Rob Zombie is synonymous with Halloween. Along with recording freaky hits like “Living Dead Girl,” “Dragula,” and “Superbeast,” he’s created frightening mazes for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights over the past decade, and in 2013 he launched his own fright fest, “Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare,” at the L.A. County Fearplex in Pomona, Calif.
Rob is also a renowned director of cult horror flicks, so to celebrate both Halloween and his filmography, Yahoo Music asked him to discuss his favorite scenes from his own movies. Pass the popcorn and read on, in Rob’s own words. — as told to Jon Wiederhorn
(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING SCENES CONTAIN GRAPHIC CONTENT)
1. The Devil’s Rejects
At the end of The Devil’s Rejects, there’s a big bloody shootout to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Free Bird.” When someone asks you, “How are you going to end the movie?” and you tell them, “I’m going to end it with five minutes of ‘Free Bird,’” you get these blank stares. And then they say, “No, seriously, how are you going to end it?” But that’s another moment everyone seems to love. I thought it was cool to take an iconic song that was so iconic that it almost lost its power because you’ve heard it so many times, and hear people say, ‘Oh, now when I hear the song I can’t help but think of the end of that movie.“
We didn’t have a lot of time to shoot. We were out on a canyon road and it was blazing hot. So if you walked out and talked to the actors, you couldn’t even touch the car they were in because it was so sizzling hot. Everybody was miserable, but sometimes you have to shoot these things under the worst conditions. There was no shade in sight.
2. House of 1000 Corpses
There’s a scene House of 1000 Corpses where Otis [played by Bill Moseley] has a gun to a cop’s head, and there’s this crane-out shot that lasts for a minute in dead silence. To watch that scene with an audience in the theater was great, because the tension that builds in a crowd that just has to sit there for a minute in silence is just hilarious. Usually, people can’t keep quiet for 10 seconds.
It was a little bit tricky to shoot, just because the sun was going down and each shot involved a big setup, and when we didn’t get it right we had to do it again. And we only had two or three tries before the sun went down. The thing about doing a big crane shot is you want it smooth, and if the wind blows, the crane jerks and it ruins the shot. But what I liked about it most was it was the one thing that everyone at Universal hated when they going to put out the movie. As soon as they say they hate something, you know you’re on the right track. And to this day it’s been the main thing that everyone says they love about the movie.”
3. The Lords of Salem
I really like the scene in The Lords of Salem where Heidi [Hawthorne, played by Sheri Moon Zombie], after all the buildup, finally is wheeled down the hall in the wheelchair and goes into Apartment 5. She’s got the skull makeup on and we see that Apartment 5, which is the portal to Hell, is this grand cathedral with this little weird creature at the top of the stairs. That was one of my favorite moments to film, just because it was the last thing we shot.
We had been shooting for over 24 hours straight and it was 4 a.m. the next day. I had to wake up Sheri. She was falling asleep in a chair. The crew was laying on cases, dead asleep. Everybody was punchy beyond punchy. And you don’t know if it’s going to work because you’re so tired you don’t trust your own judgment anymore. But when I saw the skull makeup and the striped shirt and I saw how graphic it was, I knew it would connect, and it has because it’s already turned into a popular Halloween costume and an image people know.
I really like the scene in Halloween where the character of Joe Grizzly, played by Ken Foree, heads into the bathroom and Michael Myers kills him to steal his work overalls. With that movie I was trying to find a way to justify everything. How would he find his clothes? How would he get this? How would he get that? We shot that real quick one night, which happened to be his birthday.
Ken is a big guy. He’s an ex-football player. He’s like 6’5″. And Tyler Mane, who played Michael Myers. is 6’11”. Between the two of them, you get close to 700 pounds worth of solid weight. They were both in this tiny little stall, which had no breakaway walls. It was solid. They started thrashing around in there, and their egos kicked in. Neither wanted to give the other an inch. So they were slamming each other into this metal wall as hard as possible until they broke it. It was something that seemed unbreakable. And I noticed at the end of it Tyler had this huge hematoma on his arm. His arm had completely swollen up because he had been smashing it into the metal so hard during the scene. When you watch the scene, it seems really violent because it truly was very violent when we filmed it.
