Rob Zombie Is a Great American Entertainer

Rob Zombie performs at Ak-chin Pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Jim Louvau
Rob Zombie performs at Ak-chin Pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Rob Zombie has made a career out of channeling fantastic ideas centering on classic horror, sci-fi, dark humor, fantasy, and urban myths into an array of successful mediums. From heavy metal frontman to writer and director of films, commercials, and music, Rob Zombie has always pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a great American entertainer, storyteller, and fearmonger.

But even after selling over 15 million albums, getting nominated for a few Grammys, and being known for tailoring a vibe of shock rock theatricality in just about everything he does, Zombie doesn’t see himself as a part of any scene.

“I never wanted — and still don’t — to be part of a scene,” Zombie said in a past Phoenix New Times interview. “I think that sometimes bands start to look alike, sound alike ... you know, maybe power in numbers?”

It’s that mentality that keeps Rob Zombie on the crest of what it means to entertain. His performing philosophy is best described by Arthur Brown, whom Alice Cooper has attributed as his main influence: “Rock is actually, at its best, pure theater.”

This past year, Zombie’s creativity has been running rampant, and 2019 will see the curtain pulled back on his revised stage set. He recently signed with Nuclear Blast, a notable grassroots label that suits his affinity for organic fan reach and support of the heavy metal and rock genre. With their “winning hybrid of hellacious hullabaloo,” Zombie said the band’s seventh album will most likely debut early next year, and that it’s one of their most complex, intricately structured records to date.

“Parts of it are the heaviest of the heaviest music we’ve ever done; parts are the weirdest,” he explained to Loudwire in a July 2018 interview. But, “always very catchy and listenable.” In a Rolling Stone interview, he also mentions that “it’s got the widest variety of things we’ve ever done. And the record goes to very far extremes.”
For Zombie, an album isn’t necessarily a cohesive concept or storyline — it should be all over the place. “That’s why I think my favorite Beatles record was always the White Album, because it was all over the place.”

No word on an album title yet, but with names that have grown from clever to comical over the past 20 years — Hellbilly Deluxe, Sinister Urge (a fan favorite), Educated Horses, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, and most recently, 2016’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser, which debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 — one can only speculate if Zombie will shoot for a 10-word title this time, or zig-zag back to something more vague.

For Zombie, creating a true character for yourself — and others — pulls from everything, from silent horror films and influences like KISS and Elton John, to even the carnivals his mom’s side of the family worked at when he was a kid in the ’70s. His love for film, comics, and showmanship oozes from the seams of his music, videos, and commercials, and his stage show is often sprinkled with quotes and samples from classic horror films. Zombie juggles even more project hats than the prop ones he uses on stage. He’s done commercials for Amdro Ant Killer and Woolite (“Don’t let detergent torture your clothes!”), and even directed a short for Assassin’s Creed Unity and an CSI: Miami episode.

And then there are the films. The most interesting thing about Zombie as a screenwriter and director is the strategic lack of boundaries, yet the ability to hold certain elements back. He fully immerses himself in the human psyche, picking at the nuances that make us terrified, empathetic, angry, and amorous. He’s an entertainer, relishing when he can pull back the curtain from or over our eyes, regenerating what influenced generations past and how it’s still relevant to the present.

He’s grossed over $100 million as the writer/director of six feature films, most of which are influenced by the gritty, raw horror style of the ’70s and ’80s. Some of these include a reimagining of Halloween, a crowdfunded Saw-style period piece called 31 about five kidnapped carnies forced to play a survival game, and a supernatural horror flick called The Lords of Salem concerning an ancient, Satan-worshipping witch coven. But the films that have garnered Zombie the biggest cult horror following is by far the series that centers around the homicidal, psychopathic Firefly Family, played by a handful of beloved horror actors with a penchant for psychological mind games, Groucho Marx, and slicing and occasionally dicing their victims into sideshow acts.

Zombie spent early 2018 working on 3 From Hell, the third installment in the series. The film lives in the same world as his 2003 directorial debut, House of 1,000 Corpses, and its 2005 sequel, The Devil’s Rejects. Seen as love letters to classic horror, the tentative 2019 release of 3 From Hell will have some of his cult following’s favorite characters — Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis (Bill Moseley), and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) — return to spill blood together for the first time in 14 years.

With 2019 looking to be a year that sheds new light on Zombie’s evolving creativity, it’s worth wondering whether or not Great American Nightmare, his haunted house experience, will make a return. Launched in 2013, it has since made appearances in Los Angeles and Phoenix, and was noted as “the best example yet of the upsizing of haunted houses in the last decade” by the New York Times. Quiet for the last few years, the attraction in the past included three separate experiences based off of Zombie’s movies. Whether it might pop up in a city near you in 2019 remains to be seen.

So between recording, filming, directing, editing, and scoring films, what does Zombie do in the interim? Tour, of course. And what better musician to pair up with for a show that’s equal parts spook show, freak show, and rock show than Marilyn Manson? Along with Zombie, Manson has dominated the past few decades with theatrical stage shows, horror imagery; catchy, heavy music; and run-ins with parental-concern groups. Their Twins of Evil: The Second Coming Tour is the duo’s second foray on the road together.

“There’s a similarity in, say, the overall mindset [that Manson and I have], but our approach to bringing it to life is different,” explains Zombie.

Rob Zombie’s quest to create art — no matter how comical or horrific it might be — without boxing in his overall vision allows those characters and songs to grow into new and exciting things. This approach of how he brings tales to life is the mark of a great entertainer. And we can’t wait to see what new stories he thinks of next.

Rob Zombie & Marilyn Manson: Twins of Evil. 7 p.m. Sunday, August 26, at Ak-Chin Pavilion, 2121 North 83rd Avenue; 602-254-7200; Tickets are $25 to $184 via Ticketmaster.