give the characters any back story, then they are just fucking meat bags.

They're just waiting to die.

RZ: Which gets boring, because you just don't care. It may seem fun for a second. The audience may cheer and yell and scream, but they are not going to give a shit. It's totally forgettable.

Speaking of horrorshow, what was it like bringing Malcolm McDowell into your universe?

RZ: This would be like the fourth time, because he was in both Halloweens. We did the CSI Miami episode with him. I've known Malcolm almost ten years now. He's great. He did me a favor on this because I really needed an iconic person to do that role. I called him up at the last minute and I said, "Malcolm, you've got to do this," and he was like, "I'm never going to be able to learn all that dialogue in one day. If I can't do it right, I can't do it."

Really? One day?

SMZ: Well he was over scheduled too.

RZ: Yeah, he was doing Mozart in the Jungle or something.

So he brought his Mozart charms with him?

SMZ: Hah! Right!

RZ: He was old school.Then he came down and did it. He was great. I love Malcolm. He's the nicest guy.

Getting back to the seventies and your childhood. I think the soundtrack comes from your childhood probably.

RZ: Oh, yeah.

Walk Away just really hits the spot in the opening credits. Can you talk about soundtrack selection?

RZ: It's the same thing yeah. Everything in the movie is there because I like it, not because I think someone else will like it, I like it.

And that's why it succeeds.

RZ: Yeah. Because if I don't like it, well how can I convince you to like it.

That's right. 

RZ: There'll be some kid who never heard of Joe Walsh, who's going to be, "Fuck, that song is badass, I've got to get that." I hope that that's what every director does. You've got to like it first. You've got to make it for yourself first. That's my view of it anyway.

Sheri, can you talk about the journey from killer to victim? you were the killer of the first two films and you've been the victim of the last two. You've gone to the other end of the spectrum.

SMZ: Charly is totally a victim in this movie and she's only doing everything out of the instinct to survive, like Heidi in Lords of Salem. I think it shows that everyone has that in them and they can come out. It's kill or be killed.

Which comes more natural? Killing or trying not to be killed?

SMZ: (laughing) Trying not to be killed. Jeez.

RZ: (Imitating Sheri) "Can't we just make something where I can be nice?"

SMZ: Can we shoot in Hawaii next time?

RZ: Yeah. But that's always the funny thing. That was the thing in the movie, Charly is wimpy and then becomes strong, and then Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Panda seems like he's going to be the hero, and then he starts breaking down. I kept trying to flip it. Who is going to be strong and weak because you never know.

SMZ: In a panic situation, fight or flight.

RZ: You don't know what people are going to do. This is a stupid example, but people I know that are tattoo artists would say, sometimes the tiniest little girl comes in, gets a massive tattoo and doesn't flinch. Then some big football guy comes in, I touch the needle to him and he faints. Because you just don't know how it's going to go, and that's the way I look at the characters.

I love the ROCKY HORROR homage by the way.

RZ: I was waiting for someone in the theatre to yell out "Eddie!"

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31House Of 1000 CorpsesRob ZombieSheri Moon Zombiesundance 2016

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