The Untold Truth Of Rob Zombie

There's nobody else in the entertainment industry quite like Rob Zombie. First of all, he's a man of many passions and pursuits. The bearded and dreadlocked singer rose to public prominence in the early '90s as the frontman for White Zombie, a nontraditional heavy metal band that scored a bunch of huge rock hits like "Thunder Kiss '65," "Black Sunshine," "More Human Than Human," and "I'm Your Boogie Man." Then he went solo and was even more successful, with his horror-inflected and retro stage show and recordings like "Living Dead Girl," "Dragula," and "Foxy, Foxy." Just after the turn of the new millennium, Zombie brought that singular sensibility — campy, gory, and edgy — to filmmaking and became a highly regarded horror director, helming his own works like "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects" while also successfully rebooting the "Halloween" franchise.

Zombie is an interesting guy with a huge volume of work and a lot to say. Here's a look into the fascinating (and not too frightening) life of Rob Zombie.

Rob Zombie comes from carnival folk

In his professional, adult life, Rob Zombie splits his time between two worlds that could be described as being carnival-like: performing hard rock music and traveling around from venue to venue with a large crew who sets up an elaborate stage show, and directing major motion pictures, which involves building worlds from scratch and creating art inside of them. Perhaps the zaniness of both is old hat to Zombie because he spent part of his childhood on the carnival circuit, alongside his relatives.

"It was my mom's side of the family. That was the family business, basically," Zombie told LA Weekly. A couple generations back, his family members were employed by traveling circuses, and by the time he and his brother were children in the '60s and '70s, they "would get dragged along to these things all the time and have to work. It sounds exciting and interesting now, but as a kid, it was a drag."

But then that all abruptly came to an end in 1977, when the 12-year-old Zombie's parents quit the carnival business for good. "A riot broke out — in fact, my brother and I got caught in the middle of it," Zombie told Men's Health.

Before he was an entertainer, Rob Zombie was a designer

At age 18, Rob Zombie left home in Massachusetts for New York City to attend the prestigious Parsons School of Design. He dropped out after a short time and then worked a succession of odd jobs. "I was working as a bike messenger in New York City, which is the worst job ever, as far as I'm concerned," he told Metal Hammer. "It keeps you in shape, but otherwise it sucks." He also put his design skills to good use, performing graphic and layout on adult magazines. "I just had to make sure everything was straight. Nobody was really concerned with it looking pleasing." For example, he ensured that staples didn't obscure pictorials in titles such as Tail End and Over 40

Everybody has to start somewhere, and for future entertainment machine Rob Zombie, it was as a teenage low-level production assistant on a TV show. Fortunately, it was one of the most visually stimulating TV shows ever: "Pee Wee's Playhouse," the surreal, cartoonish Saturday-morning series starring Paul Reubens as his man-child character, Pee Wee Herman. "It was a cool job to have. But I was probably nineteen years old. It was everything from delivering stuff to doing little crap work around the set. I don't even know if I was a P.A. Whatever is just below a P.A.," Zombie told Westword. "There were all kinds of people I really liked on the show. So it was pretty exciting.

No, Rob Zombie isn't his real name

It's not just a wonderful coincidence that a guy who was the lead singer of a band called White Zombie and who now makes horror movies for a living is named "Rob Zombie." That's obviously his stage name, but it's also his "real name," at least as far as the government is concerned. Per Metal Hammer, the musician and filmmaker was born with the ordinary and wholesome name of Robert Cummings. In 1996, he legally changed his surname to Zombie, according to the New York Post. (His wife took her husband's name upon marriage, too, meaning her full name is Sheri Moon Zombie.)

He first started using Zombie in the late 1980s — he's credited as Rob Zombie for the first time on the 1989 EP "God of Thunder" by his similarly named metal band, White Zombie, according to Loudwire. That, in turn, came from "White Zombie," a 1932 Bela Lugosi movie about living dead girls and boys. Before deciding on Rob Zombie, the performer played around with other pseudonyms, such as Rob "Dirt" Straker on the 1987 White Zombie release "Soul-Crusher."

