Over this past weekend, Rob Zombie’s latest genre effort, 31, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Midnight programming slate. Daily Dead had the chance to catch up with both Zombie and his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, the following day to chat about their latest collaboration.

During our interview, the duo discussed making "grown-up horror", the pros of utilizing some familiar faces from Zombie’s previous films for 31, dealing with criticism and so much more.

Thanks for chatting today guys and congrats on the movie, too. Not only is it really cool to see your evolution as a director over the years, Rob, but it's also really cool to see you, Sheri, change so much throughout all these different films too. I thought Charly was just a lot of fun in 31, and while I'm not going to ruin anything for anybody, that final scene with Richard [Brake] was so great. It felt like it was right out of a Western.

Sheri Moon Zombie: I love it. I'm so glad that it worked out that way because it’s a really great moment.

Rob Zombie: I love that character because if you think of Charly at the beginning of the movie and the end of the movie, it's a different person. The film’s biggest arc is with that character and you see it happen slowly.

Sheri Moon Zombie: Yeah, and that was thought out. I really worked on that. I wanted to make sure there was some transition where she kind of turns and she's totally strong and going to be able to take control of the situation. So hopefully it comes across that way.

It does. One thing, Rob, that really struck me last night was how you are very much an actor's director. I don't think people recognize that enough. That opening monologue with Richard, you give people space to find those moments, and I don't think I really appreciated it until last night. I was like, "Shit, that's what he's been doing all these years." And a lot of people have missed that point over the years. 

Rob Zombie: Yeah, I think what always makes people miss it is the fact that I generally do genre films. Most times I do an interview, all they want to talk about is the gore, and to me that's the least interesting aspect. I mean, it would be like if you do a Western and people are like, "Let's talk about the horses." That's not really the point of the movie.

And I love actors and I love making them do things. I like unconventional actors, like Richard Brake, who I thought was great even before working with him. He keeps saying to me, "You made me love acting again." So many actors have said that to me, like Judy Geeson or Meg Foster. People who have basically quit acting because they were sick of it, because they were tired of playing the grandma with one line. Sid Haig, he had quit too. He hadn't done anything for a long time before House [of 1000 Corpses]. He was like, "I gave up on it. I was tired of being Number Four Terrorist in the background."

So if I'll pat myself on the back for one thing, it's that I feel like I can see talent. I can see someone and go, "You know who's stealing the scene? The guy in the background. You're not giving him anything to do and he's the guy that's fucking great." I'll see somebody I really dig, and I always get arguments at the beginning from the higher-ups. Nobody wanted me to cast Walton Goggins in Corpses, nobody wanted me to cast Rainn Wilson in that either, and nobody was on board with Richard Brake for 31. I fight for all these people, and then win it because I know it’s important.

And look where they are now.

Sheri Moon Zombie: Exactly! Look at their careers. Like Chris Hardwick; I don't know if there was a fight, but look at where he’s at now.

Rob Zombie: I had to fight to get him on Corpses too. I enjoy having a cast where they're not conventional. Studios always want to make sure that everyone's 18, that everybody looks like a teen model, and that's fine, but that's not my world. I mean, I myself may be a teen model, but–

Sheri Moon Zombie: Deep down you are [laughs].

I agree completely and I believe that had a traditional studio made this movie, the five victims in “Murderworld” would have been 18-year-old chicks.

Rob Zombie: On a high school road trip or something.

Exactly. And I think that’s why I enjoy your films because it feels like grown-up horror. I don't even know if that's the right term for it, but I think so many people just forget that older folks have talent too. 

Rob Zombie: I tend to think that older folks have more talent. Not that there aren't super talented young actors, but for me, it’s usually more interesting watching adults. It's just something in their faces. That's why I like the Danny Trejos of the world. I go, "Yeah, I see it on his face." He doesn't even have to open his mouth because his face says it all.

That's what I think movies used to be, especially horror, like The Exorcist. When people go, "What are your favorite horror movies?" I say The Exorcist. That's not a teen movie. The Shining. That's not a teen movie. The Silence of the Lambs. That's not a teen movie. It just seems like studios adhere to this bizarro formula that's been concocted, where we have to only make horror movies about teenagers and that doesn’t interest me as a fan or as a director.

Sheri, I know you've worked with Jeff [Daniel Phillips] and a few other cast members before 31, but there’s a really great chemistry that your group of carnies share in this film. Can you discuss what that process was like for you during production? 

