Metalhead-turned-director Rob Zombie has been on the fringes of American pop culture since his days with White Zombie, the rock band he made famous in the mid-1990s. After achieving commercial and critical success as a solo artist, he turned his talents toward the world of cinema, making his directorial debut with 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses. In 2007, he was offered the opportunity to helm the remake of the horror classic Halloween, bringing him further into the public eye. RT caught up with Rob at this year’s Comic-Con, where he was promoting his upcoming sequel , H2: Halloween 2, and he spoke to us about his Five Favorite Films, sharing some personal stories about his childhood and some insights into the filmmaking process along the way.
In terms of mind-blowing experiences, I would say the first film was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, just because I think — I’m pretty sure — that’s the first time I ever saw a live action movie in a movie theater as a kid. My dad took me and my brother to see it. I think up till then I’d only seen one animated movie in a movie theater. I think it was Robin Hood, which, for some reason, was really boring to me. But we went to see Willy Wonka, and I was so blown away, and it so freaked me out, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for years. I had watched movies on TV and stuff, but that was the first time I think I was old enough to go to the movies, and be able to sit through a movie without wanting to get up and run around the theater. Just seeing it that big and getting sucked into it. I don’t even think I realized those were actors and that anything was fake. I think I just thought it was all real, that Charlie was a real kid, and Willy Wonka was a real person. I really think I thought it was real. I really thought the whole family lived in that one room. I was probably in second grade or something… So I probably didn’t actually think it was real, but I responded to it like it was real.
The next movie would probably be Young Frankenstein. I remember going to see that as a kid. Because I loved all the Universal horror films, but I had only seem them on TV, like on Creature Double Feature on Friday afternoons. By that point I loved Gene Wilder, because I made the connection like, “Oh, that guy was in Willy Wonka. Now he’s in Young Frankenstein.” So that movie blew me away. And even to this day, I watch it all the time. It’s such an incredible movie because it’s really, really funny, with such incredible performances, but it’s so beautifully made. Nobody would spend the time now to make a comedy that well. Visually and technically, it’s so incredible. It doesn’t date; it holds up. Peter Boyle’s perfect, and Madeline Kahn and Gene Wilder, and everybody. It’s just an incredible movie. It really captured the feel of those Universal films, like Bride of Frankenstein, yet it is really funny. It’s something that almost never works. You know, kind of look at the Munsters on TV, and the Addams family, where you could get into it and they have the art direction there and everyone’s funny, but it almost never works. It’s almost always a disaster, and that film is just so perfect. I think the fact that people were brave enough back then to release black-and-white movies.
RT: You think horror-comedies are hard to do in general?
RZ: Yeah, I think they never work. They’re either campy or stupid, and that one is neither. It’s just funny, the right, perfect tone. I don’t know, I think it’s a testament to how great Gene Wilder is. He’s just incredible, just unbelievable.
Then I would say the next time I remember going and seeing a movie and having my mind f—ing blown was A Clockwork Orange. I was probably about 15 or so when I saw that. At that point in time there were no DVDs, there was no VHS. As a movie fanatic, I could only look at pictures and go, “Oh my god, A Clockwork Orange! I have to see this movie!” But how do you see it? It’s not playing anywhere. Eventually it was playing at a college, and I went to go see it at this college. I was only fifteen years old and it was all college people and they seemed real cool. And it just f—ing blew my mind. And ever since then I’ve been fanatic for Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell.
That’s why I love working with Malcolm, because he loves talking about that stuff. You can ask him anything, and he’ll give you all the dirt on how… What is amazing for me too, hearing the stories about the movie, is just how much time they had. Now you have, “Oh, you have an hour to shoot that thing.” And he’ll go, “Oh, we shot that in five days.” That Singing in the Rain scene. They didn’t even figure out the song until eventually he said that Kubrick was like, “Do you know any songs?” And when Stanley would be at a loss for what to do, he would go up to Malcolm and go, “You’re probably going to be sick tomorrow. You won’t be able to make it to work for probably about a week.” And they would shut down and Malcolm would pretend to be sick so Stanley could figure out what he was going to shoot next.
