“I never had any intention of making a third movie, but I reached a point where I was interested in seeing how time had worn on these great characters,” says heavy metal hero turned horror film pioneer Rob Zombie about his decision to revisit the House of 1,000 Corpses franchise that not only launched his filmmaking career in 2003, but also kick-started a post 9/11 horror renaissance.
Zombie first revisited his execrable yet unexplainably charismatic villains from the film just two years later in The Devil’s Rejects, a sequel that many assumed would be the Firefly family’s final blaze of glory… until now.
With 3 From Hell set to release in the US next week (September 16), we caught up with Zombie to talk about the film, Donald Trump’s recent crackdown on violent media, and the long-awaited follow-up to his 2016 album ‘The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser’.
When House of 1000 Corpses came out, tent pole horror wasn’t really a thing and one of your main motivations for that film was the fact that you “just didn’t see crazy movies with really fucked up characters in the lead”. House of… filled that void back then, but what was the genesis behind bringing The Firefly Clan back after all these years?
“It wasn’t really until just a few years ago that I said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this’. I really liked the idea of revisiting the characters 15 years later. The characters are older and really quite different as they have all been in prison and separated from each other. The character of Baby has gone crazy from spending so much time in solitary confinement, and Otis is so different since we last saw him. I was just really interested in exploring what had gone on since the events in The Devil’s Rejects.”
The film shines a light on the tyranny of corrupt legal and penal systems, and the notion of justice being in the eye of the beholder. Is that just a timely coincidence or intentionally cutting commentary?
“Well, I wouldn’t say I was thinking as much about that as I was maybe thinking about how the media turns basically anybody into a celebrity. It doesn’t even matter what they’ve done. Obviously, Charles Manson has died now, but I always thought that if he were to be released from prison, everyone would be fighting for him to be their first guest on their talk show. It really doesn’t matter what many of these criminals have done, they have just become some of the biggest media stars in the world.
“And they’re not always even criminals. Sometimes there are people who are so famous that I’ll go, ‘What did that person do, other than take pictures or videos of themselves?’ It’s just very strange. And even back then, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the whole Manson thing happened, they did become martyrs to the youth because they were out there and they looked like hippies and they had the message. It’s just really strange how these weird villains can become counter-culture heroes.”
Culture’s idolatry of criminals really does play a prominent role throughout. Despite all these heinous crimes we see, you do an amazing job of forging a really twisted affinity between the audience and The Firefly Clan.
“Definitely. I mean, I know they’re vile people but I want the audiences to, in a way, sympathise with them and go on this journey with them. But then I think the journey of the outsider is always interesting. The story of someone who follows the rules and plays by the ways society wants you to act is very boring. That’s why people are always fascinated by things like The Hell’s Angels and things like that because it’s a lifestyle completely outside of normal society. And the same thing happens with the criminals in this movie. It’s fascinating to watch people like that, especially in America and the Old West with Billy the Kid and Jesse James and these outlaws who have become mythic, based on the fact that they lived outside the norms of society. There’s also Bonnie and Clyde, of course. I’ve always found that really interesting and that played a lot into the movie.”
We sympathise with the characters but, at the same time, we’re always aware exactly who they are and what they’ve done and the violence is never glorified. Filmmakers and audiences are as intrigued as ever right now about what makes serial killers tick (Mindhunter being a perfect example), yet Donald Trump continues to allude to a timeworn scapegoat – Hollywood – as being to blame for “inflaming and causing chaos” in society. Things went so far that Universal recently decided to cancel the release of its violent satire film The Hunt after Trump criticism.
“Oh, of course! It’s a thing that politicians love to do. They love to criminalise either movies, books, music or video games. They do this because it’s a flashy distraction for the press when, in reality, the real problems are so complicated in society in the way that people live or racism or people’s poverty. But that’s not exciting, right? It’s far more exciting to talk about a movie causing these kinds of things to happen rather than to discuss real issues that are incredibly complex. You can’t do that in a sound bite, can you?”
You always go out of your way to avoid falling into the conventions of the genre so what do you think of the current horror panorama, spearheaded by the likes of Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Blumhouse? Did it affect the way you approached 3 From Hell?
“The current horror panorama doesn’t really affect me. I feel like I’m off in my own world doing my films. Horror movies are very popular now and they’re big box office hits, filled with movie stars but, quite frankly, I don’t see most of them because they just don’t interest me or appeal to me. I’m glad that they do appeal to somebody but they’re not really my thing. That’s not really my aesthetic. There’s a certain vibe in today’s horror that’s not really for me. I like it when horror movies are dirty and nasty and rough like they were back in the ’70s.”
You refuse to play unreleased material live so everyone’s on tenterhooks waiting for news about your next album. Your guitarist, John 5, says it’s up there with The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
“[Laughs] The record’s definitely finished and, like John says, I think it’s the best record we’ve ever made. It’s a very big, crazy and complex record that I’m really excited to finally be able to release. I just had to get everything with 3 From Hell completely finished before we got into that, but my plan now is to start shooting some big videos for the album around January so that we can release it early next year. I’m hoping for a February 2020 release…”
3 From Hell is out in the US this September 16, 17, and 18 and on Digital Download, Blu-Ray and DVD October 14 from Lionsgate UK
You can also catch Zombie live at the following festivals (tickets available here):
29 – Louder Than Life Festival, Louisville, KY – with Guns N’ Roses
12 – Aftershock Festival, Sacramento CA – with Blink-182. Bring Me the Horizon, Stone Temple Pilots, Bad Religion
19 – Las Rageous Festival, Las Vegas NV – with Chevelle, Atryu, Bring Me the Horizon, The Used, Prevail
1 – Knotsfest Meets Forcefest Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico – with Slipknot