True Stories From Rob Zombie's Childhood
Born Robert Bartleh Cummings, Rob Zombie is a rock and roll enigma. He’s a clean-living vegan who makes some seriously effed up movies, and his dirtbag brand of metal has only gotten heavier as he’s aged. But what was a young Rob Zombie like?
You might think the guy behind House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects grew up in a Manson family-style cult or in the backwoods of a summer camp, but it turns out his youth wasn’t as gritty as you would imagine. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t weird, though.
Zombie rarely speaks about his childhood, but the facts he’s let slip are fascinating. Aside from growing up with a horror movie obsession, his parents worked as carnies, and he definitely saw something horrific that might have formed the basis of at least one of his films.
It's time to enter the world of young Rob Zombie, where life is meaningless and pain is God.
Growing Up, Zombie Had To Make His Own Entertainment
As a young person growing up in Haverhill, MA, Zombie had to make his own fun. It wasn't just that he didn't have a lot of friends, there was nothing to do in his town. Zombie's described the area as basically empty, saying there wasn't a theater or a record store; it was "a creepy old town with this atmospheric sort of HP Lovecraft-style horror film atmosphere."
When Zombie wasn't watching TV, he was hanging out with his brother or going to extreme lengths to see movies during their first run - or making his own films.
While speaking with director Mick Garris for his podcast, Post Mortem, Zombie said he used to make his own movies with a video camera, but the process could be "heartbreaking." Zombie said, "I remember sometimes we would spend forever making these movies and we would get the film back and it was all black."
He Saw A Truly Horrific Scene
Before you get to thinking Rob Zombie lived an idyllic suburban life, he admits he had a kind of "Lynchian" existence in Massachusetts. During a Q&A for The Devil's Rejects, Zombie told a story about the time he and his brother were playing outside and saw a "naked guy" running down the street and bleeding out of multiple knife gashes.
The director never found out what happened to the man, but he said the visual didn't affect him the way it would most people - he was already desensitized, thanks to his excessive film and television intake. Zombie does admit his brother was pretty freaked out, though.
Zombie Was An Admitted TV Addict
Because young Zombie didn't have much to do, he became a certified TV addict. He told Rolling Stone that as a child, he memorized the TV schedule and regularly watched "eight hours of TV per day." Zombie explained he would start "with the crop reports at 5:30 in the morning. My saddest moment was when that flag came up at the end of the night, right before the station signed off. Oh, how the tears would flow!”
Zombie eventually turned his TV addiction into a creative tool, with much of his work taking on the cut and paste style that comes from flipping through channels.
He Was A Super Sickly Kid
While speaking with Men's Health, Zombie admitted that when he was a kid, he was nowhere near the dreadlocked brute who stalks the stage in the 21st century. The singer chalks up the change to mind over matter in a very extreme sense.
I was a really sickly kid, one of those kids like, "Here's your 25 pills, and you can't be in gym class." One day in high school, I was like, f*ck it, I'm not taking any more medicine. I'm going to join the track team... And of course I got healthier. I stopped eating red meat. Even my asthma went away. I still eat super, super healthy all the time, and I take health quite seriously. I haven't had red meat in 25 years.
His Parents Were Carnies
Zombie's mish-mash Americana was instilled in him by his carnie parents. He told Men's Health that despite their strange profession, they were actually quite wholesome:
My parents were very all-American, but there was a weird side where my mom and her whole family worked in carnivals. Some of the carnies looked like characters in my movie. That ended in '77 when a riot broke out- in fact, my brother and I got caught in the middle of it. We were poor, we didn't have anything, but my dad switched gears and worked two jobs insanely hard. He never complained and was never mean. He instilled that in us. They never made a show of it, but my parents were also very matter-of-fact nice to everyone.
Even though the carnie lifestyle informs his work now, Zombie didn't care about the weird world of the carnival growing up. He told LA Weekly, "It sounds exciting and interesting now, but as a kid, it was a drag. I think no matter what your parents do for a living, it doesn't seem exciting as a kid."
Rob And His Brother Had A Unique Way Of Dubbing Movies
Because they grew up poor, Zombie and his brother had a very special way of recording movies off the TV.
Rather than use a VCR, Zombie would film the screen with his Super 8 camera while his younger brother used a portable tape recorder to grab the sound. It wasn't the perfect method for rewatching their favorite films, but it definitely showed ingenuity.