Rob Zombie Is Living the Nightmare
"Just keep repeating, 'It's not real; it's not real,'" Rob Zombie says when I tell him I'm too scared to go into the Great American Nightmare. "But some of it might be, so be careful."
He knows what he's talking about. Zombie is indisputably the cross-genre king of horror. After making his name as the front man for shock-rock outfit White Zombie, he turned to directing (remember that Halloween remake?), writing books, even acting. All the while, he never stopped recording music and touring. If you had any doubts about the strength of Zombie's macabre empire, all you have to do is check out the Great American Nightmare.
The 15-date Halloween extravaganza, which runs through Nov. 2, is the one event that epitomizes what he's all about. He transformed the Pomona Fairplex into a creepy carnival, with a 45,000-square-foot maze that houses three attractions (all based on Zombie's movies). Musical acts that fit the theme of macabre mayhem (such as Andrew W.K. and the Vandals) are playing each night.
Now, anyone can say they like horror, put on makeup and creep the fuck out of their audiences onstage, but we all know what Insane Clown Posse looks like when they're chilling at home, watching TV. Not so with Zombie, who has been, to date, the only person capable of making blood, gore, heavy metal and chainsaws sexy—as well as bawdy.
In a way, the event harkens back to Zombie's childhood. His mother's family had a carnival, so he grew up in one, playing in haunted houses, working the rides. "When I'm looking at the concession stands for the popcorn and all the other things right now, it's a very natural fit," he says. "I've been around this stuff since I was in kindergarten."
Strip him of his creepy makeup and dreadlocks, however, and you'll get quite a reveal: He's hugely successful because he works incredibly hard. "These days, it seems like I sleep just three hours a night," Zombie says. On the day we spoke, he was at the Great American Nightmare until 3:30 a.m., got up at 6:30 a.m. to start doing press, stayed at the event late, then went to the editing room to finish The Zombie Horror Picture Show, his first full-length concert film. "I'll be editing till I pass out," he says, "and then wake up and do it all again tomorrow."
He's also a very savvy businessman. Listen to him talk about the Great American Nightmare: "I've been doing this sort of thing for quite some time; the first one I did was in 1998 for Universal Studios. I've done it several times over the years with them, but it was always one maze at a time, so I've always had the idea to expand it to my own attraction. But I've always been on tour or making a movie, and this was the first year when it seemed like I could finally get it together for Halloween and have the right partners, so it just worked out great."
Zombie envisioned the whole event with haunted-house producer Steve Kopelman, with help from music producers Kevin Lyman (Warped Tour) and John Reese. And the haunted house was always what it was about, Zombie says. "The music became a bonus feature. And I wanted to make it that you could come here, get a lot of bang for your buck and make a whole evening out of it. So we have carnival rides and wrestling and freakshows, and we also have different types of bands playing every night—everything from old school to punk rock to EDM."
Not everyone on the lineup makes sense from a Halloween perspective (Reel Big Fish, really?), but that's the point, Zombie says. "People can go out and go to the mazes and get drunk or go to the EDM thing and frickin' rave all night. That's what's great about it. Everybody likes Halloween, but everybody likes different kinds of music. That's why it had to be a lot of variety."
The faint of heart could still enjoy it if they wanted to, he says. "We have the chicken doors you could exit through everywhere if you're scared."
Not that he understands that concept. "Nothing scares me," he says. "I make things to scare other people. That's my job."
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