Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie is a strong presence in Horrorland. I was on the fence about discussing him here because I don’t want to alienate any of you, my precious little victims who maybe prefer Gwar, but I also don’t want to ignore one of the driving forces in our world. And more than anything I, myself, needed to understand the man behind the schlockmeister and why he does the things he does. I went into this research with an air of disappointment. I’ve thrown a small fortune his way to hear his music, see his films, and see his performances. The man has a rumored net worth of $40 million, and yet he has recently turned to us, the notoriously dirt poor Horrorland Heathens to fund his latest film, 31. What fresh hell is this? I absolutely despise the trend of already rich people using crowdfunding as basically a way to get their shit made without being held accountable financially. But as I delved deeper into the Past, Present, & Future of this contemporary icon of fright, what I found was an avid fan of the genre who busted ass to create his vision and become a brand in and of himself. Hear me out…
Robert Bartleh Cummings or as we know him, Rob Zombie, was the son of two carnival workers along with little brother Michael David Cummings or as we know him, Spider One. When riots broke out at the carnival, the tents were burned, and little Zombie witnessed real violence, Robert and Louise Cummings packed up and left the carnie life behind. Rob can’t even tell you when horror entered his life. It has been part of him for a lifetime. Not a genre, but a lifestyle, and he has a deep love and respect for the genesis of horror. So before you point at his impressive collection of props and other oddities from horror’s past and say “sell that to fund your movie,” keep in mind… you’d kill for some of it, yourself.
At 18, Rob moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design where he met then-girlfriend, Sean Yseult. Together, they founded the heavy metal rock band, White Zombie, named after (you guessed it) the 1932 film of the same name. While White Zombie formed sometime in the mid-1980s, they didn’t catapult to fame until the early 90s. Fun fact: Beavis and Butt-head had a big hand in introducing White Zombie to the grunge generation when the duo did their patented commentary to Thunderkiss ‘65. Zombie later thanked the boys by animating a kick-ass segment of the film Beavis and Butt-head Do America.
By 1996, Rob legally changed his name to “Rob Zombie.” Sean and Rob called it quits on the relationship after seven years, but continued to work together as the only steadfast members of White Zombie until the band amicably parted ways in 1998. That’s when Rob went solo with Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, followed by a remix album, American Made Music To Strip By. I’m not going to bore you with statistics and facts about what charts he topped. Frankly, who gives a shit? I heard rock with an industrial edge and a saw the scary looking dude from White Zombie yelling into a microphone. I could get behind that.
Now, before you start in on how he’s a sub-par musician, let’s be honest here: You loved it and you know it. You loved White Zombie and you got a serious kick out of Rob Zombie. Music is a highly collaborative effort, even for a solo artist. A lot can be said for who you work with. Rob has an impressive list of collaborators: Charlie Clouser (formerly of Nine Inch Nails and composer of the Saw film score), Ozzy Osbourne (of Black Sabbath… duh), Kerry King (of Slayer), Marilyn Manson (the one who recently threatened to kick Zombie’s ass), John 5 (formerly a member of Manson’s crew) and his hero Alice Cooper (if you don’t know who that is, what are you doing here?), the list goes on and will continue to do so. His shit was fun and it was good enough to bang your head to and blast at Halloween parties, so keep the snobbery to a minimum.
Alright, let’s talk Zombie and film. The elephant in the room. Originally, Zombie’s first foray into horror films was supposed to be The Crow: 2037, which he had already penned and was ready to direct. But politics happened and Zombie is sure of himself if he’s anything, and he was fired from the production which eventually became The Crow: Salvation. I’m okay with that 1) Because I rather liked Salvation as it was; and 2) Because the following treat was one of my more orgasmic experiences as a horror fan…
In 2001, Zombie dropped his second album, The Sinister Urge, and set out on the Demon Speeding Tour. The final track on that album was titled, House of 1,000 Corpses and it was unlike anything you’d really heard him do before. There were rumblings of a film, but nothing carved in stone. Rob had finished his film in 2000, but still continued to fight the MPAA and Universal who were both squeamish about releasing this apparent violence-ridden gore-fest. Well shit, that just made us want it more. So when the trailer for House of 1,000 Corpses debuted at the concert that night, I’m pretty sure a thousand pairs of panties flew across the stadium. Not mine, I wasn’t wearing any. Nonetheless, it was exciting. So the news not long after, that Universal was shelving the film indefinitely was devastating. It was a loss in the horror community. Any time you have a horror movie made by a horror icon for the horror fans, the studio system and MPAA become enemy # 1 and come on, people… we’re crazy. Just give us our lollipop so we don’t eat you, okay? We are legion. There are as many horror bloggers as there are mommy bloggers. Both dangerous in their own right.
Before House of 1,000 Corpses, Sheri Moon remained in the background of Rob Zombie’s endeavors, whether it be film, comics, music videos, or tours. It was hard to deny that Zombie was proud of his new girl. She first appeared in White Zombie’s Feed the Gods music video in 1994, and took center stage as the psychotic Baby Firefly in 2000, remaining in the spotlight ever since, despite her obvious preference to remain a rather private person. They eloped on Halloween, 2002, and Rob was feeling no pain. He bit the bullet and bought the rights to House of 1,000 Corpses back from Universal, and it eventually ended up in the very capable hands of Lionsgate, finally receiving a release date in April of 2003. It did not disappoint and has cultivated a cult following that was only further intensified with the gritty follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects in 2005.