White Zombie begat Rob Zombie

White Zombie is what made Rob Zombie famous. The band's unique sound, a mixture of metal riffs, thunderous drums, sound clips of old movies, a groove you could dance to, and Zombie's growly vocals, took a while to shake out. According to a Zombie interview with Metal Hammer, the group started in 1985 as "a bunch of people who could only play our instruments a bit" and were part of New York's Sonic Youth-led art rock scene. While it played regular gigs at the famous CBGB club, White Zombie struggled to fit in — they were too metal for art rock, but then when they aligned with that scene, they were considered too off-the-wall. "We got gigs opening for other bands like Danzig and Anthrax and Megadeth, and the crowds were looking at us, like 'What the f*** is this?'" on account of their sound and look, which involved beards and dreadlocks. "And then when grunge hit, we were too metal to be grunge and not alternative enough to be alternative!"

White Zombie trudged along, releasing three albums and several EPs on smaller labels to little notice before getting signed to the large Geffen Records. Not until well after the release of 1992's "La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1" did the band have any success. "Before that no one gave a sh*t," Zombie said. Before that, the band members were "broke and touring in a van and playing clubs to basically nobody."

Rob Zombie got a big boost from Beavis and Butt-Head

By the mid-'90s, heavy metal and hard rock bands didn't get as much airtime as they used to on MTV, but the network presented an advocate for those acts in 1993 in the form of "Beavis and Butt-Head." Half of any given episode found the two dimwitted teenagers bringing chaos and destruction to the world around them, and the other half featured the duo sitting on a dirty couch and offering commentary on music videos. Every so often, they'd strike gold and find a heavy band that "rocks" or "rules," and they'd head-bang or dance. 

'Beavis and Butt-Head" was such a popular show that if a band received the eponymous teens' seal of approval, it translated into a big jump in record sales. The cartoon almost single-handedly elevated White Zombie from relative obscurity to the big time. Before Beavis and Butt-Head enjoyed the group's "Welcome to Planet M.F." on an episode, according to Entertainment Weekly, White Zombie's 1992 album "La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1" had sold just 75,000 copies. After the video aired on the cartoon series — and Beavis declared that "White Zombie rules!" — sales of "La Sexorcisto" quadrupled, and the album hit the Top 40 of the Billboard album chart.

How Rob Zombie met Sheri Moon

In 1993, Rob Zombie was introduced to dancer and DJ Sheri Moon (now Sheri Moon Zombie) by a mutual friend (per Girls and Corpses), and they had their first date at a New Haven, Connecticut, club called Toad's Place, according to the New York Post. While Moon says she was "kinda mean" on that first encounter, they hit it off over pizza, and a month later, they'd moved in together out in California. Zombie also incorporated Moon into White Zombie, hiring her to act in videos, including "Feed the Gods." The romantic partners soon became frequent collaborators as a result. "When he went solo he always wanted to have dancers on tour. So I just became involved with that and choreographed the numbers. I found the girls, and made the costumes," Moon recalled. When Zombie moved into directing films, he brought Moon along. He hasn't directed a movie that Moon didn't star in, and she has only acted in one film (the 2004 horror flick "Toolbox Murders") that Zombie didn't helm.

In 2002, Zombie and Moon made their relationship official, deciding to get married after nine years together. Then, just before their planned November wedding, they decided to elope and got hitched, realizing that they'd done the deed on Halloween. "It sounds like we're trying to be all spooky and weird, but that really wasn't the plan," Zombie said.

Rob Zombie likes gore but won't eat meat

A lot of the Rob Zombie image — connoisseur of monsters and lover and purveyor of gore through his horror-laced music and serial killer movies — is just that: an image. The rock star and filmmaker only likes slaughter if it's fake. In real life, Zombie isn't a flesh-eating zombie at all. According to PETA, he saw some slaughterhouse footage as a high school student in the early 1980s, and that turned him off from meat. (The anti-animal cruelty organization even publicly commended Zombie for a scene in his 2007 Halloween remake that linked cruelty to animals to violent crimes against humans.)

Avoiding meat is just one element of Zombie's health regimen, which he started as a teenager to self-treat his ailments. "I was a really sickly kid, one of those kids like, 'Here's your 25 pills, and you can't be in gym class,'" he told Men's Health. One day, he says, he stopped taking his medication, started running, and quit red meat. "Even my asthma went away. I still eat super, super healthy all the time, and I take health quite seriously."

