Rob Zombie made a name for himself as a purveyor of monstrous rock ‘n’ roll and scary movies like "House of 1000 Corpses" and "Halloween II." He also helps create haunted houses around the country. We spoke with Zombie on location in west suburban Villa Park, the site of his "Great American Nightmare."
Zombie talks about his longtime fascination with horror and his love of Groucho Marx. He also defends last year's haunted house, which featured a recreation of Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy's living room.
This year, "Great American Nightmare" promises a kind of "smell-o-vision," electric walls, and the world's longest spinning tunnel. Not puke-inducing at all. We also spoke with Steve Kopelman – the professional haunted house producer who helps Zombie makes all the disgusting magic happen.
Chicago Tonight: Last year you guys seemed to move away from all the rooms tying into Rob Zombie films, this year we're back in it, with rooms based on "The Devil's Rejects" and his upcoming film "31." What kind of conversations do you and Rob have about what this is going to look like each year and how do you tap into what's going to scare people the most?
Steve Kopelman: One of the good things about working with Rob is for the most part he's got the characters already developed. So it really helps us. It's really difficult to develop characters in a haunted house from scratch. This year, Rob just wanted it bloodier and more disgusting than ever. It even smells like death in the haunted house this year and there's already some people complaining about the smell.
CT: And why does it smell like death exactly?
SK: We use scents and stuff to try and hit all the senses. We don't have taste yet, maybe someday.
CT: And what are those? What do they smell like?
SK: One of them's called "Just Bad," and it's just bad. It's hard to describe. If it gets you right, you'll start gagging a little bit. It's not good.
CT: Like with last year's "Lords of Salem" room, there's going to be a room this year where participant's heads get covered with a bag. Though they can choose to avoid that if they don't want to do it.
SK: This year, we're utilizing Rob's music and covering you and then you have to feel your way through. Things happen to you while you walk, some of the rooms are electrified and you get shocked. And things shoot at you and you have to squeeze through stuff.
CT: With some of that stuff – bad smells, people getting pseudo-electrified – how do you tell if you're about to cross a line or make people sick?
SK: We don't want them to throw up, that's not good. We've got the world's longest spinning tunnel, so it effects your equilibrium and it feels like everything's moving. So, yeah, with everything there, we try to bring them to the edge, but we don't want anybody throwing up.
CT: But is there ever a time you or Rob tosses out an idea but then has to reign it in because it's going too far?
SK: Yeah, there's some instances where we might be going over the line a little bit and we may reign it in a little bit. But we don't reign much in. This year in one of the rooms we actually have a double amputee. People are paying to get scared. This is the ultimate form of immersive theater. We have the opportunity to put them in the movie. And if you watch Rob's movies like "Devil's Rejects" and "31" which is gonna be released, it's disgusting. And on purpose.
CT: Rob was saying you guys usually don't come back to the same place two years in a row, but you're back in the Chicagoland area this year. Was that because of all the hype and success of last year's John Wayne Gacy room?
SK: I don't think it was the Gacy room. We were really happy with the Chicago audience and that's why we came back.
CT: With all the limits you push, do you guys ever get sued?
SK: We're one of the safest attractions. Haunted houses for the most part are pretty safe and we really go out of our way. We have a safety team going through the house numerous times in a night making sure there's no problems.
CT: I've read that you're not even a big fan of horror films or dressing up for Halloween. How the heck did you get into this business?
SK: I love scaring people. I really do love that. I think I'm desensitized so I don't really get scared. I don't dislike horror films but I'm not totally into them like some other haunters are. But I really get into the psychology of scaring people and trying to figure out new and better ways to bring people to the edge.
"Great American Nightmare" runs Oct. 9 through Nov. 1. Tickets $25-$60.