"It’s my mom trying to hand me to Ronald McDonald": why Rob Zombie really f**king hates clowns

Rob Zombie, Ronald McDonald and Captain Spaulding
(Image credit: Zombie/Ronald: Getty ; Spaulding: Lionsgate)

“I've never had a fear of clowns. I find clowns fascinating. On one level, they're very entertaining and on another, they're incredibly repulsive.”

It’s been fifteen years since Rob Zombie released his darkened revamp of the 1978 John Carpenter classic Halloween, one of the most beloved and sacred totems in the horror genre. Love it or hate it (as time passes, the former camp seems to increase exponentially), being tapped to helm such a high-profile remake validated Zombie’s stature as a bona fide mainstream filmmaker. His latest film, a big budget reboot of The Munsters television show, comes out on September 27, 2022. Today, in addition to enjoying status in metal’s elite club of platinum-selling artists (both as a solo artist and with his former band, White Zombie), Zombie is a screenwriter, producer and director of a number of hyper-violent, boundary-pushing cult films that play out in dusty towns, creepy neighbourhoods and of course, deadly roadside attractions.

Throughout these films are a series of directorial trademarks, the two most prominent being key roles played by his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie and the second being the near-inevitable emergence of an evil clown. Sid Haig’s unforgettable turn as Captain Spaulding, the murderous clown allegedly based on serial killer John Wayne Gacy, ranks among horror’s most unnerving characters. Fans might have noticed that of his many quixotic traits: Captain Spaulding sells fried chicken, just like Gacy did as the manager of three KFC restaurants. The character appeared in House Of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and 3 From Hell (known as the Firefly Trilogy, after the murderous family in those three films).

In 2016, Zombie released 31, a sensory-tilting gore-fest where carnival workers are pitted in a life-and-death battle against chainsaw-wielding clowns spewing anatomically-terrifying threats. The opening monologue by actor Richard Brake — painted up in full-blown creepy clown mode — will reduce anyone suffering from coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), to a legless, quivering mess, likely in need of new pants.

Even Lords Of Salem sees his wife Sheri transform into a dreadlocked wraith decked out in Satanic sigils and corpsepaint.

This 2005 television clip sees Zombie chatting about his then-latest film, The Devil’s Rejects, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It’s a good ol’ chat about Zombie’s love of horror and the formative childhood experiences that would shape his films. For example, O’Brien asks him about growing up in a family that was involved in the carnival business, with Zombie replying, “We don’t mean like, a good carnival. We mean like, gnarly, nasty midway style, you know? All the carnies that [have] no teeth, they’re on parole, high on crystal meth, running the tilt-a-whirl...with your kids.”

Within these two minutes of interview, one hears the real-live, creepy origins of the Firefly Trilogy. As the segment continues, the two men discuss Zombie’s voracious, daily nine-hour television regimen as a kid and his opinions on what makes a truly epic horror scene. It’s here where, inevitably, we get to clowns, and Zombie offers up the story that informed his own obsession with creepy clowns that would inspire some of his darkest and most memorable characters.

O’Brien asks what inspired Zombie’s penchant for inserting truly depraved, horrible clowns into so many of his films.

“Well, clowns are just pathetic,” says Zombie, “And they’re disgusting. They’re always filthy. Even just the other day I was driving and I stopped at a red light and looked over and there’s this filthy clown holding an ‘Open House’ sign. Makeup’s running down his face, he’s filthy, yet they’re always parading for clown rights. They’re out there with their little umbrellas and filthy chihuahuas and their little cards like, ‘We wanna be treated like equals!’”

Confused by this shift, O’Brien asks, “Where are these parades?” As the audience laughter subsides, he asks, “Did you have a bad experience as a child?”

“Yes, I did,” deadpans Zombie. “Yes, I did. I didn’t remember this, but my dad was obsessed with the Super 8 camera and I just saw these films recently, and it’s him. Well actually, he’s filming and it’s my mom trying to hand me to Ronald McDonald! But it’s like kind of a weird looking, bad Ronald McDonald. It might’ve even been a woman. And I’m screaming in terror and they just keep pushing me towards this clown and I’m like fighting them off...”

“And so you knew even then that something was wrong,” asks O’Brien.

“Well, there’s this like, freak with the giant red hair...” Zombie starts as O’Brien, a gangly redhead himself, cuts in and says, "Well, that’s all the time we have...”

It’s a quick, interesting chat that offers a new level of context for Zombie’s original films. Check out the full interview here:

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.