The Corpse Keeper
BY G. NOEL GROSS | August 19, 2003
Through three studios in as many years, rockin' Rob Zombie weathered his own hellacious "Project Red Light" before creating a box office love connection for Lions Gate with House of 1000 Corpses. Now that his ode to old-school horror hits DVD, the least of his worries are NC-17 leery studio suits or a scissor mad MPAA, because heck hath no fury like bloodthirsty horrorhounds with 24-hour internet access. In this exclusive interview, one of right near six hundred and sixty six he's endured of late, Mr. Zombie answers the "Unrated vs. Theatrical" brouhaha, wonders if we're all just a wee bit spoiled and charts the grisly road ahead for a certain family who really, really likes to get f#%@ed up and do f#%@ed up s@#% ...
- Being a fan of Sid Haig, I want to thank you for giving him reason to get back in front of a camera, especially with such a great role as Captain Spaulding. What was your experience working with him?
- The thing about Sid, as with most of the cast, is that he really gets it. He's been around and he's worked on all different levels from James Bond movies to black exploitation movies, so he gets it and he was really into it. Which is really helpful, because it wasn't just like a job where someone coasts in, does their time and splits. He was really into making the movie something cool. We hit it off immediately. He's a very cool guy. There's certain people you just connect with right away.
He surely went the extra mile with the DVD's best asset -- the video menus. How involved were you in their development?
Spaulding says pick a feature: at your own effing risk!
- I scripted the DVD menus and was there to direct them. We did them in one day on a green screen, obviously, and added in all the other stuff later. None of it was improvised. I was totally hands on with that because I didn't want to leave all those people hanging with somebody else. For good or for bad, it's my vision and I have to keep it that way. I can't hand it off to someone else.
- There's a lot of comedy to them. Do you think that may neuter the cast's menace?
- Yes and no. What I'm going to do with the sequel is remove all of that, which is a little weird given the DVD. I feel like all the characters are right on the borderline of becoming ridiculous. So for the next film, I'm going to go in and make a much darker, more serious film and any kind of wacky, campy hijinks with the characters is not going to exist.
- With action figures on the way, there's also merchandising to contend with. Heck, I've already got my Murder Ride T-shirt! Although I'm intrigued by your desire to harden these folks a bit.
- It's kind of weird, because by nature, as soon as you start overexposing things, audiences can get too comfortable. I still think the movie itself is a separate entity, so you'll just go along with the tone that's created. But the cast does run the risk of becoming wacky one liner guys and I certainly don't want that to happen.
- How'd your recent round of in-store signings go?
- It was crazy! The response was huge. We had to cut off the lines after awhile. There just wasn't enough time in the day to finish. The response was awesome because you really don't know what people think, really, until you meet them one-on-one.
- Ahem, at risk of leading the witness, what was the pervading question you got?
- OH! There's only ONE question anyone asks: "Where's the Unrated version!?!" The thing is, if we were to release an Unrated version, what we could've done is say: "Here's the theatrical version and, oh, here's some extra scenes tacked on the end. There you go. Now it's Unrated." I didn't want to do that. I want to go back and reedit the scenes back in, fix the music, fix the dialogue tracks and make it all work as a movie. You know, that's time consuming and, unfortunately, I just don't have the time right now. I'm still promoting this one and we've jumped so quickly into preproduction on the sequel. Unfortunately, the Unrated version got lost in the shuffle. It'll exist some day, but as of right now, it doesn't. I think a lot of people think it's like sitting there and I just won't release it.
- Oh, yes, it's in a vault someplace. In the theatrical version, you opted to degrade the image when Bill's done in by Otis and Baby, were such opticals an aesthetic choice or a means of hedging with the MPAA in mind?
- No, I didn't do anything for the MPAA. Everything was done for the effect it would have. Since I'd never made and submitted a film before, I didn't really know what to think, so I never really tried to second guess what they'd say. The MPAA is so unpredictable. They paid no attention to stuff that I thought for sure they'd be bothered by and other times they'd see stuff that's not even there. "All the scenes with the drug paraphernalia." I'm like, "What the f#&% are they thinking?" It's hard to interpret even what they're talking about sometimes.
- To my outsider understanding, it's sort of a weird scenario, because they can't directly tell you what to cut, right?
- I don't know if they can or can't, but they don't. They're very vague, so you sort of play a game back and forth where you don't want to cut too little because then they'll think you're just f@#&ing around with them and you don't want to cut more than they actually requested. I think a movie like ours is probably the type that has worse problems because we don't have any big stars. They have different rules. If something has some sort of historical context it can be a lot more violent. I've heard Freddy vs. Jason is very gory, but it's probably very campy too. I haven't seen it though.
- Much of the gore is limited to Freddy and Jason rather than their victims.
- Oh, so they were probably allowed to get away with a lot more. And also, being different filmmakers, they might not have gotten the same hardass treatment.
Is there a specific scene or two fans should look forward to in a future Unrated release?
Apparently, we've only begun to see poor ol' Bill go to pieces.
- There's a lot of scenes that have a lot more stuff. There's also some completely missing scenes that are 100 percent gone. I don't even want to get into those. That'll be the surprise when it comes out. But like the scene you mentioned, when Bill is strapped up and they cut off his hand, that scene goes on a lot longer where they do a lot of other stuff to him. Although I was happy we got away with that much.