My point here is this: That is a coup for any artist struggling to do it “their way.” (And don’t we all wish it were our way?) We should all be so lucky to establish ourselves enough to have the resources to snatch what is ours out of the hands of others who only care about the bottom line. Regardless of the quality of Zombie’s films or the countless opposing opinions about his prowess as a horror filmmaker, I applaud anyone who works to create a brand and establish a level of power and control over their vision. It’s a perfect example of the old adage: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Moving on now to the release of my favorite of his albums, Educated Horses, and the franchise reboot that seems to be at the crux of everyone’s grudge against Zombie… Halloween. Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s masterpiece ended up being the highest grossing film of the series, inflation aside. This can only be contributed to the fact that y’all actually liked his previous work and just had to sate that curious voice inside. He did exactly what I expected he would do. His head would grow about a million times too large for his shoulders and we would hear a lot of talk about how it would be a total departure from the original, but Zombie is a horror fan if he’s anything, so the original premise remained in tact. Put simple, whether you love it or hate it most likely lies in your affinity to the original and your tolerance for Rob’s signature ultraviolent touch.
The success of the remake inevitably led to plans for a sequel, which Zombie honestly wasn’t interested in doing. He had a chance to take a classic and make it his own, he appreciated the opportunity, enjoyed the success, but really didn’t want to continue with the franchise. (He actually isn’t a big fan of loose ends that guarantee sequels.) Okay, now listen, take some knowledge: The studio system of Hollywood is going to do what they want to do with or without yours or Rob Zombie’s approval. They were going ahead with a sequel because they figured they had a cash cow on their hands (they still do) and Rob (and his ego) figured, he didn’t want to do it, but he didn’t want anyone else to do it and fuck up what he already accomplished. So he phoned it in. I’m not going to go into great detail about Halloween II in this post, I’ll dedicate some time to that later because I love to hear your opinions and share mine. But back to the situation at hand… With the release of Halloween II and its lukewarm reception came some serious hate toward Rob, and especially Sheri. Now, I don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re the top horror blogger on earth, shut up with your Sheri Moon Zombie hate. You can’t applaud Scream Queens like Linnea Quigley and put them on pedestals as queens of the genre in all of their bare-breasted B-movie glory and then turn around and slap Sheri down. So what if Rob puts her in all of his movies?! Adam Sandler does it with all of his buddies in the comedy genre. Darren Lynn Bousman has done it with his circle of friends. Sheri deserves as much respect as any Scream Queen if not only for giving us the gift that is Baby Firefly. Film is nothing but collaboration, and you do your best work with your best people. Period. She’s great. Piss off.
Continuing to grow his brand, Rob was faced with another pivotal decision when it became apparent that his label, Geffen, was taking a direction that didn’t exactly suit his endeavors. Rob left the label for Roadrunner Records and released Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls, and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool in 2010, and the trailer for his most avant garde contribution to the genre, The Lords of Salem debuted at his concert on May 11th, 2012. In the shortest lapse between albums, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor was released in 2013 coinciding with the limited release of Lords. My initial reaction to the film was negative. I need to give it another go before I decide if it’s just not my cup of tea. Rob’s other possible film ventures are a remake of The Blob, which he backed out of for reasons that are unclear; and another of his own brainchildren, Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is still on the back burner where it was shoved to accommodate Halloween II. In between all the violence and gore was a fun little animated feature based on his comic, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.
His place in horror history continues to be solidified with every new project of the admittedly multi-talented Rob Zombie. The musician, singer-songwriter, screenwriter, director, producer, manager, programmer, artist, and former production assistant on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (yeah, you read that right) has contributed soundtracks for the Twisted Metal III, IV, and Gran Turismo 2 video games, a mock trailer of Werewolf Women of the SS for the Tarantino/Rodriguez joint effort, Grindhouse, runs Zombie A Go Go Records - a sub-label under Geffen, and most recently entered the professional haunted attraction industry with The Great American Nightmare.
And now to address that worrisome topic that almost made me lose some respect for the man – his latest film 31. Why would a man who has literally built an empire need to crowdfund his movie? Well, let’s just throw some numbers around for the sake of clarification, but bear in mind, this is still just speculation on my part. I’m not his fucking accountant. When you are a CEO or a “brand” as I have been referring to him, you don’t just get all the profit from your endeavors. You pay yourself just like any employee, and you usually do it after you’ve settled all other debts and unless you’re a piece of shit, you invest the majority of the business right back into the business. That gets pretty costly. It’s true that you have to spend money to make money. That said, Zombie has definitely set the bar high in terms of what he’s putting out. Lords, as fucking off-kilter as it was, was not a cheap film if you think about it. And he has a reputation for wanting to do things his way. He wants to make a film for you. Studios hate that. So let’s hear him out, and regardless of whether you contribute, it might just end up being another great addition to the genre.
So while I might not love everything he does, I can respect the effort and reasoning behind it. The Horror Community is a magnificent bitch on wheels. We can be your biggest supporter… Or we’ll tie you up and scalp you. Or both. Either way, you’re going to want more.
Gimme an M – Gimme an A – Gimme an L – Gimme an I – Gimme a C – Gimme an E
What’s that spell?