Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019 kicks off in Melbourne on October 10 with the Australian premiere of Rob Zombie’s highly anticipated 3 from Hell, the third entry in his deliciously depraved Firefly trilogy starring Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie and the late Sid Haig. The director speaks with STACK about the film and his career as a filmmaker.
When Rob Zombie stepped off the rock stage in the late ‘90s to direct his debut feature film House of 1000 Corpses (2003), no one could have predicted it becoming one of the most gnarly and beloved horror franchises since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The story of the depraved Firefly family continued in The Devil’s Rejects (2005), an ultra-violent odyssey which not only traded the original freak show aesthetic for something much more gritty, but also added new dimensions to characters that were previously cartoonish and quirky.
Zombie tells STACK that the origin of the Firefly clan can be traced back to portions of his childhood. “Take the character of Otis for example. In House of 1000 Corpses, Otis is an albino, which is a thing I eventually put a stop to after a while, but I went to school with these three brothers and they looked like Otis. Total redneck albinos, kind of like Johnny Winter. They inspired the character. I grew up around carnival people and conceiving the Firefly family was like taking pieces of my life and putting them together to create these characters.”
For most fans The Devil’s Rejects felt final and almost poetic in its conclusion, and the notion of a new instalment has been as equally exciting as it is mystifying. Those who have already seen the film in America can attest to it being a logical and fitting continuation, and Zombie explains why he chose to return to the material.
“What inspired me to return to the story is, in a way, in the story. As the years went on the characters kept getting more and more popular and they would never go away.”
He goes on to recall the frenzy that grew from his films: “Every time I played a concert there were guys in the crowd dressed as Captain Spaulding, or there’d be guys with Baby tattoos. The characters would never go away and they started to become weird cult figures. And I thought, ‘well, that’s kind of what would happen to Otis, Baby and Spaulding in the movie too.”
He also recalls attending the anniversary screening at Melbourne’s Astor theatre in 2014. “That was really good because I hadn’t seen the movie in such a long time and I didn’t even know that people outside of America knew about these movies, in all honesty. And to be able to go to another country and sell out venues and have fans react the way they did, it really blew me away!”
In the 16 years since the release of House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie has continued to weave a freakish tapestry of horror with other films including Halloween (2007), The Lords of Salem (2012) and 31(2016), and as the cinema landscape continues to change around him, with streaming platforms and new viewing demands, he reflects on whether or not filmmaking has gotten any harder.
“I wish I could say it’s easier but its not. It’s always been hard. Going to a studio with a crazy idea – and my ideas are crazy and not exactly what you would think are commercial or mainstream – and saying to them that I need millions and millions of dollars to do this. It’s insanity that it ever happens and sometimes I can’t believe that someone gives me their money.” And with a smirk he adds, “but I’m happy to take their money and do it.”
Given how arduous and exhausting the reality of filmmaking is, we asked him what draws him back to it time and again?
“I just love doing it. I can’t stop. My brain never stops, so I think of an idea and I think ‘God, that’d be a f–ing cool movie, let’s do it.’ And it just starts and I can’t stop. It’s the same with music. You start writing a song and you have this really basic idea of nothing and then you jump ahead to playing that song to 100,000 people somewhere and you think, ‘Wow, what a crazy trip.’ And it’s the same thing with movies.
“You know, you start writing page one and you have this half-assed idea, and then you’re at the premiere of the movie and you go, ‘wow, there it is.’ It’s a really cool process.”
Talking with Rob Zombie is like to talking to a kid about their favourite candy. His enthusiasm for cinema is infectious and his love for filmmaking is equally zealous, and with a celebrated career in music spanning 30-odd years, it’s clear that he is driven by creativity, proven by his eagerness to discuss the three stages of production.
“I love writing because I’m by myself and I can do whatever I want. Shooting the movie is fun because you’re with everyone and you see it coming to life. And I love editing, too, because that’s where I can sit alone with the editor for months and shape the story and take things to a whole other level. You can create an entirely new movie in the edit sometimes. A lot of what I do doesn’t come across in the script. It doesn’t say, ‘that will be in slow motion’ in the script, or ‘there’s a Slim Whitman song playing.’ Putting it all together in the edit is very rewarding.”
