Published at: Aug. 14, 2009, 3:34 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
With the HALLOWEEN II junket just around the corner (and the film due out on August 28th), I figured now would be an opportune time to hit you with this interview I conducted with writer-director Rob Zombie at Comic Con. I still hadn't seen the film when I chatted with Zombie, so most of these questions are directed at figuring out the tone of Zombie's sequel to his love-it-or-loathe-it 2007 remake. Generally, I'm not a fan of pre-screening interviews, but every time I post a HALLOWEEN story, the talk backs get very long and very contentious, so I figured it was only fair to get Zombie on the record talking about the direction he's going in with this sequel - which will have nothing to do with the 1981 Rick Rosenthal-directed "More of the Night He Came Home" opus.
This was the first time I'd ever sat down with Zombie, and I found him to be a candid, completely laid-back dude. He's pretty forthcoming on what he thinks didn't work about his first HALLOWEEN, and why he's confident this movie will be more reflective of his demented sensibility. Though I definitely had problems with the last film, I have to say that he's sold me on the sequel. The guy's got talent. I'm more than willing to give him a second chance.
Mr. Beaks: You've said that this is 100% your film. Do you feel like you no longer have to honor the tradition and the archetypes of the HALLOWEEN series?
Rob Zombie: I mean, I had absolute freedom on the first film. It wasn't like anyone was saying, "Oh, you have to keep this, or you have to keep that." The only person who was thinking that was me. It's really funny, because no one was even that concerned whether I kept Michael Myers's mask. I was like, "We've got to keep the mask! Without the mask, it's not HALLOWEEN. It's just some dude." And within that, I don't know if I could ever find that balance. Remakes are tough. You're almost always in a no-win situation, unless you're remaking a film that's so bad or one that no one's ever heard of. I love [John Carpenter's] HALLOWEEN as a movie. They'd be like, "Well, who could be Dr. Loomis besides Donald Pleasence?" And I'd be like, "I don't fucking know, because I can't see it any other way either!" Or "Who could be Laurie Strode?" But then as time goes on, you start thinking outside the box. And I had to stop watching HALLOWEEN because it was only fucking me up more.
So on the second one, I was like, "Okay. No one mentions HALLOWEEN. No one mentions John Carpenter. We don't look at anything. Let's just go crazy in a certain direction." And what's kind of funny with HALLOWEEN for you or me is that you can't fathom if someone hasn't seen it. But it's incredible how many people haven't seen the movie. Like Malcolm McDowell. And half the actors that were showing up. So it was good. They couldn't reference anything in their minds.
Beaks: And you're also getting away from Carpenter's score in this film?
Zombie: Yeah. In the first film, it made sense. But it's funny: we've put it in and out of this film at times. And this film has just so much become its own thing that it almost seems to take you out of the movie. We thought, "Oh, we'll put it in in this one section, and the fans will love it!" But it was actually very distracting. You get caught up in the vibe of what the film actually is, and when you hear that score, it's just kind of like, "Oh, yeah. Here we are again." It's weird. It just didn't work.
Beaks: Well, it has a strong association not just to the first film, but also to all the sequels. So if you're trying to change course, it makes sense to lose it.
Zombie: It's hard to make people see something differently and then throw that music in there. No matter what you're watching, it makes it feel like you've seen it before. On the first film, it was fine - like when Michael discovers the mask. But in this one it just never made sense.
Beaks: In reading about what you've done with the narrative, it sounds like Loomis has become something of an antagonist: he's very full of himself, and pimping his book on talk shows. I'm wondering if Michael has become the protagonist of this film.
Zombie: I was trying to think of it realistically. Like "If the first film was real, what would happen?" And I kind of thought of it like "If Michael Myers was famous, he'd be like Charles Manson." Thus making Dr. Loomis Vincent Bugliosi. Loomis would be a superstar; he'd be a little guy who started as a child psychiatrist turned into Dr. Phil. (Laughs) Meanwhile, people who were affected by all of these events, who are trying to pick up the pieces of their crappy lives... and this guy's out there milking it for all it's worth. It seemed kind of like a realistic journey to go on, even though you see it's eating away at him. It's not just like, "Oh, I'm an asshole, and this is what I do."
I thought all of the characters would be damaged, and they would respond in different ways. Everybody knows people in their lives, or themselves, who've had horrible events happen to them, and they change you in certain ways: some people become really introverted, and some people will just go, "Fuck it! I don't care anymore! I'm going out partying every night, and I don't give a shit if I live." That's what I felt Laurie Strode would become. She'd become really outgoing, whereas the Annie Brackett character, who was more outgoing, would become more agoraphobic and introverted. The event fucks them up in different ways.