Rob Zombie is a comedy nerd

Tom Papa is a mainstream stand-up comedian, a guy who tells jokes about relationships and who regularly opens for Jerry Seinfeld. Rob Zombie is a metal star and horror filmmaker. But who cares? These guys are pals and collaborators. According to Splitsider (via Zombie's website), they met when a mutual acquaintance brought Zombie to one of Papa's shows. Then they wound up at a destination wedding together and "hung out the whole weekend and became really good friends." When Zombie made the animated feature "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," he thought it would be funny if a low-key guy like Papa voiced the title character, a hulking wrestler. Papa took the gig and then wound up co-writing the script. When it came time to plan his first special, "Tom Papa: Live in New York City," Zombie offered his directing services, and Papa hired him.

Horror lover Zombie is actually a huge consumer of comedy. He discovered Marx Brothers movies as a kid and wound up named as the director of an upcoming Groucho Marx biographical film, and he casts his favorite comics in his movies — Chris Hardwick in "House of 1000 Corpses" and Brian Posehn in "The Devil's Rejects," for example. Zombie even has a special affinity for a reliable CBS laugh track-laden sitcom. "I watch 'The King of Queens' and go, 'This show is f***ing genius,'" he told Thrillist. "It's so f***ing funny, man, I love that show. Kevin James is a f***ing genius."

Rob Zombie is living out his childhood dreams

Rob Zombie does a lot of things professionally — he's a horror-influenced hard rock musician, a filmmaker, and a comic book artist (responsible for, among other titles, "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto"). He's living his life out loud, and amazingly, it's according to a plan he set out for himself in a "what I want to be when I grow up" assignment from early childhood. 

"My mom used to keep this book where they put your school picture from first grade, and then you fill out what you want to be when you grow up," Zombie told Yahoo Entertainment. "I'd say, 'I wanna be a comic book maker,' or 'I wanna make movies.' And yeah, I sort of just stuck with the first-grade plan." More specifically, he aimed to be like "Alice Cooper, Steven Spielberg, Bela Lugosi, and Stan Lee." Not just one of those things — a shock rocker, director, horror icon, and comic maker — but all of them.

One other individual who influenced Zombie's whole vibe is fictional but no less important. "I remember seeing 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,' and I was so young, I thought it was all real," he told Rolling Stone. "By the time I was old enough to know that it wasn't, I figured, 'Well, why can't it be?' I guess I never lost my fascination for anything that I immediately liked as a kid."

It was hard for Rob Zombie to break into moviemaking

While he still tours and records music, in the 21st century, Rob Zombie is primarily known as a writer and director. That transition didn't come without some resistance from Hollywood. Zombie's feature directorial debut was a horror film he wrote himself: "House of 1000 Corpses," a sleazy, extremely violent, and scary movie for Universal about a family of murderers who torture and kill some lost travelers. "I told them that I wanted to make a drive-in movie, something very gritty and nasty and weird. And they were all like, 'Okay, great, great great,'" Zombie told AV Club. "Maybe they just didn't know what I meant by that." 

After the film was completely finished in 2000, executives balked at releasing it. "Universal, like a lot of the other major studios, had been pulled in front of Congress to testify about marketing violent movies to children, because the Columbine High School shooting had just happened," Zombie explained. "And I just think that our movie seemed like too big of a publicity risk for the studio." Universal allowed Zombie to shop the movie around to other distributors, and it finally hit theaters in 2003, three years after production wrapped.

The unmade films of Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie has made a lot of movies, and he's got a high enough profile that he's been linked to a number of other projects that, for one reason or another, Hollywood wouldn't let him direct. With only one credit to his name at the time — directing White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" video — Zombie wound up with helming the planned third film in "The Crow" franchise in 1997. According to Variety, Zombie wrote the screenplay for "The Crow: 2037" himself, which was to take place in the future and concern a boy murdered by an evil priest who becomes the reborn Crow and sets off on a journey of violent revenge. That movie was never realized. 

In 2008, Zombie was announced as the director of a Dimension Films-produced movie called T-Rex, about a former criminal who gets caught up in an extremely violent and bloody underground boxing ring. Key art was publicly released, but the project was never completed. A planned remake of the horror classic "The Blob" followed a similar trajectory. In 2009, Zombie was set to direct, key art hit media channels, but then the film died. A few years later, Zombie even planned to move into different movies, agreeing to direct "The Broad Street Bullies," a film about the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. He worked on the project for two years but left after growing frustrated with studio delays.

The secret filmography of Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie is very particular about the films he makes. Since 2000, he's directed eight feature films, all of which he wrote or co-wrote, including "The Lords of Salem," "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," two "Halloween" movies, and "House of 1000 Corpses." They all fall safely into the genre of horror, and the filmmaker stays behind the camera, choosing not to appear onscreen in his own films. 

