Certain things are sacred, no? So one might wonder what the hell rock 'n' roll horror director Rob Zombie was thinking when he agreed to direct a remake of the 1978 horror classic Halloween. Fans, friends and filmmakers asked Zombie the same thing.
He'd tell you, "I never really thought about it, truthfully," or at least that's how he explains it while sitting in a Beverly Hills Four Seasons suite recently. "It wasn't until I starting working on it and everybody kept saying that that it became a bigger deal.
"That made me feel it was more justified because the more someone tells you it's a crazy idea or 'Why are you doing this? you start thinking, 'I really should do this,'" he adds, the punk in him dovetailing with his work ethos.
Zombie, an infamous horror fan whose extreme obsession revealed itself a few years ago in a themed home on a memorable episode of MTV's "Cribs," knew he wasn't remaking just any horror movie either; the original John Carpenter-directed Halloween ain't exactly The Hills Have Eyes or Black Christmas, after all. The masked serial killer Michael Meyers has in almost 30 years become as iconic as the Universal Studios monsters of the '30s and '40s (which, by the way, is probably why he was as deserving of a proper remake as the Universal monsters when Hammer Studios started doing just that in the '50s).
Sure, Jason Voorhees might be considered a horror icon, too, but nobody calls any of the Friday the 13th movies "classic," whereas nobody questions the same about Halloween.
Alice Cooper, who's both the patron saint of glit 'n' gore and a big influence on Zombie, calls the filmmaker "a brother." The Coop is impressed by his friend's vision of a darker Michael Meyers if such a thing is possible. (Zombie even cast the Coop's daughter Calico for a small part in Halloween.)
"He took on a movie, a really good horror movie that would be really hard to top," Cooper says. "I mean, the original Halloween not the sequels, but the original two directed by John Carpenter are scary. It's a really big thing to be able to say, 'I can make that even scarier.'"
Zombie, who's lying on a plush chair like some castaway scarecrow, seems a lot more interested in making movies that push barriers and piss folks off like his B-movie-inspired directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) and its gloriously brutal sequel The Devil's Rejects (2005) than making anything safe or universally beloved. "I'm a big fan of the glorious failure," Zombie says. "Do something different. There are so many cookie-cutter movies out there already.
"Grindhouse was great," he continues, citing this spring's much-ballyhooed Tarantino-Rodriguez double feature that bombed, in part, because of the outrageousness of its concept. Zombie directed the faux-trailer Werewolf Women of the S.S. for the movie. "Love it or hate it, it [Grindhouse] was an extreme experience on some level and that's all we can ask for."
In other words, Zombie, who fronted White Zombie in the '80s and '90s a band that was named after a 1932 zombie movie starring Bela Lugosi and every bit as derived from horror as Zombie's later recordings and movies can't shake his rock 'n' roll need to break rules. Even if those rules are ones he believes in, like the one about how classic movies shouldn't be remade. Then, of course, he remembered that some of his favorites, like The Magnificent Seven and Scarface, were remakes and, well, a moment's hesitation was quickly forgotten.
"I use the same ethics I do in music, I guess," he says. "Even though I made music that sold millions of records and was playing these big places, I always had this punk-rock do-it-yourself aesthetic to it: Don't sell out. I think it's the same thing with my movies. Why do you have to make movies this way? That was why I liked working with Bob Weinstein [one-half of the Weinstein Brothers, who founded Miramax films]. He's so unlike how a studio will function. You can just throw these crazy ideas at him and he's like, 'Great!' Especially something like Halloween. At one of the bigger studios, I'm sure the words 'protecting the franchise' would've been mentioned every five seconds but he never spoke like that. He just didn't care."
Which, of course, should give diehard Halloween fans pause; after all, a cinephiles' worst nightmare is always the big bad movie producer disregarding the integrity of a classic for nothing more than a payday. (Well, that and the fear that Brett Ratner [Rush Hour 3, Red Dragon] will be hired to direct anything they had wanted to pay money to see.)
Hell, Weinstein didn't even care about keeping the Michael Meyers Mask or Carpenter's original score, according to Zombie, but, ultimately, that's what freed the director. Zombie, in fact, couldn't believe how much latitude he was given. In Zombie, Weinstein hired a director he knew he could trust; Zombie's a fanboy first and is incapable of betraying his own memories and love for the original Halloween.
"It was all up to me about whether I wanted to keep the classic-looking Michael Meyers," Zombie says. "But to me, without that, you'd be asking me the question, 'Why call it Halloween?' It would be like a remake of King Kong without the gorilla.'"
Much of this was mulled over in the weeks that followed Zombie's initial meeting with Weinstein, who ambushed him with the idea of revisiting Halloween. They didn't necessarily want to produce Halloween 9 (which Zombie says would've probably gone direct to video), but they weren't sure what direction they wanted to take either. Zombie quickly nixed the idea of helming another lousy sequel (many of which he hasn't seen). A prequel, as fascinating as one sounded, didn't sit right with him either.
"And that's when I thought: A remake with an hour's worth of backstory we've never seen before," he says, or, in other words, a remake largely about the origin of Michael Meyers and a final act into which most of the original would be squeezed. "I went back and pitched that ... a young Michael [played by Daeg Faerch] and an older asylum Michael [Tyler Mane] ... to sort of bring my own stamp to this so I wasn't going through the same beats that already existed."
Zombie, who thanks the music biz for teaching him how to pour all his "artistic integrity" into a commercial product like Halloween, has no intention of directing a sequel to his remake, but that doesn't mean his actors don't want to work with him again. He has a habit of hiring the same faces again and again; William Forsythe, Udo Kier, his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, and the esteemed Malcolm McDowell (who plays Dr. Loomis in Halloween) all want in on the action.
"I'd work with him reading the phone book," the Clockwork Orange star says, while Zombie sits behind him casually listening to his McDowell talk. "But I think if he has any sense, this will be his last horror film."
Zombie chuckles to himself, yanks his lanky body to its feet, and rushes out of the room.
"Of course he ran away," McDowell says, laughing. "He just saw millions of dollars fly out the window."
Halloween hits theaters Friday, Aug. 31.
Alice Cooper appears Monday, Sept. 3, at the Michigan State Fair, Woodward Avenue and Eight Mile Road, Detroit; 313-369-8250.
Cole Haddon writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]