Beaks: You've kept the hospital setting, at least for a portion of the film. Was that a conscious nod to the second HALLOWEEN, or just out of necessity?
Zombie: It's a very small thing at the beginning of the movie. And it was just... I always think it's kind of cool when sequels pick up like it's the next second. That's what I wanted to do: pick up like it just immediately happened. And, obviously, [Laurie] was pretty fucked up, so she'd have to go to the hospital. Maybe the trailer makes you think, "Oh, the whole movie's in a hospital!" But that's just a brief thing.
Beaks: The nice thing is that no one's going to be upset when you don't follow HALLOWEEN II beat-for-beat.
Zombie: I don't think they'll be upset.
Beaks: Well, I was watching the preview for the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake yesterday, and while it looks like Samuel Bayer has shot the hell out of it, I'm just seeing every beat from the original film. Nothing could bore me more than going to see a movie like that. And I'll be honest: I had those same problems with your first HALLOWEEN.
Zombie: The biggest problem I had with the first HALLOWEEN myself is that I conceived it as two movies, and I pitched it that way. The first movie would be young Michael, leading up to him escaping Smith's Grove, coming back to Haddonfield, and then the movie would end. And then the second movie would be whatever. So it's sort of like two movies got shoved into one. It got awkward. You really sunk into the first part of the film, but the second part was just, like, a race to the end. And that wasn't the way I'd conceived it. Whereas this film... I love this movie so much more.
Beaks: One thing that made me happy was reading the soundtrack list. It's pretty varied. "The Things We Do for Love" by 10cc wedged in there next to Bad Brains. Were these songs you knew you wanted to use, or did they occur to you further down the line.
Zombie: Some of them were songs I'd always wanted to use. Having songs in advance in your mind helps a lot. Like on THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, it helped a lot. It was nice to be able to find the spirt of the movie - and the spirit of REJECTS became The Allman Brothers, Terry Reid and, obviously, Lynyrd Skynyrd. It really helped set the tone. Whereas with HALLOWEEN... not so much. There wasn't much outside of the Carpenter music that was meaningful. But on this one, there are certain songs that are: "Nights in White Satin" is one. I knew I was using that in advance, and shot it with the song already in the movie. It makes a big difference.
Beaks: Did you time the scene out in your head?
Zombie: Yeah, you just kind of write the scene knowing that's what's going to be playing. And it makes it that you can really conceive it, as opposed to saying, "Oh, we know some music will be playing there." I don't know if people can tell the difference, but it helps me when I'm shooting.
Beaks: Did you play music on set?
Zombie: Well, there's this scene where the girls go to this "Phantom Jam". It's a concert, and I didn't want to have something where there's a band playing, and all of the people are listening on headphones pretending to move to music. You always see that in movies, and you're like, "Why is no one moving in time to the music?" It always looks really fake. So we decided to have a real concert and film it. It's kind of like a Robert Altman movie, where you can kind of hear the dialogue overlapping, and the music's blaring. But when you watch it, you go, "Wow! It looks like they snuck these actresses into an actual concert." It's so much more alive that way.
Beaks: I love that you're referencing Robert Altman in making a horror film. From hearing you talk before, I know you've got a really well-rounded sense of film history, and that you can bring this knowledge into your movies. It's not about trying to top what other horror filmmakers are making.
Zombie: I don't even know what other horror filmmakers are making. I don't really watch horror movies that much. It's not really my thing, in a strange way. People are always like, "You got Brad Dourif because he was Chucky, right?" And I'll be like, "Oh, right, he is Chucky. I forgot about that. No, I got him because I like GATES OF HEAVEN." It's never really what it seems. I mean, I like horror movies, obviously, but it's older. When the '80s hit, and everything became a "slasher" movie, I kind of zoned out. That's really not my thing.
Beaks: But don't your fans, who've been with you since White Zombie, expect you to be making horror films? Are you trying to break out of that?
Zombie: I'm always trying to break out of that in a certain sense. To me, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS isn't really a horror movie. I mean, it's horrific, but, to me, it's a western. It's three outlaws on the run from a sheriff. It's like a '70s road movie. That's the type of stuff I like. I mean, I like horror movies, but I also like all kinds of stuff. What I do like is dark, violent material.
Beaks: It's more aesthetic-based then genre-based?
Zombie: Yeah. It could be TAXI DRIVER, it could be HARDCORE, it could be RABID DOGS, it could be THE WILD BUNCH. I like dark, fucked-up material. And sometimes horror movies don't even feel that way; they don't feel dark and disgusting, but kind of light and funny.