5. Halloween II
In Halloween II there was an extended scene where these two drivers from the coroner are driving Michael Myers’s dead body down this country road and they hit a cow and the cow trashes the van. They’re all in wreckage and suddenly Michael Myers kicks open the back of the van, comes around to the front, and saws the guy’s head off with this broken piece of glass. And as he looks down the road, he has the first vision of his mother in white with the white horse. I like that scene for many reasons. It’s partially based on a true incident. I had a roommate who told me a story about him and his friends driving around on a country road at night and they hit a cow. It crushed the car like an accordion, but somehow the cow was still alive. That’s what inspired it. I tried my best to make it as brutally violent as possible, because I wanted to make the transition from the incredible violence of Michael Myers into this weird fairytale-like vision of his mother with the horse. At that moment it sets up the film to not be what you think it’s going to be, because it was really important to me for that movie to not be what people expected.
The actual shooting was a nightmare. We had to shoot it twice. We had one special effects team that rigged the van and the cow to hit, and they did a terrible job. It was almost like something out of Monty Python. They hit the cow and the cow went flying and it looked really fake. We wasted all night shooting and then it started raining. It was an 18-hour night and it was miserable, it was freezing, we were out in the middle of nowhere, but when it was over we went, “Finally, we’re done!” The following day we got the news that all the film from the night before had been destroyed, so we had to do it all again. I even remember one of our camera operators that first night saying, “I never want to have to do that again.” And then we had to do it all again. And our actor who gets his head cut off, who we had already established in the film, had already flown back to England where he lived. Halloween II was one of those movies where everything that could go wrong went wrong every single day to the point where if it wasn’t such a miserable experience, it would have been funny.
6. House of 1000 Corpses
I really like the scene in House of 1000 Corpses where the four kids are in with the family and Grandpa stands up with his mouth full of food and screams, “It’s showtime!” And then we go into this bizarre show they have where he’s telling this filthy joke and Baby does this Betty Boop song and dance. It was so out of leftfield and had nothing to do with anything. I like moments like that in films, that show that whatever you expect to happen next isn’t going to happen.
Shooting went pretty smooth. We didn’t have much time to rehearse it. I knew Sheri was going to come out and mime to the record and be in this costume, but we had never practiced it in advance and I had never seen what she was going to do. I’m not sure if she even knew what she was going to do. But it was fun. We pretty much got it all on the first take. The reason I cast Dennis Fimple as Grandpa was because I used the joke that he tells as the audition. There were a whole bunch of guys in their sixties or older who came in and told the joke. And a lot of the actors actually seemed embarrassed because it was really filthy. Dennis was the one who not only didn’t seem embarrassed, he made the joke filthier and more disgusting.
7. The Devil’s Rejects
There’s a scene in The Devil’s Rejects in the motel room where Otis and Baby are holding [Adam] Banjo (Lew Temple) and [Gloria] Sullivan (Priscilla Barnes) hostage and they’re verbally terrorizing them. It’s a very tense scene, mostly between Bill Moseley and Priscilla Barnes. He’s got his arms around her and he slides the gun down her underwear, being as sleazy as possible. At that moment I really felt like we had tapped into something. When you’re filming, everything’s fake and it’s really obvious it’s fake, but every once in a while it feels real and you know it’s going to work. I liked that scene so much I thought, “S—, this could have been the whole movie, inside this hotel.” But it wouldn’t have been the most pleasant film to watch.
We had built a four-wall set, so once you were in the set, it was really like a motel room. And I think that’s why it took on that vibe. Sometimes if it’s a three-wall set, it feels very fake. But when you’re in a four-wall set, you’re really in the space. The people were really there, and Priscilla was particularly great in that scene. It was so tense filming the scene it was making Bill uncomfortable, so he kept trying to cut the tension between takes by joking around because Priscilla Barnes seemed genuinely upset. I’m sure she wasn’t, but she wanted to stay in that state of mind. So I took Bill outside and told him he had to stop. I said, “You can’t do that. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be great. So stop joking around and don’t break the tension.” Because that’s what you want. You want the tension. As a director, the moment you strive for is when you can cut the tension on set with a knife and you know it’s getting on film. The last thing you want is someone breaking the tension, because it’s so hard to regain it sometimes.
