The 10 Commandments of Horror Movie-Making – By Rob Zombie

Shock rocker, industrial metaller and hellbilly deluxe, the man only his accountant knows as Robert Bartleh Cummings has been leading a dual life as a movie director since 2003. We asked him what makes the perfect horror movie and, even though there was no burning bush or that, he did giveth his Ten Commandments. Take it away oh Lord…

1. Thou Shalt… Make Your Bad Guys Unforgettable

“I always want memorable bad guys, whether that’s Frankenstein’s monster, Captain Spaulding or Michael Myers. So it’s a process of making somebody visually interesting, casting an actor that’s charismatic to watch and giving them dialogue that’s memorable – things that make that character stand out. That was one of the challenges with the Halloween films; you have a lead character who doesn’t speak, you don’t see his face and he’s always hiding in the shadows – that’s kind of limiting. That’s why I decided to have so much backstory on Michael Myers – so that when he didn’t talk you could kind of project how he was feeling from what you saw before.”

GO SEE: Halloween (2007)

2. Thou Shalt… Be Politically Incorrect

“I like things to not be politically correct. I like bad language, nudity, things to just be bad. I don’t want the movie to be ‘nice’. There are so many movies like that; I don’t want to watch that all the time and for my own work it’s definitely not what I have in mind. I always have to fight for it, though. My 10 commandments should be renamed my ‘Top 10 Things That Rob Does To Make His Life Incredibly Difficult, All Of The Time’, because these are the top 10 things no one wants you to do!”

GO SEE: A Serbian Film (2010)

3. Thou Shalt… Always Have A really Badass Opening Sequence

“A lot of times people decide in the first two minutes if they feel like watching a whole movie, so a real memorable opening is key. I always joke and say that I want a ‘James Bond opening’ but it’s true – you have to have something where people say, ‘OK, this is going to be good.’ I mean, sometimes I watch a movie for 40 minutes and nothing interesting has happened, which is why in the first five minutes of The Devil’s Rejects I have the [giant shoot-out] and the escape before [the credits] even started. Slow-build, fine, but you’ve got to give people something at the beginning to hook them in.”

GO SEE: Ghost Ship (2002)

4. Thou Shalt… Have An equally Badass Ending

“You gotta leave people with something memorable. I love when I can think of the last image in the film because that’s the most powerful moment; it’s the thing that people walk out with. Sometimes you can end with a great image and it’s like, ‘Boom!’, the movie ends and you go, ‘What’s next?’ The first time I experienced that was with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. She escapes, gets into the truck, and Leatherface is just sort of [spinning in the street with the chainsaw and the sun flaring behind him] and the film just cuts – it’s almost like the roll ran out.”

GO SEE: Evil Dead (2013)

5. Thou Shalt… Have A Memorable Soundtrack

“Nailing a memorable piece of music is really hard to achieve. The right piece of music could be a song you love and makes you think of the movie every time you hear it – like when you play Tubular Bells while driving your car and you instantly think of The Exorcist. Now I’m working with John 5 it’s made things easier; before that I was working with composers and it was sometimes a little tricky to make things work. So I tended to work with songs, like Freebird for The Devil’s Rejects. Halloween was easy, of course, because I just reworked the famous [John Carpenter music].”

GO SEE: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)


6. Thou Shalt… Always Use Interesting Actors

“One thing that really drives me crazy with all the teen horror films is that I end up going, ‘Wait, is that the same guy or a different guy?’ You’ll have four guys, the same age, same haircut, same clothes and it’s like, ‘Which guy is that?!’ Everything is so bland. I like to have really interesting faces, which is why I lean very heavily on character actors, even if it’s for a character with one line. Most of the time the casting agent or the studio goes, ‘Just cast a bunch of nobodies, who cares?’ but I want to have somebody who has something to them. It makes the movie more expensive and it causes problems but for me it’s important, it makes it less throwaway.”
GO SEE: Alien (1979)

7. Thou Shalt… Not Cast An Abundance of Young, Pretty People

“Sometimes I watch a horror movie and with everyone that steps on screen it’s like, ‘Oh, how convenient, everyone is a teenage model – the guys and the girls… could everyone be more beautiful and handsome? I don’t think I’m going to bother watching this movie.’ It’s just bullshit. And it’s like when someone is over 26, they’re over the hill! When I was a kid I didn’t watch a Steve McQueen or Charles Bronson film and think, ‘Gee, I wish you were 17 years old and just like me.’ No, I thought, ‘Wow, look at this man who looks like he can kick ass!’ I was watching a movie the other day and the four main characters made their entrance and it looked like they were walking off a runway. They looked like they spent all day at the gym, they had perfectly shaved chests and it’s fucking ridiculous. I hate when things are perfect. I like when things are gnarly and they still have life in them. When things are polished and perfect, it’s boring.”

GO SEE: Freaks (1932)

8. Thou Shalt… Not Use CGI

“Movies now feel very cold to me because they’re more bombastic and they’re fake all the time. There’s no human element and I think somewhere deep in your subconscious you know it’s not real. If you watch the original Star Wars I think your brain knows you’re watching something someone built, you know it exists somewhere… whereas when it’s CGI I think your brain knows it’s two-dimensional and doesn’t buy into it in the same way. And your stars end up looking like the worst actors in the world because they’re acting to an ‘X’ on a blue screen, or an ‘X’ on a stick – that’s not acting; it’s like a producer telling a singer ‘Go in there and sing, we’ll add the band later.’”

GO SEE: The Thing (1982)

9. Thou Shalt… Cast Ages Sensibly

“The first thing the studio always says is, ‘Can we have everyone in the movie be younger?’ That is literally the first thing out of their mouths. That’s why sometimes you watch a movie and you think, ‘Hmm, it seems kind of odd that all the guys in the SWAT team are 22… wouldn’t you have to go through a lot more training to be a SWAT team guy?’ Or, ‘Really? The sheriff is 24? He’s moved up the ranks awfully fast…’ When I was trying to cast the main role in Halloween I had the opposite problem – the people being suggested would be the equivalent of a 33-year-old Playboy Playmate – and it’s supposed to be a nerdy high school girl.”

GO SEE: Paranormal Activity (2007)

10. Thou Shall Not Have A Happy Ending

“It happens too often. How often do you leave the cinema with a downbeat feeling, even after a horror film? It’s like, ‘OK, I know she’s the star, she’s going to survive and be OK at the end.’ So as you’re watching, it’s like, ‘What’s the point?’ But if you’re watching a film by someone you know doesn’t feel that way, the characters are genuinely in danger and you know something bad will probably happen to them. Maybe it’s just me, but I like downbeat endings. I like leaving a horror film and feeling like the world just ended. To leave the other way feels cheap.”

GO SEE: Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Rob Zombie Quiz