Seizing upon his excitement, we ask what it was like to work alongside his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, and whether or not they developed her character together prior to writing the script, or if he just threw her into the deep end.
“Let’s see, good question. We probably discussed it in advance to me writing it, but not much. We talked about it and thought it would be cool if Baby had gone crazy. So she’s kind of in a different reality from everyone else in this film. But that was about all we discussed. Sheri would then come up with it on her own. She did all this crazy stuff that’s not even in the script. Every time she came bopping in to a room, singing a weird song, or when she says certain things, that’s all her creating that. She just took the lines and ran with it. A great example is one scene that was written entirely differently. She said that it wouldn’t fit the character and that she didn’t want to do it. So we sat down that night, figured out the whole scene in five minutes and shot it completely differently. That’s probably my favourite moment in the film, and that’s what happens when you work with someone who knows their character so well.”
As with all of Zombie’s films, the cast of 3 from Hell features an eclectic assortment of character actors, most of whom occupy the horror realm. Some notable names include Clint Howard, Dee Wallace and Barry Bostwick, and when asked about his casting choices, he laments on the increasing difficulty of securing many of his idols.
“I have people that I love from over the years, like at the beginning of the movie the newscaster is Austin Stoker, who I always loved from Assault on Precinct 13 and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. I always thought that guy was cool, so I put him in my movie. That’s how I cast everyone, really. The problem I’m having these days – and it sounds kind of morbid – is that so many of the people I loved as a kid are not around anymore. It’s getting harder to find people because the 1970s was my heyday for loving movies. Having said that, there’s still more. Even Barry Bostwick – we got him at the very last minute. The movie was done and I said that I needed someone to be the narrator and my producer says, ‘How about Barry Bostwick?’ and I go, ‘F–k yeah, that’s perfect!’… He’s so nice. He’s super cool.”
And with that our conversation turns to the rather heavy issue of violence in cinema as we [reluctantly] asked whether or not the ever-changing world views and sensitivities towards such things ever influenced his consideration for the material. As expected he does not subscribe to such notions.
“No. I work in a bubble and I just do what I want to do,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter. The world has had violence for a long time, and was violent even before that. So I really don’t think that the two things connect, personally. It’s a conversation that exists because nobody in positions of power wants to deal with real-life problems and fix things, so they love to point the finger and say, ‘oh look at these violent movies, Oh look at these violent video games. Oh look at that satanic music.’
Let’s put it this way, the prisons of the world are not full of people who watch too many violent movies, you know?”
As the conversation comes to an end, we ask about the music of 3 from Hell, which has him reunited with Zuess, who previously scored his film 31. What is a Zombie-Zuess partnership like and how much direction did he give?
“What I want is so specific that it would be unfair to let him figure it out. So I’d find pieces of existing music and tell him that I need something like that. For example the third act all takes place in Mexico, and I knew I wanted a Morricone The Good, The Bad and the Ugly type of music. I would play him songs from different Italian westerns and he did a great job considering that I was throwing something different at him every day. I would say, ‘now I need some mariachi music’ and he’d say, ‘how the f–k do I write mariachi music?’ He did an amazing job and it was not easy!”
Finally, there was no way that Rob Zombie was escaping the all-important question of what are his favourite Australian films? As expected, our beloved road warrior export gets a mention, but so do a few other unexpected gems.
“Truthfully, I’ve got to say Mad Max. The first time I saw Mad Max I didn’t even know what it was. I remember seeing an ad in the newspaper and it just looked so cool, seeing him standing there with a gun. I didn’t know it was Australian, or even what it was about. It just looked cool and I needed to see it. And it blew me away. And what’s that other one? Is it Stone? I dig that one too. Oh and Chopper. That’s a f–king badass movie. Eric Bana is incredible. I can’t believe that’s him in it. He’s phenomenal. I even like Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly.”
3 from Hell premieres at Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019: Monster Takes Melbourne on October 10 and screens as the Opening Night film at Fangoria x Monster Fest 2019: Monster Takes Australia on October 31, in addition to Fangoria x Monster Fest Presents Halloween screenings nationwide. For full location, session and ticketing info visit: 3fromhell.com.au