Beaks: But in your films, the disturbing elements are sometimes leavened by humor. And some of the people you've cast in your films... they're familiar. We like them, and we enjoy their company.
Zombie: I like casting every role with someone who's an interesting character actor because that's what I remember as a kid. You'd watch movies, and you'd notice these people popping up in other stuff. You'd notice, like, Geoffrey Lewis or Bruce Dern or... whatever. I love that. Like in [HALLOWEEN II], Margot Kidder comes in and does only one scene, but it's worth having Margot Kidder as opposed to someone who'd just be working for scale. I always want to try to find someone who'll make it interesting.
Beaks: But aren't you worried that when she comes in, we'll go, "Oh, my god, that's Margot Kidder!"?
Zombie: I think that can happen, but it only happens... to film fans. The average person is not going, "Oh, my god, it's Udo Kier!" If you write for Ain't It Cool News, you are because you know all those people. But the average person isn't going, "That's so obviously Malcolm McDowell." For us, we see every little thing. But most people aren't seeing all these obscure things.
Beaks: I guess we sometimes forget that movies can work on a completely different level for people who aren't walking film encyclopedias.
Zombie: And that's the thing. What can you do? You'd have to find all unknowns - which is fine, too. But people don't go "Oh, that's Clint Howard!" They go, "Um, is that Billy Bob Thornton?"
Zombie: People get Clint Howard and Billy Bob Thornton confused for some reason.
Beaks: (Laughs) I'd like to see Clint Howard in big Hollywood movies as much as I see Billy Bob Thornton.
Zombie: Clint's awesome. I love Clint.
Beaks: Betsy Rue is in [HALLOWEEN II].
Beaks: She's someone who really popped out for me this year. Talk about a fearless actress: her [very extended] scene in MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D... I couldn't stop talking about it once I walked out of the theater.
Zombie: Some people just don't care. They just don't care.
Beaks: And she's that kind of type?
Zombie: I guess. She only worked for one day, so I didn't get to know her very well. But she seemed super cool. There's this scene that happens at the Rabbit in Red club, and we had an actress who had to be naked through the whole scene. And she just sat out naked the whole day. She just didn't care! It's funny.
Beaks: So where are you with your various other projects?
Zombie: EL SUPERBEASTO comes out September 22nd. That's done. That's coming out. I have a record that's finished, so I'm going to hit the road in October. And once that's all wrapped up, the goal is to go back and get TYRANNOSAURUS REX going. That's what I was going to do before HALLOWEEN II came up.
Beaks: Yeah, you had to rush right into HALLOWEEN II.
Zombie: It was insane.
Beaks: Was that preferable in any way?
Zombie: Movies are weird, and I can't explain it. For some reason, sometimes things just really work, and sometimes they just really don't work. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was a film where everything just worked: everyone got along great, and it was just an incredible experience. HALLOWEEN was miserable. Every day was a problem, everything was fucked up, people who usually love each other fucking hated each other... and it was one of those movies where we grinded to the end of the schedule. And you're like, "Why was this such a bad experience?" HALLOWEEN II was just like DEVIL'S REJECTS. Probably every director says that you can't figure out why sometimes it just connects and everything seems to go perfectly. But for some reason, the creative team was totally in sync. And for some reason on HALLOWEEN, the creative team was just totally out of sync the whole fucking time. That's why, even when the movie was number one, I was so depressed. Because creatively, I didn't feel like it ever... you just want the thing to be right, and something was wrong the whole time to me.
Beaks: What do you think about the fans who didn't like the first HALLOWEEN. Do you think they'll like this one?
Zombie: I don't know why anyone does or doesn't like anything. There was a funny thing with HALLOWEEN, too, that I think was sort of an internet-created dislike for the film. Because so many people come up to me and they go, "I finally got around to seeing it, man, and I fucking loved it! People told me I'd hate it!" And I think also, because it was a remake of HALLOWEEN. If you read reviews, you'll find people who are like, "I fucking hated that movie when I saw it. But now that I went back and watched it again, it's pretty rad, actually."
Beaks: Even Roger Ebert's had to do that a few times.
Zombie: I've done that, too. I've gone to the movies and seen movies and hated them. Then I'll see it on HBO and go, "What the fuck was I thinking? That movie was awesome!" I just wasn't in the mood to watch it that day. Whatever. I can't figure out what people like and don't like. It's impossible. That's all you can really do, right?
Beaks: That'll keep you from creative paralysis.
Zombie: It'll keep you from losing your mind.
HALLOWEEN II opens nationwide on August 28th.