Rob Zombie's 3 From Hell is finally upon us. The unrated version of the highly anticipated conclusion to the Firefly family trilogy — kicked off with 2003's House of 1000 Corpses and continued with 2005's The Devil's Rejects — is set to hit the big screen in nearly 900 theaters on September 16th, 17th and 18th via Fathom's Digital Broadcast Network. By all rights, the film shouldn't even exist: 14 long years have passed since The Devil's Rejects' release, and at the end of that movie, the series' antiheroes, the new film's titular three — Captain Spaulding, played by the great Sid Haig, and his wicked offspring Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Otis (Bill Moseley) — are bullet-riddled and seemingly dying after a roadside shoot-out with police. Those temporal and narrative hurdles aside, Zombie says that, a year into preproduction and planning, the movie did indeed seemed doomed itself, after Haig fell ill. Instead, the rocker-director, who also wrote 3 From Hell, reached into his seemingly bottomless well of creativity and completely reimagined the film's storyline.
The result may be "a completely different movie" than the one he originally set out to make, but he's still very proud of it — and he should be. Though full of "sadistic violence" and "graphic nudity" that led the MPAA to slap it with a hard R rating, 3 From Hell is a sophisticated, multidimensional evolutionary leap from the more cartoonish antics of House of 1000 Corpses. Ahead of the three-day screening event, we talked to Zombie about this evolution and how circumstances outside of his control reshaped the film, specifically, leading to the introduction of the character Foxy, played by Richard Brake. He also shared his thoughts on our societal obsession with outlaws, even undeniably evil ones; the challenge of balancing humor and horror; and how Seinfeld's George Costanza has helped guide him away from formulaic filmmaking. Read on, but be warned: Spoilers lay ahead.
I WATCHED 3 FROM HELL LAST NIGHT AND I REALLY APPRECIATED HOW YOU PLAYED ON THE PUBLIC'S FASCINATION WITH VIOLENT MURDERERS VIA THE FIREFLY FAMILY'S "FAN BASE." WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE WHO FALL IN LOVE WITH OR BECOME OBSESSED WITH VIOLENT CRIMINALS?
ROB ZOMBIE Well, honestly, there are many levels. There are people who just find it fascinating like I do, and then there are people who want to write letters to murderers and get married to them — that's a whole different level of obsession. But it's really the media. The media takes these people and makes them superstars, and in this country — like most — fame is everything. People don't even care what you're famous for. If you're famous, they're like, "Whoa!"
It's always been there, but we really saw it come alive back in the Seventies with the Manson trial. That guy, I mean, he was on the cover of Rolling Stone! He was on the cover of every magazine like he was a rock star and became one of the most famous humans ever. I wonder when I see all the T-shirts, if half the people wearing them even know what it's about. That's just the media. And that's nothing compared to what happens now. It's never going to stop.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BRINGING ACTOR RICHARD BRAKE ON TO ROUND OUT THE THREE?
Bringing in Richard was necessary because the situation ... well, he was not part of the movie to begin with. The movie I was getting ready to shoot was the original three — that why it was called 3 From Hell. Three weeks out from shooting, the actor Sid Haig, who plays Captain Spaulding, called me. He had been in the hospital and just had an operation and was having some problems, and when I went to visit him, he was in no condition — or I didn't think he was — to make a movie. But I was hoping, "OK, we're still three weeks away," which is nothing. He's 80 years old, but maybe he's going to get better, he just had surgery, you know.
As another week went by and another week, it became very obvious that his health was not in a place where he was capable of making a movie. So then I was left with the fact of, like, what do I do now? We had a script and a movie that we'd spent a year preparing to shoot, and now one of the three main people is unavailable to do it. So I went through a lot of scenarios of maybe just having two people, maybe trying to bring back an old character, but then none of that really was working.
So I, out of necessity for the movie, made up a new character that would be the half-brother. The first person I had in mind for that was Richard because I had just worked with him on 31, and I knew he was a great actor and that he would fit in great with these guys, and I thought for sure there'd be chemistry. I didn't know if he was available, I just had the idea. I called him up, and he was actually in Spain shooting a movie at the time. Luckily, he — I mean, so luckily — he was just wrapping the movie right as we were starting. So he went from that movie right to our movie with basically no prep time whatsoever.
But with that being said, Sid couldn't be in the movie because of his health and he couldn't be insured, but I knew it was important for him to be there. Lionsgate let me bring him in one morning just so I could get something with him. I tried to think of something that was the least strenuous thing I could think of for him to do, so that's why he's sitting in a chair being interviewed. He's such an important character in the story of these movies that I had to have something.
I'm very happy. It's a real gift to everyone that we got that in the movie. It almost didn't happen at all.
IT WAS A REALLY IMPORTANT PART, TOO. EVEN THOUGH HE ISN'T VERY ACTIVE IN THE SCENE, IT STILL TIES EVERYTHING TOGETHER.
