It is as you’ve always suspected: Rob Zombie’s house is way cooler than yours. For one thing, the punk/metal god turned filmmaker has a 12-foot stuffed polar bear in his living room. (Zombie to dumbstruck interviewer: “I know, right? How fuckin’ big is that bear?”) The bear, which looks like it’s about to go sauntering down the esplanade, presides over dozens of horror and B-movie collectibles, including a sarcophagus, an enormous Boris Karloff poster, a green, appropriately scaly Creature From the Black Lagoon statue (as well as a Lagoon pinball machine) and baby bats — real ones — that have been tastefully mounted and framed, as has the little shrunken human head sitting atop the mantelpiece. (L.A. Weekly photographer to Zombie: “What’s the process for doing that?” Zombie: “I don’t know, man. I don’t shrink ’em myself.”) This, children, is the house to visit come All Hallows’ Eve.
Trick-or-treaters may be ringing Zombie’s doorbell en masse this year, because Zombie has done a daring and probably crazy thing by remaking the holiday’s most essential scary movie, John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween — the film that gave us an unkillable psycho-killer named Michael Myers, his creepy blank-faced mask and seven bad sequels. In the new version, Myers once again stalks sexed-up teens in Haddonfield, Illinois, but in a departure from the original, Zombie devotes the film’s first half to the fractured, screwed-up family life that may be responsible for the rampage to come. And despite appearances by horror-movie vets such as Dee Wallace, Udo Kier and Brad Dourif in supporting roles, Zombie’s Halloween (which hits theaters this week) isn’t the wink-wink send-up it might have been. “That was my big thing,” Zombie says, his voice gradually rising. “People would ask me, ‘Is it campy?’ No! It’s not campy! That would be a nightmare. The first one’s not the least bit campy. ‘No,’ I’d say. ‘Picture doing this dead serious.’?”
Zombie even researched the latest scientific thinking on the motivations of psychotic killers, yet despite the new back story he’s created, Zombie clearly believes that Myers is beyond redemption. “There’s a point when he’s a kid where you look at him and think, ‘He’s insane — there’s no helping this kid,’?” Zombie says. “But I wanted to add those family dynamics, because things are much scarier when they have a foundation in reality.” It’s funny to be talking reality with a man who has a suit of medieval armor standing in the corner of his dining room, and demonic gargoyles perched ominously around his swimming pool. (“They shoot fake steam.”) But Zombie, who cranes his head over the massive dining room table as he talks, that great long rock-star hair falling forward over his eyes, seems a man quite grounded in the here and now — you can see him thinking out every question; there doesn’t seem to be a casual bone in his body. Maybe, one starts to think, being surrounded by the demons and monsters that thrilled him as a movie-mad boy help to take Zombie out of his own head. He’s an intense guy. When I suggest that the sometimes shocking violence of Zombie’s films — particularly in the undeniably gruesome yet rather extraordinary The Devil’s Rejects — masks some surprisingly sophisticated filmmaking (in Halloween, Zombie and cinematographer Phil Parmet employ a different camera style for each of the film’s three acts), he nods his head. “I think so much about everything. I’m obsessive.”
Although he’s referenced Carpenter’s Halloween in his music videos, doing a remake was never part of Zombie’s plan. “I wasn’t thinking about it, or looking for it,” he says. “I’d had about a million meetings about what to do next, and I was like, ‘I’m done having fucking meetings!’ But there was one meeting left, so I said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna meet with [Halloween executive producer] Bob Weinstein and then that’s it, I’m done. And of course that was the meeting that was great, where everything happened.”
Making movies is not a career the 42-year-old Zombie happened upon by chance. More music will surely come, but Zombie is a filmmaker now (and a better one than he tends to get credit for being). That’s been the goal since he was a kid in Haverhill, Massachusetts, going to the drive-in with his mother and brother. For Zombie, there’s a memory attached to every movie (including ?the original Halloween) they saw. “There were no VCRs or DVDs and hardly any channels on the TV,” he recalls, “so going to the movies was a memorable event, a life-changing thing. Go see Willy Wonka and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t think anymore.’ Go see Young Frankenstein — my mind’s blown. Star Wars — I’m in complete disarray. Every movie just blew my mind.”
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So Zombie started re-creating them in his backyard. “I’d just be obsessed with a movie, I’d need more. So we’d make Super-8s at home. It’s funny I should remake Halloween,because one of the movies I made as a kid in high school was a sequel to [Carpenter’s] Escape From New York. Later, you know, I moved to New York to go to school, got kicked out and worked as a bike messenger and worked on Pee-wee’s Playhouse and then started a band. Making movies seemed like, ‘How do you do that? I don’t even have money to eat. I’m not gonna make movies.’?” Zombie pauses, sweeping his hair back over his head. “It’s great now for kids. Make some goofy movie, stick it on YouTube, and you’re a hero. Back then, it was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait till I can save enough money to develop the film.’?”