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Sporting a thick mane of dark dreadlocks and armfuls of self-designed tattoos, horror rocker-turned-film director Rob Zombie found a comfortable niche scaring and enthralling, first, arena, followed by movie-going audiences. A true devotee of the horror genre in its classic forms, Zombie never strayed from his screen-fright roots, remaining faithful to the gory muse that fueled his creative ambitions since the earliest years of childhood.Born on Jan. 12, 1966 to a furniture maker father and saleswoman mother, the quiet young Robert Cummings Jr. was, with his younger brother Michael, raised in Haverhill, MA, a suburban town he considered all at once to be both sinister and lacking in excitement. His family had settled there after years working in carnivals. A severe boredom fueled an eight hours-plus a day television-watching habit, which soon exposed the young boy to the pleasures of horror movies. One in particular - the 1932 Bela Lugosi classic, "White Zombie" - would leave a lasting impression. By the early 1980s, Cummings had found himself frustrated by his expected direction, as well as his high school guidance counselor's lack of encouragement in his artistic pursuits. Upon graduation, with a...
Sporting a thick mane of dark dreadlocks and armfuls of self-designed tattoos, horror rocker-turned-film director Rob Zombie found a comfortable niche scaring and enthralling, first, arena, followed by movie-going audiences. A true devotee of the horror genre in its classic forms, Zombie never strayed from his screen-fright roots, remaining faithful to the gory muse that fueled his creative ambitions since the earliest years of childhood.
Born on Jan. 12, 1966 to a furniture maker father and saleswoman mother, the quiet young Robert Cummings Jr. was, with his younger brother Michael, raised in Haverhill, MA, a suburban town he considered all at once to be both sinister and lacking in excitement. His family had settled there after years working in carnivals. A severe boredom fueled an eight hours-plus a day television-watching habit, which soon exposed the young boy to the pleasures of horror movies. One in particular - the 1932 Bela Lugosi classic, "White Zombie" - would leave a lasting impression. By the early 1980s, Cummings had found himself frustrated by his expected direction, as well as his high school guidance counselor's lack of encouragement in his artistic pursuits. Upon graduation, with a full art portfolio in tow, Cummings headed to New York City where he decided to pursue fine arts illustration at Parsons School of Design. While in attendance, he found himself uninspired by the major's more rigid curriculum and only a couple of years into the program, was expelled for his low grades. He subsequently found eclectic work as a bike messenger, a designer for porn magazines such as Celebrity Skin and, later, a production assistant on the CBS kiddie show, "Pee Wee's Playhouse" (1986-1991), but his ambitious ideas led him back to some kindred spirits from school.
While at Parsons, he had met a design student named Shauna Reynolds who had shared a similar interest in the macabre. The pair, who had begun dating, moved into an apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side and decided to form a band, which would eventually settle on a moniker taken from the Bela Lugosi film that had transfixed Cummings as a child. For the new group, entitled White Zombie, Cummings adopted the name of Rob Straker and Reynolds changed her name to Sean Yseult. With the newly-minted Straker on vocals and Yseult on bass, several additional members were recruited and the first single "Gods on Voodoo Moon," was followed by the band's first gig on April 28, 1986. The independent album releases Psycho-Head Blowout (1986), Soul-Crusher (1987) and Make Them Die Slowly (1989) steadily followed. By 1987, Straker was legally going by the name of Rob Zombie. It was the band's EP, God of Thunder, that led to a recording contract with Geffen Records, and by 1991, after six years of making headway on the Lower East Side Scene, Zombie and company moved from New York to Los Angeles.
The trip West quickly spawned an album, 1992's La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1. With a lifelong love of B-grade horror films, theatrical rock like Alice Cooper and KISS, and EC comic books in arsenal, the band's major label debut crystallized the band's beastly, high octane image - a vision fueled by Zombie as its chief songwriter, cover art designer and all-around conceptualist. The album's success was solidified by MTV's popular cartoon duo Beavis and Butthead, who head-banged triumphantly to the album's single video for "Thunder Kiss '65," the concept for which Zombie had masterminded. Their second major label album saw Zombie taking the band's sonic heaviness even further, as 1995's Astro Creep: 2000 - Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head, upped the industrial touches to its already-existing metallic punch. A confident Zombie even financed a 16-page comic booklet to be included with the album's release, after the label balked on funding anything beyond four pages.
