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A marriage made in hell

It was dark destiny that musician-director Rob Zombie and the 'Halloween' franchise would one day meet.

August 19, 2007|Paul Cullum | Special to The Times

"I watched him for 15 years. Sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall, looking at this night -- inhumanly patient -- waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off."

-- Dr. Loomis in "Halloween" (1978)


And so here we are, almost 30 years later, with the ninth iteration of the venerable "Halloween" franchise landing in theaters this week. That it was being directed by psycho-horror-death-metal-noise rocker Rob Zombie must have been a comfort for the producers. Of course, Mr. Zombie was born Robert Cummings, and both his adopted moniker and former band name, White Zombie, are taken from a 1932 Bela Lugosi thriller. Zombie's lyrical oeuvre, not surprisingly, also suggests a serious horror fan-based scholarship -- the kind accrued the hard way, in the Times Square grindhouses of the early '80s, when he briefly attended the Parsons School of Design in lower Manhattan. Now, with some 20 music videos and two horror opuses under his belt -- "House of 1000 Corpses" (set on Oct. 31, 1977, one year before the original "Halloween") and its ambulatory sequel, "The Devil's Rejects" -- who better to reboot a once-mighty film franchise that has sunk into ridicule, irrelevance and torpor through one (or let's call it six) too many trips to the well? A week away from wrap in mid-March, Zombie, 42, is playing it close to the vest, trying to stay focused on location at the empty Veterans Administration Hospital in North Hills, which will double as Smith's Grove Sanitarium, itself a horror premise laying in wait.

"It's easy to see something and get distracted," says Zombie, dressed in a burgundy Knightsbridge letter jacket, his signature dreadlocks and wizard's beard now shorn to a manageable Manson perm. "That's why I always try to stick with my first reaction. It's why sometimes [having] too many options is bad." He's talking to his wife, actress Sheri Moon Zombie, here playing Michael Myers' mother (unseen in the original), whom he has huddled with in-between takes behind the monitors, just within earshot.

"He's the exact opposite of what everyone thinks he will be," says Sheri, Zombie's companion of 14 years and wife of nearly five years (the couple were married on Halloween 2002), who toured with him as a dancer and memorably played Baby Firefly in his first two films. With his own TV show ("TCM Underground" on Turner Classic Movies), comic book ("Spookshow International"), comics company (CREEP Entertainment) and animated feature spinoff ("The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," still in post-production), one might think of him as the CEO of a midsized corporation. But no, that's not what she means.

"He's very creative," she says. "At home, that's all he's ever doing, whether it's painting or writing or whatever. And he's very funny; he makes me laugh all the time." She describes a typical night at home with the Zombies as making popcorn, curling up with the dog -- "A black pug named Dracula" -- and watching a movie in the screening room.

First up this morning, day-player Mark Christopher Lawrence, a character actor for 20 years (he perpetually owes Will Smith $14 in "The Pursuit of Happyness"), plays a security guard who gets thrown through a plate-glass window and then takes a TV to the head. This will mark his first on-screen death, although he admits that when Arnold Schwarzenegger threw him through a window on "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," it was only after the fact that James Cameron, with typical godlike beneficence, told him, "No, you're not dead -- just roll around."

Today, as it must to all men, death will come to Lawrence -- in the form of ex-wrestler Tyler Mane. Having appeared as Sabretooth in "X-Men," Ajax in "Troy" and a barbarian chieftain in "The Scorpion King," Mane also performed under the name Big Sky for the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling league (a far more poetic handle than, say, the Undertaker) but retired in 1999. He stands 6-foot-10 and wears size 12 house slippers, although he confides he needs a 13. As he maneuvers the hospital corridor in a dishwater-gray bathrobe and Thorazine shuffle, a lone crew member calls out, "Run, Forrest, run!"

"Just another day at the office," says Mane with a big grin. "After this, I'm taking the kids to Disney World."

(In the end, with time running short, Lawrence did not take a TV to the head after all. He will live to die another day.)

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