- What about other extras? In your commentary, you talk about your pride in the sets being very detailed, any chance of a better look at them?
- A lot of people don't seem to understand it now because DVDs are so insane with "Eight hours of extra footage!" and all. But when we shot this movie three years ago, even then, DVD extras weren't such a priority. So there isn't that much and we also lost things in switching studios. Nobody can find one of the coolest things I wanted to put on the DVD. We did these makeup and film tests for all the characters that would've been really interesting for fans to see how they developed. But no one can find them. Either they were thrown away or they're mislabeled in a vault. Stuff just got lost shuffling from editing room to editing room. One of the main guys who was first in charge of our project doesn't even work for Universal anymore, so there's really nobody to even turn to. That's part of the problem. However, the other day, I dug up some other casting sessions, which I find really interesting.
I especially liked getting to see Bill Moseley work out his big Otis oration on the current disc.
Mr. Moseley emotes.
- Exactly. I find it interesting to see "that's where it begins" and just how raw it is. But we didn't have a crew filming a documentary behind the scenes. Oh, we also had extensive interviews with every actor that nobody can find. We're still digging. I hope to find them, but I think people are getting spoiled now with these whole other discs with the movie about the movie, which we'll probably do next time. The sequel extras will be ridiculous!
- I hear the sequel is sort of a road picture?
- It immediately begins at the house and then leads somewhere else. The last thing I wanted to do was recover the same ground.
- That's great. What I like most about House is its family of characters, so it'll be interesting to see where they're gonna go.
- It's going to be all about them and not about more victims wandering into the scenario and getting killed. Those characters exist, I think they're interesting and I want to take them off on another adventure.
- What's your timetable?
- Basically, as soon as I can finish the script, the studio wants to go into production. But I'm not in a rush. I want to be timely, but don't want to just rush out a movie. Now it's really a dream scenario. In Lions Gate, we have a studio that really believes, especially since they've had great success with this one. DVD sales have been crazy this week. Way beyond anything they imagined. At Universal, it started off good and then it went bad. Then it was really bad. [Laughs.] Now we're going to have a nice, concise effort where it's all about making a great movie.
Were Dr. Satan and The Professor victims of cutting or were they intended to be peripheral?
Remember kids: Don't smoke.
- They were pretty much always a small thing at the end. There's some more stuff that would've been sort of gory, but not a lot of other scenes. They sort of figure in more to the sequel.
- The knee jerk criticism of you is: "What business does this rock guy have making a movie!?!" While the same folks don't have a problem with video or convenience store clerks making movies. What's your take?
- I understand it on some level. They think if you're a video store clerk, making movies is really a passion you have. Whereas if you've already had success in another field, they think you're just sort of f@#&ing around. "Oh, look! Someone handed me this opportunity on a golden platter." But it's not really like that. This is the thing I want to do and it's what I'm going to do. It's difficult. It'd be a million times easier to just make music and it'd be a lot more profitable. It's like anything, you've got to prove yourself. Anytime a TV actor does features people say: "Who does this George Clooney think he is!?!" [Laughs.] That's just the way it goes in life. You're always proving yourself. Moving from music, people have a perception of who they think you are based on other performers. However, after they work with me they realize I'm not a Keith Moon who's gonna come in drunk and trash their office. [Laughs.] I'm a serious person who's trying to make a movie. But the criticism is OK. I don't care.
- Actually, I admire that about you as a filmmaker. You don't care. The standouts in exploitation cinema have all had that attitude. Whatever the movie is, that's what it is. Like it or not.
- That's the only way to do anything. All these films that everyone talks about now, that are heralded so high, weren't well thought of when they came out. The genius of Russ Meyer? When I saw those movies, I thought they were f@#&ing amazing, but no one thought that then. It's the same thing with Chainsaw. Any movie. Rocky Horror Picture Show. You need a little time on things.
- To my eye, there's two pink elephants in the horror camp now: One is the mysterious Uncut House. The other is the Saw remake. How do you come down on Saw?
- Sort of two ways. Remaking films that were already great is kind of stupid. I don't really see the point. I get it a little more when people remake films that weren't that great to begin with, but maybe were a really good idea conceptually. I don't need anyone to remake The Godfather or Jaws. But I'll admit it, when I saw the trailer, it looked a lot better than I expected.
- I'll probably be hung on a meat hook for horror heresy, but I reacted the same way.
- Yeah, I don't hope for things to fail. I don't wish any ill will on the people who made the movie. I don't see the point of the remake, just as I don't see the point of a new Dawn of the Dead. I already had my moment with those films when they were released the first time. Maybe this will be new to some other kid. Jesus, what if Frankenstein stopped with the silent version? Then we wouldn't have the Karloff version or the Christopher Lee version. Obviously some purists who saw the original Chainsaw aren't going to agree, but I figure I love Tobe Hooper and if this thing makes him some dough, great.
- Final question and you, Mr. Zombie, are the expert -- 28 Days Later: Zombies or not?
- Of course! What else would they be? "Infecteds!?!" They're working out their motorized instinct. I thought that movie was great. Sure it had a lot stolen from Dawn and Day of the Dead but so f@#&ing what! [Laughs.]
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.