I really like the way Halloween ends. One of the problems I had with working on the movie was I found the character of Laurie Strode [played by Scout Taylor-Compton] kind of boring. Laurie Strode wasn’t my character, obviously, she was John Carpenter’s character. I tried to remain fairly faithful to her. And I think because of that reason, I was a little bored by her. But by the time I got to the end of the movie, I had a change of heart. Laurie had fallen off the balcony with Michael and she’s all busted up and bloody and she puts the gun to Michael’s head and shoots him, and the blood explodes up in her face and she just starts screaming. It’s almost like the blood has passed to her and she is now as crazy as he is. That was the moment that I suddenly liked that character and I felt, “Oh, I could come back and do this again, because now this character has become a different character that wasn’t created before, that I could relate to and do something new with.”
That night was horrible. Two people fell off the balcony, one doubling for Michael Myers, one doubling for Laurie Strode. The stunt coordinator’s daughter doubled for Laurie, and it was a pretty big drop. But somehow when they fell, they got turned around in the air. At first I thought they missed the pad and landed on the concrete, but what happened was they got twisted around and this huge guy landed on top of this tiny girl and crushed her in half. She bent weird and you just heard this crunch and this scream start. That was the take we used in this movie. I wasn’t going to use it, but she wanted us to. Obviously, at that point the ambulances came to rush her to the hospital. She was f—ed up for a while. That’s the scary thing about doing stunts. No matter how hard you plan it — and obviously her dad would have planned it as carefully as possible — sometimes things go wrong. It was pretty horrifying.
9. The Lords of Salem
I really like the scene in The Lords of Salem where Bruce Davison, who plays Francis Matthias, comes into the house and has tea with the three ladies, because it’s such a simple scene. There’s these three women who seem completely non-threatening having tea, and just the looks and the vibe in the room are great. Bruce is such a likable person and actor and onscreen presence, so to see these three women casting looks back and forth before they actually attack him was great. It was one of those moments when you get a bunch of actors who are really in a groove together. It’s a subtle scene, not this big, crazy, violent moment, but it might be one of the most tension-filled scenes in the whole movie.
There’s a line in the script where Judy Geeson, who plays Lacy Doyle says, “Did you come here to stick your nosy c— inside her head and f— her brain?” She was so excited to say that line. She had been talking about it since the day we cast her. And the day we shot it she kept f—ing up the line. She overthought it so much and was so excited to say it that she kept screwing it up. She obviously eventually got it right and it was great.
10. Halloween II
It’s not necessarily scary by any means, but there’s a scene that ends Halloween II where the viewer doesn’t know if Laurie Strode is dead or if she’s hallucinating or she’s in an asylum or whatever. But she’s in an infinitely long white room and we’re dialing into her space. She’s got a crazy look in her eye now, and she sees the vision of her mother all in white with the white horse coming towards her. And this crazy smile comes over her face. That’s how I ended the movie. I love things that are visual, and that was such a great visual. I couldn’t get over it.
We shot it inside of a high school in Georgia that had the most gigantic hallways. You could literally drive a truck down these hallways that went on and on forever. We built a back wall, so we had an end to the hallway, and we had this horse that I believe the mom of the actress Abigail Breslin owned. She brought the horse down to the set and it was massive — like eight feet tall. We were standing there petting the horse and Chase [Wright Vanek], who played the young Michael Myers, who I was originally going to put in that scene, was petting the horse and the horse had almost his whole arm in its mouth and was gnawing on the boy’s arm. It looked like he was trying to eat his arm off. And he was just standing there, afraid to say anything. We looked over and this kid’s arm is half way down this horse’s throat. It was pretty funny.
— as told to Jon Wiederhorn