The visionary genius discusses the perils of remaking a classic
In 2005, visionary genius and semi-retired musician Rob Zombie directed his second feature film entitled The Devil's Rejects. It was one of the most compelling, brutal, and visually arresting horror films made in this last decade. With critical and fan success fueling the continued popularity of that film, Zombie wasn't sure what to do next. Artistic acclaim came with a great responsibility, not just for the fans but for the director himself. He knew he had to push the limits of his imagination, and quite literally found himself unsure of which avenue to pursue next.
That's when the prospects of directing a Halloween remake came up. At first, he thought the studio only wanted him to do a sequel, which he balked at. But when he realized that he could make what he calls a "reimagining" of the entire franchise, he changed his mind and took on the challenge. He knew that fans of the original would be passionately heated about the prospects of a so-called remake. Especially with such a classic film. But Zombie is no by-the-numbers director. He has a true and unique esthetic, and he knew he could turn this into something new and original.
Advanced work of mouth is that he's done the job right, and that he has made a film as good as his last. Rob Zombie recently got on the phone to talk with me about the perils of diving into this latest venture. Here is our discussion:
(Zombie has me on hold with Dragula.)
Hey, Rob, how you doing this morning?
Rob Zombie: Good, good, good, good!
I'll start right off the bat; being a fan of the horror genre do you understand certain fans heated passion regarding this project and the sort of negative attitude they generally have towards these remakes? Do you think they kind of go too far with their hate?
Rob Zombie: You know, in some ways I understand it, and in some ways I don't. When some of my favorite films started getting remade, I never felt passionate about it. The big thing is, if there was a new law where the remake replaced the old film, and the old film was destroyed, then I'd understand it. But at this point, who cares?
Rob Zombie: I went back and thought about all the movies that have been remade, that I really liked. And that sort of changed my mind. When I first saw they were doing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because that was one of my favorite movies, I though that it seemed really crazy. But then I was thinking about all of the remakes that I really love. I felt there was no reason to be so closed minded about it.
I read about that last night on your blog, and I'm wondering, why do you think people are so quick to forget all of the good remakes that have been made over the years?
Rob Zombie: Just because there have been so many bad ones. And in general, I think the device on remakes is that the studios are quickly cashing in to make some money. In some cases, that is probably true. But when someone truly, passionately does a remake, whether it's The Fly, or Scarface, or Cape Fear, or The Thing, you know? It works out great. It has to be a real project. For me, Halloween is a real project. It's not just a way to make a quick buck. I really cared about it, and I really wanted to make it special. That's why it works. Its not one of these movies, like, "Lets remake When a Stranger Calls." Those guys were remaking a movie that wasn't even good in the first place. It's just like anything. Anything can work. It's just how you approach it.
How has the blogging affected your creative process?
Rob Zombie: It doesn't affect it at all.
Did you find the paradoxes of doing something like this frustrating? If you make a remake, people are going to bash you and say, "Why didn't you make something original?" But then, when you make something original, they say, "It's so much like something else, why didn't he just remake that?"
Rob Zombie: It was never frustrating for me from other people's perspective. You really can't care. The way movies have to be made is that, you have to have a vision and you have to do it. You know? And not just because of blogging and the Internet. You can't consider people's opinions. People are basing all of their opinions in a vacuum. They don't know what you are doing. They don't know what you've done. Their opinion can't do you any good. It's not based on anything. Its based on them having absolutely no knowledge of what is going on. It's more about their emotional state of mind. The real balancing act wit this movie, with any remake really, is just finding out the process. If you make it completely different, people go, "Why did you even call it Halloween?" But if its too similar, people go, "Why did you even bother doing it in the first place." You have to make it look and feel completely different so that people go, "Wow, this is a totally different movie." I think, when you sit down and watch it, within the first two seconds of watching it, you are going to go, "Wow, this is a whole other animal." Because people like to compare it back and forth with John Carpenter's movie. But as soon as you watch it for five minutes, you'll go, "Oh, there is no sense in comparing it. It is so different." But then, I wanted to keep some classic things so that it does have the things that you loved in the original Halloween. This movie will also have those things.
I read the review that was on your blog, and its pretty positive. The reviewer points out the performance by Sheri Moon as being something that is very important to the film. What is your working relationship with her like, and how do you perceive the strides she's made in her acting abilities at this point?
