|by The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Rob Zombie loves hockey. He loves the L.A. Kings, to be specific. “I watch every single game. I’m like the Jack Nicholson of the Kings. Every single game. If there was a game tonight, I wouldn’t be here,” he cheerfully confesses. “Here” is the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, where Rob is chatting about the horror movie he directed, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, which, after years of delays, is set for limited U.S. release on April 11. His yen for hockey is an unexpected revelation from the king of horror rock, the man whose patented biker-from-hell persona suggests far too much quality time spent dwelling on the dark side. But in person Rob (real name: Robert Cummings) appears utterly unpretentious and down-to-earth, even amiable. His speech is peppered liberally with casual “you know”s and “sort of”s. He seems less an avatar of evil than, you know, a regular guy.
Rob, who grew up on “’70s exploitation” films, and fondly recalls catching Dawn of the Dead in the theater as a high school student, claims his intent with House of 1000 Corpses was to make “a high-quality drive-in movie”—a seemingly modest goal that became far more difficult to achieve than anyone expected. Hollywood is a place where nearly everybody finds their life stuck in turnaround at times, but House has taken a more than usually torturous road to theaters.
Made on a budget of around five to six million dollars, it was saddled from the outset by nervous, passive-aggressive executives who fretted over the unappetizing carnage. “We had twenty-five days and no money, and they go ’Why don’t you film every scene two ways?’” he complains. (Later, they would insist on numerous test screenings—at $100,000 a pop.) Rob avoided one potentially fatal bullet by setting the film in 1977, a strategy intended in part to keep trendy pop songs off the soundtrack: “If I make it in 1977, they can’t force me to, like, you know, have a Britney song playing,” he says with obvious disdain.
But the real battles began after shooting wrapped. The movie, which had been filmed under the auspices of Universal Studios, lost its distributor when studio heads concluded that the kiss-of-death NC-17 rating was unavoidable. The announcement gave it some early word-of-mouth buzz, but the film was now stranded in limbo. Rob relates a slightly different version of events: “It was really only (Studio Chairman) Stacey Snider. Because all the other executives had seen it and they were fine with it,” he says. “Stacy screened it the first time the day she came back from testifying in front of Congress on marketing violent movies to children, so that was obviously pretty fresh in her mind.
“She watched the movie and at the end of it I went up to her and go ‘Hey, that was fucking great, right?’ Because the reaction seemed good, it seemed like it tested well, and everybody should be happy. She was like (low, even voice) ‘come to my office tomorrow.’ She was pretty honest, she was very cool. I don’t have any bad feelings about her. She was just saying that she runs her company based on her own set of values, and this was something that under her beliefs that she felt she couldn’t release, so she wasn’t going to.”
House eventually arrived at Lions Gate Films, which insisted on an R-rating for the theatrical release. The notoriously puritanical MPAA proved uncooperative on this point; the film was sent over five times before the film received an R—barely. The DVD, for which Rob promises “a lot more violence,” will be uncut.
Moviegoers who can remember the days when horror films lacked today’s big-budget gloss may be in for a treat with House of 1000 Corpses, a colorfully eccentric film that features bizarre characters and flashes of lunatic humor. Karen Black is the matriarch of a homicidal rural family that terrorizes a pack of tourists. One execution scene occurs to the tune of Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You”; during another violent episode, the Commodores’ jaunty “Brick House” plays in the background. “I don’t think Lionel (Richie) has any idea how we used ‘Brick House’ in the movie at all,” Rob says impishly. “For all he knows there’s like a disco scene in the movie.”
The film has already been pegged a by-blow of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre—a resemblance Rob doesn’t deny—but its influences are more varied than that. He also cites Spider Baby, The Hills Have Eyes, The Rocky Horror Picture Show as among his favorites, “movies where every two seconds some new wacko character comes out of the woodwork and the story just takes another turn. And sometimes it doesn’t even make any sense where it’s going, but those are the movies I always loved.”
He’s already planning his next feature. “The hardest thing is just sort of convincing people that I’m serious,” he says. “People are like ‘Do you wanna do this again?, like it’s a one-time thing.” Though he has interests outside the horror genre, and recently wrote a script that he terms a “slice of life” story in the spirit of Ghost World, he admits that he’ll probably end up directing another horror movie.
In the meantime, he’s surprisingly unconcerned about the reception of House of 1000 Corpses: “It would be great if the movie did spectacular, but for me it’s been such a battle that I feel I’ve already won. This movie was shot in the head and left for dead so many times and keeps popping back up. And it’s in the theaters.”
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originally posted: 04/05/03 06:44:13
last updated: 12/31/03 07:57:00