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"Life has different plans for your movie sometimes,” sighs Rob Zombie over the phone. “You plan, and you plan and you plan -- and then you just don’t know what’s going to happen!”
Speaking to Rob Zombie is a little like talking to a shellshocked veteran from a war he refuses to leave. There’s a weary hardness to the singer and director’s tone that gives one the sense that he’s seen every dirty trick in the book and is ready for all of them. Then again, if anyone’s got the right to sound a little harried, it’s Rob -- this month saw the release of 3 From Hell, his eighth film and the first in 15 years to feature the iconic characters from 2003’s House Of 1,000 Corpses and 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. 3 From Hell’s filming also coincided with failing health of the late Sid Haig, Rob’s longtime collaborator, whose role in the movie had to be quickly rewritten at the last minute.
“That was the biggest unplanned event,” sighs Zombie. “At one point, I considered that maybe I won’t have the third character, I’ll just have the two, because no-one knew the title so I could just call it Two From Hell. But that didn’t work...Had I known that he’d been in the hospital for a long time leading up, it would’ve been different. But the news dropped on me so close to the beginning of shooting that it was just a mad scramble to put it all together.”
Any burnout in Rob’s voice is quickly countered by his confidence. Even when discussing Haig’s death, the shock rocker sounds driven, self-aware, and resourceful. There’s never a sense that he’s feeding you a line; when asked if he and Marilyn Manson ever decided on another duet, he says, “No -- I think we just kind of forgot about it, truthfully!” Whether discussing the film industry as a whole or specific scenes in 3 From Hell, he knows where he stands, and how he intends to move forward, even in a heinously uncertain world. And if you don’t like it, that’s fine -- Rob Zombie has other things to do.
“Especially with movies, they take so long to get financed, to get set up, that you just plan them years in advance,” he says. “And even sometimes after that, they don’t happen. So the next thing is always in the planning stages, even if it’s not happening for a year, or two years. There’s never a moment where I go, ‘Oh, I’m not thinking of anything right now.’ There’s always something.”
When Sid Haig died, did you ever consider just calling it -- canceling the movie entirely?
Here’s how it went down: we’d been prepping the movie for about a year, and a couple of weeks before we were actually about to start shooting, Sid was supposed to come in for some wardrobe fittings and different things, and he kept canceling. I didn’t think anything of it -- whatever, it didn’t matter, it didn’t seem like an emergency. Then about three weeks from the first day of shooting, he called me and said, ‘I’ve been in the hospital. That’s why I haven’t been showing up. And I’m still in the hospital.’
And at that point, it kind of goes into a tailspin because...making movies is fucking crazy, man! A couple weeks from starting, all the sets are built, the crew’s been working, you’ve already spent tons of money, the studio’s expecting a movie, so you reach a point of no return at a certain point. So we decided to visit him in the physical rehab facility -- we knew he was old, so we thought, 'Maybe he’s just recovering from surgery and he’ll get better faster.' But he really wasn’t getting any better, and the insurance company wouldn’t clear him to work. At that point, I quickly reconfigured the movie with a new character because -- well, we had to do something!
Was Richard Brake already attached to the film, or did you have to call him in at the last minute?
He wasn’t involved at all. He was in Spain making a different movie -- I didn’t even know if he was available. I knew he would be perfect, because I’d just worked with him [on 31], and I really like how he works, and I knew he would fit in great. He’d already worked with Sheri, and I knew they had a great chemistry, and I thought he’d work well with Bill. I called him up in Spain, and he was just wrapping a movie. We were already shooting when he showed up. He got on set, got into wardrobe, and boom -- he was there instantly. He probably studied his lines on the plane ride over.
How did you go about creating the Foxy character to replace Captain Spaulding?
My goal was for him not to be the same character -- though technically, he was replacing him. He’s a totally different actor playing a totally different role in a totally different way. Most of the scenes that’s he’s in were supposed to be Spaulding, but I rewrote everything that happens. He wasn’t saying the same dialogue or anything like that.
What was it like coming back to these characters all this time later?
Well, the last movie was 15 years ago, and every once in a while I’d think about it, because every year the characters get more popular, the cult of the movie grows larger. Every time we would show Devil’s Rejects somewhere, in Australia or France or whatever, the screenings would instantly sell out. The demand for the characters was there, but I thought, ‘Eh, I’ll probably never do it.’
But more and more years would go by, and it wasn’t until about three years ago that I thought, 'I’m going to really do this. I’m going to write the script, see how I feel, and if the script makes sense and people are on board with it, then we’ll do it. If the script doesn’t make sense, and other people said, Eh, this isn’t going to work, I wasn’t going to force it.' It had to come naturally. And it did -- day one of shooting, when Bill and Sheri were working together on the first day, and it was like no time had gone by. It was very strange, how little time had gone by. I thought it would take them a while to get back into character, ramp up, get their vibe going, but it was instant, which was very strange.
