“Here’s a sentence you’re not going to ever hear again: I was on tour in Australia with Iron Maiden when I got a call from Woolite about doing a commercial.”
This is Rob Zombie describing his unexpected recent gig directing TV spots for laundry detergent, and while it is indeed an unusual sentence, it doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary for a multihyphenate whose endeavors have made him the foremost renaissance man of metal and horror.
This week marks the start of Zombie’s tour with thrash metal legends Slayer, after which he’ll start shooting his fifth film, “The Lords of Salem,” which he pitched to “Paranormal” producer Jason Blum over the phone at a soundcheck during his previous tour. Then it’s back to the studio to record a fifth album with his eponymous band, somehow allowing for time to direct a Comedy Central special with Tom Papa, a curatorship with Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights and a proposed TV adaptation of his 2009 animated feature “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.” And somewhere within all this, he’ll make his bow as a commercials helmer.
The spots are certainly out of the laundry industry’s sunshine-and-puppies wheelhouse, featuring a masked, leather-clad backwoods torturer, a discordant soundtrack and menacing closeups of jagged hooks and blades. Then again, Fangoria subscribers go to Laundromats too.
“I actually was the one a lot of times raising red flags,” Zombie recalled of the shoot. “For (the ad agency), they maybe hadn’t realized the backlash they could be getting, but I’m so used to it that I was in there preempting problems more than they were.”
It’s hard to think of another underground metal veteran who could get away with directing Woolite commercials, but Zombie has always inhabited an unusual place in the culture. Since his days in noise rock band-turned-unexpected radio hitmakers White Zombie, Zombie’s longtime preoccupations with grindhouse horror, comicbooks and low-budget sci-fi largely predated the mainstreaming of geek culture, giving him a rare sort of elder statesman status. Zombie described the difficulty in compartmentalizing his various projects through years-ahead planning to keep his schedule in line(“sometimes it’s amazing the things I’ve had to turn down”). But he’s developed an aesthetic that can be applied to a multiplicity of media with little alteration.
“It’s not like I play this kind of music and then the movies have nothing to do with it. Because then there would be a conflict. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with romantic comedies, but if that were my specialty in movies it would be a little weird.”
Zombie said his various occupations tend to “collide naturally.”
“I have an outlet that most directors don’t have where I get to go out, tour the world, and have this very intimate contact with fans to take the temperature of what’s happening.”
But despite his successes — four of his albums have gone platinum or better, and his films have grossed a combined $121 million theatrically — he echoes a complaint common to genre filmmakers and musicians.
“The one correlation I can draw between hard rock or metal and horror films,” Zombie said, “is that both genres generate millions and millions of dollars and are a lot more universally popular than many other forms of music or movies, but to me feel like they still get zero respect from the industry. Even though it may be the thing that keeps the lights on at these companies, they still treat it like, ‘well, we made those movies too.’ What do you mean you made those movies ‘too’? That’s the whole reason you have a company.”