I don't know what I would have done if I couldn't have anything. It would have just been like he disappeared from the world and that wouldn't have worked, but I think it all worked out well, and Richard was good with everybody and had great chemistry. The movie turned out fantastic — it just turned into a completely different movie than I set out to make.
IT HELPS THAT YOUR FANS ALREADY LOVE HIM AS DOOMHEAD IN YOUR FILM 31, AND HE WAS IN ONE OF YOUR HALLOWEEN MOVIES, TOO, RIGHT?
Yeah! He's the guy who Michael Myers cuts his head off when they crash into the cow.
SHERI'S PERFORMANCE IS REALLY FUCKING INSANE, JUST SUPER CHILLING. HOW MUCH OF THAT WAS YOUR DIRECTION AND HOW MUCH IS THAT HER INTERPRETING BABY'S TIME SPENT IN PRISON AND THE MADNESS THAT COMES WITH IT?
Sheri's performance is really a product her doing the work. I mean, I write the script, she reads the script, and then she'll say to me, "I was thinking with this, I'm doing it this way or doing it that way." I can't think of any time that she said anything where I'm like, "Eh, maybe not." All the acting choices were hers. Obviously, I'm there working with her through the thing, but she definitely had the idea that we were going to make Baby more insane, that she lost her mind more than the others, and that she was always sort of existing in a different reality from Otis through the whole movie because she'd just gone nuts.
It's kind of complicated, because she's always playing two characters at the same time. She's Baby, but she's also whatever fake character Baby has decided to play for the person she's in the room with at that moment. It's a part that, the more you watch the movie, the more interesting it gets because sometimes she's totally crazy, then she's super sweet, then she's crazy, then she's really sympathetic, then she's totally cold like she doesn't care about anything. It's one of my most favorite things about the movie, for sure.
LIKE THAT MOMENT WHEN SHE'S OUT NEAR THE SODA MACHINE WITH THAT MAN SHE MEETS, IT'S SO CALCULATING. YOU CAN SEE THIS INSTANT SWITCH IN HER CHARACTER.
She comes off as so sweet, then in an instant she's so horrible. It's really fun watching her turn that on and off.
SO THERE'S ONE PART WHERE RICHARD'S CHARACTER, FOXY, SAYS SOMETHING LIKE, "MENTION A PAIR OF TITTIES AND EVERY FUCKING ASSHOLE FORGETS WHAT HE'S DOING." I CRACKED UP AT THAT LINE, AND THAT'S SOMETHING YOU DO WELL: WEAVING DARK HUMOR INTO THE STORY. HOW DO YOU FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN JOKES THAT BREAK THE TENSION AND THE PARTS THAT ARE ALL-OUT SCARY?
What really happens is I never want there to be like, "Oh, that was a comedy moment," because that would just be weird. Like when you go, "Why did they just do a whole scene just for comedy?" But I always want the comedy to come organically from the characters, so that you see the characters are inherently sarcastic and funny and mean and weird. Like, it's just their actual personalities.
We all know people who are just funny, like the way they say things is funny. They're not even trying to be funny sometimes, but they're just so weird the way they say things. That's what I like with these guys. Whether the comedy goes too far and not far enough — that's things in the editing room I'll deal with. Sometimes a scene will go on too long and I go, "OK, we made out point with that." If it keeps going, we're derailed into trying to be funny here, so let's just chop all that out.
On set, I'll let things go longer than they should because you never know what crazy thing is going to come out, especially in this movie, because a lot of the times I will give an actor a note, but I won't tell the other actor what they're going to do. Like the scene where Richard Brake's character is talking about, "We should start making porno movies." Bill Moseley didn't know he was going to start talking about that. I went to Richard, I took him aside, and I said, "Let's have Foxy start acting like he wants to get into porn and see what Bill's reaction is."
THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE IN LIGHT OF THAT SCENE, BECAUSE BILL LOOKS LIKE HE'S STRUGGLING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON! HE'S JUST LIKE, "OK THEN, MAN!"
Yeah, he's genuinely, genuinely laughing and reacting because he doesn't know what the hell Foxy's talking about. Just like when Sheri bursts through the door with a mustache and a sombrero: They don't know what she's going to do, that she's going to start singing this song because she didn't tell them. It's in the script, but it doesn't say, "She sings this." And I do that a lot.
Sometimes it's serious stuff, like with the really nice scene between Pancho and Baby when she's saying, "You remind me of Tiny." They're sort of bonding over breakfast after he brings in the food. I told Pancho, "Say that her father must have been so handsome because you're so beautiful." Sheri didn't know he was going to say that, so she just kind of, in her typical way, smiles and shrugs it off. I don't try to throw people off, but every once in a while, it's good to see what kind of genuine reaction you can get from a certain moment.
A LOT OF HORROR ANALYSIS LEANS INTO THE IDEA THAT FILM MONSTERS REPRESENT OUR OWN DESIRE TO TRANSGRESS. DO YOU THINK THE THREE THEMSELVES REPRESENT DIFFERENT FACETS OF HUMANITY THAT A LOT OF US ARE AFRAID TO FACE, OR ARE THEY JUST HERE TO SHOCK AND ENTERTAIN US?