RT: You think that was the standard back then, or do you think that was a luxury Kubrick was…
RZ: I mean, I’ve read so many books on Kubrick; I think he just worked outside the system. They just let him get away with f—ing murder.
RT: Would you prefer to have that much time, or do you think there’s something to be captured when you’re shooting quick?
RZ: I think it’s both. I just want to have enough time for what we need to do. You can have too much time, and too much money’s wasted. You see that in so many blockbuster movies, where they had everything at their disposal and they came up with nothing. You know, you’d like to go, “Okay, we’ve got two hours to shoot this; we really need four hours or five.” But you’re not always sacrificing, because you know on set, you know when you walk away from a scene and you go, “We have that scene nailed.” And then you get to editing, whatever, seven months later, comes together perfectly. And with other scenes you shoot, you go, “I know we don’t have that scene. I just know it’s not there.” And then you get to editing, and you spend forever trying to make something work, but you just know, because it never really got on film in the first place. And I would just like to have the luxury to be able to go, “Okay, I know we have it. Now let’s move on.” I don’t know that I ever completely feel that way, but I would like to feel that way a little more often.
I would say Taxi Driver. First time I saw Taxi Driver as a kid, it f—in’ blew my mind. I’ve always been a huge fan of movies about solitary, sort of loner people. I think that’s what I liked about horror movies as a kid, because the monsters were always portrayed that way. And Taxi Driver‘s obviously the ultimate movie about that. I don’t know. I’m picking very obvious movies that are genius, but they were new to me as a kid when I saw them, and they just made me go, “Oh my god, the genius of movies.” I love Taxi Driver so much; I’ve seen it so many times. It’s probably one of those movies where I could recite the whole movie straight, or I could at one point; I probably can’t any more. But when I moved to New York — I lived in New York in the early 1980s — and I literally went to every location that was in Taxi Driver, and it was all still there: the porno theater, Variety photo place where Jodie Foster runs in front of Travis’ cab, the furnished rooms building where Harvey Keitel’s standing. I actually had a friend who lived in that building, so that was even more exciting. I used to be a maniac; I went everywhere. It was like my walking tour of Taxi Driver, New York. And again, I was like, “It’s Peter Boyle as the Wizard! This is the greatest movie ever made!” I remember seeing Peter Boyle at the Beverly Center once, and I freaked out. It’s like, “Who do you get excited to meet?” “Peter Boyle!”
And then I’d probably say, to round it out, probably The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. First time going to see that — I remember going to see that. Or Rocky Horror Picture Show, we can make those tied. Finally when I got some wheels and could drive out of town, I would drive for hours and days to go see a movie. I would go to great lengths to see movies. One time I rode my bicycle for seven hours just to see Night of the Living Dead. I did it in the rain, like, “I’m going to see this f—ing movie if it’s the last thing I do!”
RT: How would you hear about how they’re playing?
RZ: Sometimes I’d see an ad in the paper. I remember one time, me and my friend were driving and we heard, “One night only! Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, 3D!” [mimics sound of car peeling out] We spun the car around, drove back the other direction like four hours. We were just fanatics. We’d go to any lengths to see anything. I saw Chainsaw in a double feature with this Jimi Hendrix movie, Jimi Plays Berkeley. It was when I first moved to New York. Everything was a double feature, and it was always weird movies together. I remember again going, “This is the greatest movie ever made.” Everybody was f—ed up, deranged. I don’t know, those are movies that shake my worldview. I would just get so sucked into the movie, I’d never want it to end, and I think Chainsaw Massacre, first time I saw it, I don’t think I’d ever seen a movie like that before. The way it was just so gritty and gnarly. Now you see it all the time – it was so influential — but when I saw it then, that was like 25 years ago or something.
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