Rob Zombie: It's been a funny process, because we've been going through it together. Her first movie is my first movie. For the both of us, it's the same journey. I thought that this movie would be great for her because House Of 1000 Corpses, that was just two people getting their feet wet. You can't base anything on that. On The Devil's Rejects, I think she really stepped up, but it was the same character. So people couldn't really see the progress. It was different, but she was still playing the same character. This is really such a completely different character that people go, "Oh, I just thought that the other character was her natural personality. Now I see that she is an actress." It really is hard to judge an actress until you see them do a couple of different things. Because, you don't really know what they can do just based on that one character. I think this is a good one for her.
Can you tell me a little bit about the two Michael Myers you've cast in the film. Taylor Mane and the younger Michael Daeg Faerch?
Rob Zombie: Taylor Mane was someone I wanted from day one. He was the first person I thought of when the project came up. I thought the Michael Myers in the first film worked really well. But in the other films, it really started looking weird to me. It really started looking like a stunt guy with no vibe. It was like, "Well, we're just going to light him on fire, lets just have a stunt guy. Well, we're just going to thrown him through a window, lets just have a stunt guy." It just felt like he ceased to be a character. He just felt like that guy in the mask that was going to do some dumb stunt gag. I didn't want to do that. I knew Taylor, having worked with him on The Devil's Rejects, and I knew that he was a good actor. And I knew that he would take the role seriously. He wouldn't just come in and be a physical presence. And he's got an odd presence, because he is really tall, but he's not that bulky. He lost a hundred pounds. He used to be huge, but now he is kind of big and lanky. Even though he is big, he moves like light. You believe that he is light, and that he is light on his feet. Once you put a person in that jumpsuit, and in a mask, you are inhibiting everything they need to act with. And he can't talk. So he was really good at conveying subtle things. He was pretty amazing. He is awesome in the role. As far as Daeg and young Michael goes, that was always the trick. I didn't have him in mind. He's a little kid. I never heard of him, I never saw him before. When we were casting, I had a lot of little kids that came in that were good actors. One of the little kids, Skylar, who plays Tommy Doyle, was great. He originally came in to read as Michael Myers. He just didn't have the right look. A lot of these kid actors? They tend to be kind of cute. All American looking. None of these kids have this look, a look that you would believe it. And then I saw Daeg's picture, and I said, "This kid is perfect. I hope he can act." Then I saw him, and he was spectacular. He has a very different vibe, and he is incredible. He's one of those kids, like when you'd watch the old Bad News Bears movies in the 70s. You are just like, "Wow, these kids are so natural. So real." He just has that vibe. He doesn't seem like a Hollywood actor. He's a real kid.
One of the things that won me over as far as this remake goes was seeing your version of the mask for the first time. How did you go about designing that?
Rob Zombie: Our goal was to make it look exactly like the original as much as we could. The designer had a million references. The mask is a tricky mask, because it always looks different. Its such a blank looking mask, that it really depends upon the lighting you're standing in, or how you're standing. It can look really different. I wanted to make it look as perfect to the original as we could do, then we were going to destroy it. That's basically what we did.
I know there's a little bit of folklore with Mike's mask actually being a William Shatner Star Trek mask. Has he ever come out and talked about that?
Rob Zombie: I don't know. I've never heard any mention of it. I know that it's true, but I've never heard him mention it, anyway.
Now, I was excited to see that you cast Danielle Harris in the movie. How did that bit of casting come about?
Rob Zombie: The thought process there was that she came in and read for the part of Annie. Casting her never crossed my mind. A lot of people from the Halloween films approached me, wanting to be in the movie. No disrespect to any of them, but I didn't want to have anyone in the film that was in a previous Halloween film. Because I thought it devalued what we were doing. And that it would seem campy, or like an homage. But we aren't doing any of that. We are making our own film. But, to her credit, she was so good, I knew that I had to drop that way of thinking. By being so good, she won me over. I said, "Ah, fuck it. I don't care if she was in four and five." She was so good, I had to have her in the movie.
Rob Zombie: Not really by me, but other people wanted to call it that. I really didn't like how that sounded. So I just called it Halloween. People are kind of calling it Rob Zombie's Halloween anyway. That's how people refer to it to kind of distinguish it from the original. But that's not officially what it's called or anything. It's not an issue one-way or the other.
What are we going to be seeing at Comic Con this year? You are attending, right?
Rob Zombie: I'll be there. I haven't really done it yet, but I think we will be showing at least one scene form the movie. Or something. I've been working so hard to finish the film that I haven't even really thought about Comic Con. We'll do something.
In the past, when I interviewed you before, you said that you'd like to do a straight-ahead comedy. Is that on the horizon at this point?
Rob Zombie: Its not in the near future. I have a couple other projects that I am dealing with right now, and neither one of them are comedies.
Can you talk about any of those other projects?