In 1996, White Zombie recorded a cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's "I'm Your Boogieman," as part of the soundtrack to "The Crow: Salvation" (1996), a sequel to the surprise hit goth film. The Zombie-directed clip for the song so impressed Miramax Films, that it inked a deal with the rocker to write and direct the third installment of the cult film series. Zombie soon got his first introduction to the frustrations of developing movies as he watched the project stall after two years of prep work, his screenplay ultimately unused by the studio. That same year, the White Zombie remix album, Supersexy Swingin' Sounds was released, its cover featuring a scantily-clad Sheri Skerkis - a.k.a. Sheri Moon - a go-go dancer for White Zombie's road production as well as Zombie's girlfriend.
By 1997, Zombie knew that he needed to break up White Zombie and carry on alone, so in August of 1998, Zombie's first solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, roared onto the shelves, displaying an enthralling mash-up of monsters, souped-up race cars and his fascination with industrial music sounds. Finally, Zombie was in full control of his art, completely confident in the creative direction he had only scratched the surface with in White Zombie. Once again, he designed the cover art as well as the video for the album's kickoff single "Dragula." Zombie was eager to keep the work flowing and pumped out a remix album, American Music to Strip By (1999).
With a thriving music career, Zombie was again ready to make his longstanding interest in directing films a reality. Having directed countless videos for White Zombie and his solo material, he had branched out into directing for other artists such as Ozzy Osbourne and Powerman 5000, the modern metal band which featured his younger brother Mike (a.k.a Spider) on vocals. He had also previously been recruited by Mike Judge to design an animated scene for Beavis & Butthead's feature film "Beavis & Butthead Do America" (1996). He was already prepared for the creative challenges, but now his financial success and public persona had converged in a way that gave him the credibility the movies studios needed to bank on him.
Despite the failure of his "Crow" film installment, Zombie had no plans to abandon his cinematic goals. In 1999, he and renowned horror author Clive Barker were asked to devise a new Halloween maze attraction for Universal Studios. Over the course of the project's design, Zombie's visual acuity and keen understanding of the genre became very apparent to the studio. Not surprisingly, he was asked to pitch some movie ideas, resulting in an impromptu description of "House of 1,000 Corpses." The studio was very receptive to the film's concept, which revolved around a couple whose car breaks down somewhere in the middle of a road trip across America, after which they find themselves victimized and killed after ending up in a twisted, murderous town. Zombie was given a greenlight and a $4 million budget, with shooting commenced in May of 2000. The final result was anything but desirable to the studio. With unmarketable acting names such as cult actors Sid Haig, Karen Black and girlfriend Moon in the cast, Zombie had made a dark film which bore little resemblance to the one Universal had hoped for. Rather than shelve the film, however, Universal head Stacy Snider let Zombie take his product and try his luck at another studio. The film soon found a second home at MGM Studios, which allowed Zombie to continue tweaking and refining the film's content. During that time, while conducting an interview with actor Ben Affleck for MTV, Zombie jokingly offered his own comparison of Universal and MGM's virtues, stating that if the former studio was too moral to release the film, the latter was, to his benefit, free of morals entirely. When the statement was picked up by MGM and taken as a serious indictment, it was mere weeks before Zombie was in the familiar position of looking for another distributor. Zombie's second album The Sinister Urge (2001) continued to expand Zombie's monstrous concepts and ended, almost lamentably, with the theme song for his long-delayed film. Zombie would see "Corpses" languish on the shelf for two years, but the movie was finally acquired in August 2002 by Lion's Gate Films. That Halloween, Zombie struck another deal when he and Moon became husband and wife.
"House of 1,000 Corpses" was released the following August to modest success, including a DVD popularity which paved the way for the inevitable sequel. The soundtrack even featured a pairing with Lionel Richie for a Zombified remake of "Brick House."
The filmmaker however, had other plans when it came time to work on his next movie. Eschewing the conventional sequel approach, he utilized many of the same actors and characters for "Corpses," including Haig, but whereas the first film had the feel of a '70s grindhouse film, Zombie's new chapter - "The Devil's Rejects" (2005) - would again focus on the murderous Firefly family, but with touches of the epic, sprawling westerns of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. This time, the killers would become the hunted. The result was a different, but no less unimaginative, follow-up.
By 2006, Zombie had gone back to making music, and the Weinsteins had gone back to making movies with Zombie, who was now freely alternating between the music and movie worlds. He released Educated Horses (2006), an album that thematically harkened back to his family's carnival roots, and the Weinsteins released Zombie's inner horror-loving child, setting him in the director's chair for a re-imagining of the legendary horror classic, "Halloween" in time for 2007's titular October night.
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