"House of 1000 Corpses," Rob Zombie's feature film debut, apparently has scared away the studio that planned to release it.
Universal Pictures a division of Vivendi-Universal, which owns Geffen Records, Zombie's label has backed out on releasing the film because of its "visceral tone and intensity."
"I should have been shocked, but I wasn't," Zombie said from a Los Angeles recording studio, where he is working on his next album. "It always seemed like a weird choice of movie for Universal Studios. Everyone in the movie was like, 'It's just so bizarre that they are making this movie. It's so f---ed-up and out there for them.' And I guess it was."
Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider made the decision to part ways with Zombie after screening an unfinished version of the film last month. Snider did not return phone calls, but said in a statement that she anticipates an NC-17 rating for "House of 1000 Corpses," which would be at odds with Universal's releasing strategy.
"We made a commitment to Rob to allow him full creative control," Snider said in the statement. "We were familiar with his prior work and find him immensely talented and versatile. The resulting film is a significant accomplishment for Rob, yet there is a visceral tone and intensity that we did not imagine from the printed page."
The screening got the exact results Zombie predicted, he said. "Exactly what the adults are disgusted by is what the kids are going to stand up and cheer about. That's basically how it went down. A bunch of the studio execs who saw it for the first time seemed so incredibly repulsed. I thought they were kidding. But, I took that as, it works."
Zombie has obtained the rights for "House of 1000 Corpses," which he wrote and directed, and is showing the film to potential distributors.
The movie, which had a $7 million budget and was filmed partially on a Universal Pictures lot last summer, is about two young couples whose car breaks down near a small town of creepy characters. Production wrapped in January, and the movie was slated for summer release.
The Universal/"Corpses" split marks the first time a studio has publicly disassociated itself from a violent movie since the entertainment industry was blasted last fall during hearings by the Senate Commerce Committee and the Federal Trade Commission.
But Snider, whose studio is raking in at the box office with the graphic "Hannibal," told the Los Angeles Times she would have responded the same way to the movie without ever having listened to the hearings, which took the industry to task over violence in films, music and video games.
"The difference is all about tone," Snider said. "The conceit of Rob's movie, which has no recognizable stars, is that it's not a fantasy. It could be real, and that's what makes it more upsetting. I can tell 'Hannibal' is a fantasy because when I watch Tony Hopkins or Ray Liotta, I know I'm going to see them in People magazine next week. But with Rob's movie, I was concerned that there was just an uber-celebration of depravity."
Zombie described his characters as "ugly and nasty," and said he would not have made the movie with big-name stars.
"It's funny, because in a certain way, my plan worked all too well," he said. "My thought was, as soon as you do put recognizable people in those roles, they are less scary. I remember watching 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' and you're not seeing recognizable people. You think, 'That guy's so f---ed-up is he an actor or just some freak that got to be in this movie?' As soon as you get some kid from 'Dawson's Creek,' it [undermines] the horror a tad."
Zombie, a veteran behind the lens on videos for both White Zombie and his solo work, says he has no hard feelings for Universal, for whom he designed the Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Night maze in 1999.
"The whole situation is strange and kind of a drag, but these are the way things go. ... At the end of the day, I know it's working out the way it's supposed to," he said. "I would rather have it happen this way than have them pretend to support the film and try to hide it as their dirty little secret. I'd rather get it to where it's supposed to go."
Zombie was working on the soundtrack to "House of 1000 Corpses" when the Universal deal fell through. He has some of his own material recorded for it and plans to bring in other artists.
As for his next album, Zombie has written the framework for at least 13 tracks for the as-yet-untitled project, due in August. He is working with the same producer (Scott Humphrey) and band as he did on 1998's triple-platinum Hellbilly Deluxe.
"Now that the band has been together awhile, it has a much more live, raw sound. It sounds a lot more fluid," Zombie said.
He's contemplated working with some guest artists, but said it was too early in the game to drop names.
"After doing something completely different for so long, now coming back to music seems so easy," Zombie said. "Doing the movie re-energized me. I can't wait to get back on the road."