Sheri Moon Zombie: Yeah, I think that's attributed to Rob being an actor's director. I mean, I've said that for years, other actors have said it as well. We get on set and we're all really comfortable. We hang out all the time and we even rehearse in the hair and makeup trailer. The actors all love to hang out and talk. We just do. We like to workshop stuff and we all like working together, and it's just a really relaxed environment as far as that goes.

There's certainly a quickened pace for filming 20 nights. It was miserable, but because we all have the passion to fulfill Rob's vision, we want to do the best we can to make the best film we can because that lasts forever. We can be in a shitty situation, I can be covered in dried blood, I could be miserable and I could be crying the whole night when cut is called, but that doesn't matter.

Rob Zombie: Sometimes even after cut gets called.

Sheri Moon Zombie: It doesn't matter because that's not on film. We're making a movie here and we want to do the best job we can. Everybody's passionate about it because we all love it.

Rob Zombie: Part of that is the fact that, like you said, it's all adults. Some of them have been there, done that, and there's a different appreciation for what they're doing. Sometimes when you're dealing with people that are brand new it's like they don’t respect the process. I don't want to say names, but there are other people I know that are working on other movies, and they’ll tell me, "This is a nightmare. I can't even get the cast to put their fucking phones down when I say action. They're more concerned with being on Instagram than the fact that they're in front of a camera."

Sheri Moon Zombie: That to me is a director not taking control of his set.

Rob Zombie: Exactly, and what I'm saying is that we would never get that. The people I use, they're serious about it. They're not here to be movie stars. I'm sure they'd love it, but they love acting and I just gravitate towards people that I sense that vibe from. That's why the camaraderie begins, because we're all like-minded, and those are the folks I want to work with again and again.

I do think it’s really cool that you’ve established this troop of actors that we see time and time again. Some fans may nitpick over it, but almost all directors have that core group of folks they can rely on and I think that speaks to that camaraderie you mentioned.

Rob Zombie: If you go back and watch a Kubrick film or a film by John Carpenter you go, "Oh that guy again, that guy again." And that's what directors do because, especially for me, if I had 500 days to shoot this movie, I could literally be filming someone for six weeks and then be like, "I don't like that guy anymore. I'm replacing him. We're going to re-shoot all of that." But with 20 days, I need to know that I'm only casting people that are going to bring it and they're going to get one or two chances to nail it and then we've got to move on.

You're not going to get that with people that you don't know, because that's backfired on me many times where I thought I trusted somebody and I didn't really know them, but from their work I thought he would be cool, or she would be cool, and they're not. Then I'm like, "Oh my God. This person could literally torpedo this whole movie with their bullshit." As a director, you can't take those risks, you've got to cover your bases on that sort of thing.

And now you guys are sitting here at Sundance after the premiere of the movie, and I know it's been a quick journey for 31, but how much has this journey changed your perspectives in terms of working in the industry—or has it just been a total whirlwind experience?

Rob Zombie: For me it's the same as always. Every time I go to make a film it's the boulder at the bottom of the mountain. I'm like, "Let's start pushing the boulder up the mountain and this boulder happens to be called 31. Last time, it was called The Lords of Salem. I remember how I thought after Halloween came out and went number one. I went, "All right, things are going to get so much easier." No. It's the same shit the next day.

I heard an interview one time with Francis Ford Coppola after he won all the Oscars for The Godfather and The Godfather II, and the impossible journey it took for him to get Apocalypse Now made. I'm like, "If they're not going to get behind that guy they're not going to get behind anybody, you know?" That's just the nature of the beast.

And how about for you, Sheri?

Sheri Moon Zombie: I feel that now I know what to pick my battles over. Now I know what to get upset about. Now I know if I hear, "Oh, the producers aren't letting us do this. We don't have the money for this", I know eventually we're going to get it, so I don't worry about it. I'm one of the actors, but because I'm married to Rob, I hear all the bullshit.

Rob Zombie: She knows too much in a bad way sometimes, you know?

Sheri Moon Zombie: Yeah. Now I know what to filter out, I know I'm not going to get stressed about that. I'm not going to let all that "director’s wife" talk get in my head. I'm just going to focus on what my job is.

Frankly, I think it’s really silly how fans act like you're the first wife of a director to work in his movies. I'm like, "You know, just get over it."

Sheri Moon Zombie: I know. Honestly, in the beginning I did feel a lot of pressure to live up to a certain expectation, but now I don't care. I don't read reviews. I know I'm doing the best job I can and Rob's happy with it, and that's all that matters. We're making what we want to make and what we think the fans will enjoy. That’s what is important to me.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.