This isn't to say that Zombie isn't a versatile and agile filmmaker. He's quietly made and appeared in several projects that aren't the typical Zombie fare. In 2010, he directed "L.A.," a very special episode of "CSI: Miami" set in Los Angeles. A year later, per The Washington Post, Zombie helmed a short mock-horror movie — a 30-second ad for Woolite.

Zombie has also lent his voice to several movies and TV projects. He portrayed two different offscreen Ravagers in both "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, the voice of God in the dark superhero movie "Super," and a "Vegan Leader" in the Adult Swim cartoon "Mr. Pickles."

Rob Zombie is an animated guy

In addition to making mind-bending psychedelic cartoons in printed, sequential form, Rob Zombie made the jump to animation, co-writing and directing the direct-to-DVD movie version of his comic, "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto." Moving cartoons is a genre in which Zombie had long dabbled. Back in his White Zombie days, the band's song "Ratfinks Suicide Tanks, and Cannibal Girls" soundtracked a trippy, horrific, drug hallucination sequence in the 1996 movie "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America." Zombie contributed the character design and overall vibe of the scene, providing the film's animators with design art and guidelines, a sample of which he shared on his Facebook page. "I was on tour at the time, so I'd do drawings in my hotel room and mail them to Mike [Judge, creator and director of 'Beavis and Butt-head']," Zombie told Stereogum, "and my stuff made it into that segment."

Zombie has also worked on other people's cartoons. That's him voicing "Vegan Leader" on Adult Swim's "Mr. Pickles," Dr. Curt Connors (aka The Lizard) on the "Spider-Man" animated series, and Ichthultu on "Justice League."

It's game on for Rob Zombie

Video games are as popular and viable an entertainment as film or comic books, particularly for someone like Rob Zombie who creates action-heavy fare. He's used video games as a natural outlet and extension for his work as both a filmmaker and musician. In 2014, he teamed up with "The Walking Dead" co-creator Tony Moore to make a cinematic-style trailer (which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, per Rolling Stone) for the French Revolution-set Ubisoft game "Assassin's Creed: Unity." "I thought it was interesting because I never work in the medium of video games, so it was a new thing to do," he said, adding that he aimed for historical accuracy in the miniature digital film.

But even as far back as the '90s, Zombie contributed to major video game releases. At a time when games were just becoming technologically advanced enough to include fully produced songs on their soundtracks, Zombie got in on the emerging tech, contributing songs to "Gran Turismo 2," "Twisted Metal III," and "Quake II."

The haunted world of Rob Zombie

When Universal Studios wanted to add some palpably scary and gory horror to its theme parks to bring in Halloween revelers, they called in Rob Zombie, an enthusiast and master of the monstrously macabre. According to Outtake, in 1999, Universal approached Zombie with an offer to design a haunted house for its annual Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, a real-life representation of the scares-inflected music he made with White Zombie and on his own. Zombie ambitiously outperformed the assignment, creating "Murder Ride," a bloody trip through a creepy country gas station, and an adjacent farmhouse full of various frightening murderers, billed as "Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses." The attractions were so well-received, and Universal executives so enjoyed working with Zombie, that they offered him a chance to make a horror movie, and he wrote a proposal that would eventually become the 2003 movie also titled "House of 1,000 Corpses."

Decades later, Zombie made more Halloween frights for Universal properties. According to Kerrang!, he adapted his spooky 1998 album "Hellbilly Deluxe" into an attraction for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando in 2019.

Rob Zombie takes concerts very seriously

Between making movies, comic books, video games, cartoons, and music, Rob Zombie's business is the creation of fun, but it's a job he doesn't take lightly. He personally oversees most aspects of his elaborate, effects-heavy, thoroughly-choreographed stage concert spectaculars, and he takes pride in a strong and strict work ethic and leading by example for the large crew. "They're only going to work as hard and be as organized as you are. And I have to run everything super organized and make it work," Zombie told Westworld. "And if the people that work with me don't care about it, I replace them with someone that does."

His stated goal, one which he demands every team member share: to put on a great concert for the benefit of paying customers, which means there's little to no room for offstage rock star partying and shenanigans. "To me, nothing matters but the show," Zombie said. "Nobody pays fifty bucks so you can have fun backstage."