I think everything is something. I think movies that are there to shock, just shock, wear thin. I'm not saying that this is deep, but I try to infuse the characters as much as I can with ... I mean, when they say crazy shit, it's crazy shit I believe and that I think about. It's based on some kind of reality. Like when Otis says, "Money? What am I going to do with money? I got everything I need, I'm not a slave to the system." He starts on these rants, and that's the sort of shit I say all the time.
I want them to have some sort of actual life behind the craziness, not just be like, "I shot you in the face — how shocking." There has to be some sort of thought process, and I always try to pull from the real people, if I know them well enough, to add something to the character. I do that a lot with Sheri the most, because obviously I know her better than anyone. I think it just adds another layer that, maybe on the first viewing, you don't notice.
I know with a lot of these films, especially Devil's Rejects, people have watched them multiple times. You want more things to come out of it. There's a lot of movies that I like more when I've seen them a couple of times. There's a lot to digest where as with some movies I go, "Oh, I don't need to ever see that again." It's just very surface-level stuff I don't care about.
In general, I think that these characters are fascinating because they live on the outside, they're outside the rules of society, which I think everybody wishes they [could be], especially in America. That's why we worship biker gangs and outlaws, because you see them and you go, "You know, I wish I was Jesse James living outside the system." And in a way, not to get super heavy, but I think that's why this country has a real fascination with guns, too. There's this mythology of The Outlaw not being caught up in the system or a cog in a machine, and that's one of the things that can keep you from being that.
IT REALLY STRUCK ME THAT, BY THE END OF THE MOVIE, I FOUND MYSELF EMPATHIZING WITH AND EVEN ROOTING FOR THE THREE. I WANTED THEM TO GET AWAY, AND I WANTED THEM TO WIN. DO YOU THINK THAT NEED TO BE ON THE FRINGES IS WHY WE RELATE TO OR EMPATHIZE WITH CHARACTERS LIKE THESE, EVEN WHEN THEY'RE REMORSELESS?
I think there's partly that, and I also came to the conclusion many years ago — when I would read a lot of new crime books and biographies of about Charles Manson or Henry Lee Lucas, different serial killers — you would see these fucked-up lives they had. Especially with someone like Henry Lee Lucas, you go, "This guy, the only job he was capable of having was 'serial killer.'" At some point he was just a baby and his life became so fucked up, and he was so abused and went through such hell. Of course, he's a serial killer! What the fuck else was he ever going to be?
It doesn't mean that it takes away from what they did, but suddenly you see more of a person. You see more of a fucked-up thought process going on there. Just like with Manson. I mean, Charles Manson could have been a brilliant rock star, but he's not because he's so fucked up. Then he went through the prison system for so long that he became this dangerous individual, but maybe he was a super talented guy. Sometimes when I hear his music, I think, "Man, maybe he was good."
I think there's an aspect of that that doesn't make you feel like what they did was cool, but they're not Jason from Friday the 13th, just some faceless killing machine. There's some soul inside that "thing" that's killing. That's what creates the conflict where you want them to get away, because you've kind of grown to like that. They're kind of likable and fun even though they're horrible.
THEY BECOME VERY THREE-DIMENSIONAL, WHICH TIES INTO HOW THERE'S A SIGNIFICANT MOVEMENT IN THE TRILOGY WHERE IT STARTED OUT BEING KIND OF ABSURD AND OUTRAGEOUS, THEN MOVED TOWARD A GRITTIER, MORE REALISTIC AND SOPHISTICATED PORTRAYAL. WHAT PUSHED YOU IN THAT DIRECTION?
Well, the first movie was also my first movie, so it's kind of a chaotic film. I didn't quite know how to get the images in my head perfectly on film, so it became kind of this other crazy, psychedelic weird thing. Which, you know, over the years people have grown to love. At the time when it came out, it seemed like everyone fucking hated it, but now people seem to love it.
But then when it came time and I got offered to do a sequel, I didn't want to just do House of 1000 Corpses Part 2 and have more unsuspecting victims come to the house, just going through the same beats like a typical sequel. I thought, "Well, I want to jettison everything that movie was about." Get rid of the house, get rid of everything, pare down the characters, get them on the road, and basically make the exact opposite movie.
I remember always saying — and I don't know if you remember this episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza starts doing the exact opposite of everything in his life and everything starts going well — that's what I was thinking: "I'm going to Costanza this." If the whole movie took place at night, I'm making the whole movie take place in the sunlight. If everything was bright and colorful, I'm making it drab and colorless. I decided to do that, and I think it paid off. I thought the film turned out great.
So with this movie, I wanted the characters to become more than just cartoon characters — I mean, in House, they're basically just wacky cartoon characters, and now 15 years later, I wanted to take them to another place. Just think of the scene with Baby sitting down having a nice conversation with the Sebastian character: That couldn't happen in House of 1000 Corpses. That character didn't exist on that level to do that, but now that they've become these more sophisticated creatures, we can do more with.