Above: Baby gets hers in 3 From Hell. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate UK.
I felt -- and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have agreed with me -- that the movie is Sheri's movie, that Baby takes center stage. How did Sheri grow with that character?
It’s a long evolution. In [House Of 1,000 Corpses], that was her first movie, my first movie, and the movie has a really psychedelic, cartoony feel -- the performances everything. You understand the characters, but we didn’t build any depth into the characters at that point. And then with the second movie, as the look of the picture and the characters starting getting more grounded in reality, I think that her performance became more grounded in reality. In the third one, her character is isolated from the other guys, being in a women’s prison and all, so she took it as, she’s gone crazy even to them, and she’s playing it from a whole different place at times.
I really think that approach really brought that character to a whole different level. I think it’s her best movie, her best performance. And yeah, I have heard that from a lot of people -- Baby really steals the show in this one. And I agree -- every scene she’s in, she’s so dynamic. She’ll go from being really brutal and crazy, and then suddenly there’s, like ,a really sweet scene with the character of Sebastian, about how he reminds her of Tiny. Then out of nowhere, it’s craziness again. I just love that her brain is spinning at all times during the movie.
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There are a lot of really funny scenes in the movie -- for example, when Baby makes a guy buy her a grape soda, and we later see him brutally murdered with ‘GRAPE’ carved in his forehead. Was that an intended return to the early, cartoony feel?
I never thought, 'Here’s going to be a funny scene!' It never crosses my mind. It’s just that the characters all have extreme personalities, and kind of like in real life, if you put people with extreme personalities in a room together, it’s going to be funny. They’re not trying to be funny -- it just IS. They’re such fish out of water, they’re so outside the mind of how the world functions, that any time they interact with somebody, it’s dementedly humorous. You’re just watching insane people acting insane. And at times, that’s funny.
That’s interesting, because the comedic scenes don’t feel very scripted.
I’m never going for laughs, I’m just saying, 'This’ll be weird.' The scene with the grape soda -- that’s a different scene in the script. And about a half an hour before we’re going to shoot it -- at that point, we’re really deep into shooting the movie -- Sheri says, ‘I don’t think this works for Baby anymore. I don’t want to do the scene like this. Let’s come up with something different.’ So we went off to the side, with me and Sheri and Sean [Whalen] who plays the guy who gets killed. And we just made up a different scene on the spot, where she just lures him in and she’s just so concerned with her proper beverage pick. That’s not something that makes you think, ‘Oh, that’s going to be hilarious!’ But this guy thinks he’s going to get laid, we know that he’s going to get killed, but Baby’s just worried about finding the proper flavor of soda.
Photo: Chris Koontz
You’ve also got a new album coming out early next year, which your guitarist John 5 has been vocally stoked about. What about you -- how are you feeling about the album? How far along are you?
The record’s 100 per cent finished. It’ll come out early next year. It’s been done for a while, But I didn’t want to put it out while I was dealing with the movie, because it’d just get lost and I wouldn’t have time to deal with it. So now that the movie is -- well, I’m still dealing with it, we’re on the phone talking about it, but I’m almost done dealing with it -- then we’ll start fresh this year with the music. I think it’s the best record we’ve ever made. We’ve worked on it for a long time. The songs are very catchy, but the structures are way more complex that they’ve been in the past. It’s kind of all over the place. I think the fans are going to love it.
Does it have a specific vibe or focus, the way Educated Horses went low to the ground and classic rock, or how the past two albums were more psychedelic?
I think the direction the last couple of records had, this is further down that road. I wouldn’t call it psychedelic, but it draws from all kinds of things. Some of it’s heavy, some of it’s trashy, some of it’s pretty weird or bizarre. I didn’t want any two songs on the record to resemble each other. We’re trying to find a new sound for almost every track.
Something I noticed at your show with Marilyn Manson in Allentown earlier this year was that you were interacting with the audience a lot -- jumping into the crowd, letting fans scream in the mic. Is that something you’re trying to make more a part of your live show?
I’ve always done that, but I think now more than ever it’s important. People are so used to watching screens -- even at the concert, they’re staring at their phones most of the time -- that I feel like you really have to find a way to draw them into, ‘Okay, this is a live thing happening right in my face. It’s not television.' And that’s when I feel a concert becomes more fun, and more exciting, when you find a way to make it a moment that’s all just happening right there. That’s what I love about it. When the concert’s over, and someone says. 'Oh on that song, you fucked up,' I don’t give a shit. It’s over. It was that moment in time, it’s gone...and we’ll do it again tomorrow!
Rob Zombie's 3 From Hell is out now on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate UK.
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