Rob Zombie: Not really. They are so early on. I hate talking about things early on, because they think you are announcing something, and you're just mulling it over. You can't talk about projects too early. I think it jinxes the whole thing.
How different was the actual production process on this as opposed to the other two films you've made?
Rob Zombie: Conceptually, it wasn't any different. Halloween is the biggest budget film I have made. And, you know, it is a different looking film. The Devil's Rejects looked very different from House Of 1000 Corpses. And this looks very different from both of those films. I don't know. I kind of need someone else to see it and tell me how they think it's different. I'm so deep in it right now, I can't feed my way out of it.
How far removed do you have to be from one of these projects before you can look at it with a clear mind?
Rob Zombie: It kind of comes and goes. Certain days I will watch the movie and go, "I fucking love this movie." And you kind of have to make that in your mind. Because you might watch it on another day and feel different. Some days you've just seen it so many times, you can't even watch it any more. I'm kind of burnt out right now. Then, some days, it will seem completely fresh again. It come and goes. When you have a clear head, you have to solidify the thoughts in your mind. On other days you don't have a clear mind, and you can't get to the point you need to reach. Part of the trick is staying very focused on what you are doing, and having tunnel vision. That's why, with all these peoples opinions and stuff, you can't be affected by it. You can't make a film for the fans. Because, nobody has ever done that in the history of films. All films are meant to be great. And when they are, they get fans. Also, even if the fans made the film, these guys can't even agree with each other. So, there you go.
Rob Zombie: Its chaos. You just have to do what you are going to do.
Today was the first time I ever read about El Superbeasto. How is that coming along?
Rob Zombie: We're pretty far along on that. That's something I started before I even got to work on Halloween. All of the voice tracks are recorded, because we do that before we do the animation. And right now it is in the process of being animated. Truthfully, I'm not sure how much of the animation they've gotten done. They animate that stuff in Korea. I've been working on Halloween, and haven't gotten a chance to look at it. That's a project that has been slowly on the back burner through all of this.
Is El Superbeasto a prequel to the first two films you made?
Rob Zombie: No. It's an animated film. And it's kind of a comedy. It has nothing to do with the other films.
As far as the other Halloween movies are concerned, are you a fan of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, or are you one of those that discount it as the worse sequel because it doesn't have Mike Myers in it?
Rob Zombie: I haven't seen it in a long time. I don't think it's the worse one, though. I'll tell you that. (Laughs) There are much worse ones.
About the original theme music, did you ever consider tampering with it being a musician yourself, or was that something you knew you had to leave alone?
Rob Zombie: I wasn't even sure if we were going to use the theme music going in. You don't know until you make the movie, because the movie is so different. You go, "Well, maybe the theme music won't work. Maybe it wont seem right." Once again, I don't worry about what anyone is going to think. All of the people going to see the movie aren't working on the movie, so they don't know what is happening. As of right now, we've used most of the classic John Carpenter theme somewhere in the movie. Yeah.
Speaking of John Carpenter, did he ever have anything to say about this? Or did you just leave him completely alone?
Rob Zombie: I talked to him before I started. I wanted to talk to John before news of the movie broke. I just wanted to tell him myself. He was like, "Hey, go for it." That's about all he said, really. He was supportive. I talked to him briefly after we were done shooting. Maybe it was while we were shooting. I don't remember which. I just wanted to check in with him and tell him how things were going. That was about it.
After going through this whole process, would you ever consider remaking another film. Are there any you would like to see done?
Rob Zombie: No, not really. Maybe sometime in the future, something will come up. There's nothing that I'm thinking of right now. All the other projects I'm working on are all original stuff.
I have one last question for you, because I always ask you this. Have you seen Dan Aykroyd's Nothing But Trouble yet?
Rob Zombie: No. Not yet. (Laughs)
I'm telling you, you gotta check that movie out just for some of the visual stuff in it.
Rob Zombie: I'll get around to it one day. (Laughs)
Is there anything you've seen in the last year that you've really enjoyed?
Rob Zombie: I finally got around to seeing Pan's Labyrinth, I really liked that. I thought that was great. And I watched Mulholland Falls last night. There's tons of stuff. Not so much at the "movies" lately. I watch most of my stuff at home.
You've been watching a lot of TV?
Rob Zombie: I've been working so much, I don't have time to get to the movies. Any of the big summer movies? I haven't seen any of them.
Okay, well, I am really looking forward to watching your Halloween. I really want to see it.
Rob Zombie: I'm really excited for everyone to see it myself. It's about a month away. (Laughs)
I know. I can't wait. It was great talking to you again. Hopefully I'll talk to you in the future.
Rob Zombie: Thanks a lot, man. Bye.
Halloween opens August 31st.