Glenn Danzig is getting anxious for a return to “normal.” A year ago, the heavy-metal singer turned horror filmmaker was editing his new feature, a blood-soaked “vampire spaghetti Western” called Death Rider in the House of Vampires, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdown. Now that the film is complete, and quarantine protocols are loosening up, he’s planning on releasing the film in select U.S. theaters in mid-June.
“You can go to theaters in most places,” he says one day in late March. “You go to the supermarket and [can] be around a million people, but you can’t go to a theater? You can sit on an airplane right next to a motherfucker, but you can’t go to a theater socially distanced? How does that make sense?” He sums up his thoughts on Covid lockdowns by saying, “Look, I have a different opinion of the whole ‘flu’ than everybody else,” and then he refocuses his thoughts on the movie.
Much like his first film, the 2019 horror anthology Verotika, the real stars of Death Rider are its monsters and gore. But Danzig was also able to line up a notable cast for the film. The movie’s trailer shows Danny Trejo showing off a fanged smile, the title character (Final Destination’s Devon Sawa) pours molten silver down a vampire’s throat, and Glenn Danzig himself — as a character named Bad Bathory — sinks his canines into a bloody corpse. If that sounds comic-book–y, that’s because it is; Danzig, who runs his own comics publisher called Verotik, teamed with comic-book artist Simon Bisley on the storyboards for the film. Danzig also directed, wrote the movie’s screenplay, and composed its score.
Although Verotika got mostly scathing reviews, none of which bothered the unflappable Danzig, the filmmaker says the movie was enough of a financial success that he was able to secure a bigger budget for Death Rider. He’s especially excited about the cast he was able to hire. “Julian Sands is one of my favorite actors,” he says. “I mean, I could sit here for two hours naming off his credits to you, everything from The Killing Fields to Warlock to Boxing Helena. He’s the nicest guy in the world, an incredible actor. I was like, ‘Wow, I got Julian Sands in my movie and he’s digging it.’ And then we got Devon Sawa as Death Rider, Kim Director as Carmilla Joe. Danny Trejo came in and did a guest shot. The scene that he’s in with Devon is like kind of my homage to an Eli Wallach/Clint Eastwood thing.”
When Danzig talks about the film, you can practically hear him beaming over the telephone. Movies have been a part of his identity since he started the Misfits and wrote songs named after low-budget horror flicks like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Horror Hotel.” His knowledge of B-grade horror films runs deep, and in conversation, he’s prone to referencing long-forgotten Mexican she-wolf movies within minutes of an off-handed quip about the murderous doll Chucky.
As for his other career, he says he’s reached something of an impasse with music — while he still loves singing songs like “Mother” and “Her Black Wings” live, he’s feeling less motivated to record albums because the record-buying public has become apathetic. He has a couple of Danzig concerts on the books for this year, and he hasn’t closed the book on his reunion with the original Misfits, but for now, he’s happy finding his place in the world of horror. Now all he has to do is get his movie out there. “If you like vampire Westerns,” he says with a laugh, “you’re going to love it.”
What is Death Rider in the House of Vampires about?
It’s an homage to classic vampire movies and, of course, classic Italian spaghetti Westerns. I just mixed the two genres. I didn’t think anyone would have done it before. Basically [the character] Death Rider travels to the vampire sanctuary out in the middle of the desert, and then it all goes crazy after that.
Does he know it’s a vampire sanctuary?
Yeah, and he knows that the price of admission is a virgin. So he brings a girl on a horse.
Did you write the Bad Bathory character for yourself?
I started writing the script, and I had all these characters. And then eventually I was like, “You know what? I could do this, and we won’t have to look for somebody and we get out of it cheap.” So I didn’t originally intend for me to be that character, but then I just started thinking about him, like, “I’ll just do this one. It’s not a big part. It’d be easy. I could still do the directing.”
With directing, at least for me, you’re involved in everything. People come to you with wardrobe, sets, casting; preproduction is insane. The director’s got the hardest job. I just want to make sure I’m, like, a real director and not like one of these Hollywood directors where somebody else will start the movie and then they take credit [laughs].
Did you learn directing from music videos?
Yeah, music videos and documentaries. A lot of times I would direct or edit the music videos that [producer] Rick [Rubin] would have us do, and he wanted more story-line stuff, which [made the videos] like little movies. As a matter of fact, in the beginning, with a lot of the videos, we just would sit and talk about our favorite horror movies. And of course, him and I both like [film producer] Val Lewton, and Val Lewton’s guy [director Jacques Tourneur] did the Curse of the Demon, too, which has incredible photography. And we would nick little things here or there, like the lighting and things like that. The videos for “Mother” and “Am I Demon” were both influenced by German black-and-white silents and Val Lewton films.
So by the time you decided to direct Verotika, you knew what you were doing.
Well, I’d already been directing for 30 years. Of course, Verotika was with a very low budget, so we really had to call in a lot of favors. It was really a big crash course in making something look like it cost more than it did. So the good thing about Death Rider for me was I had a bigger budget and also we went SAG on this one, so we were able to get a lot more actors that we wanted.
Verotika got some pretty harsh reviews. Did that bother you?
Well, it’s kind of like when I do records: I want people to either love or hate it. And so we’ve got a lot of great reviews and we’ve got a lot of reviews by people who hate it. But if you look at Citizen Kane, that was panned; it’s now a classic. It was panned as overindulgent, terrible, unwatchable. Everyone has an opinion, and they’re entitled to their opinion.
We took it on the road to everybody, and the fans loved it, so it made a bunch of money. It became kind of a cult classic. In the beginning of Covid, people were having Verotika binge parties. What more could you ask for? I’m totally happy. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to watch it.
You love Ed Wood movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, and people didn’t give those the best reviews either. Do you think some viewers just didn’t get what you were going for?
Look, I still love stuff like [Mario] Bava and [Dario] Argento. You can see the color schemes in a lot of that stuff. And I mean, there’s a hanging scene in Verotika in the “Dajette” sequence that’s just the biggest homage to Argento. Either you get it, or you don’t get it. If you don’t get it, that’s fine. Go watch some stupid Chucky movie or something. You know, Chucky 5 Million or whatever. I mean, look, I’m ragging on Chucky, but not really. In other words, this is not some studio movie. If you’re expecting a studio movie, you’re in the wrong place.
Verotika was unrated. Will Death Rider be unrated too?
Death Rider will be probably rated R. Look, I don’t even care about the rating system. I think it’s all out the window. Kids can go online and see the most sick shit in the world. All there is, is a little disclaimer that says you are over 18, and you click on it [laughs]. In 2021, we’re talking about a rating system? It’s ridiculous. Look, I remember when Dawn of the Dead came out, it got rated V for violence, or it was unrated. In other words, they gave it an NC-17 kind of rating, and it didn’t stop people from going to see it.
What makes a good vampire movie?
Wow, what makes a good vampire movie? You gotta have vampires. Pretty much everybody except the people who get bit in [Death Rider] are vampires. All the main cast are vampires, so you don’t have to wait around to see a vampire. And you need a lot of blood.
What are your favorite vampire movies?
I like some of the Hammer vampire movies like Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil, Vampire Lovers, stuff like that. I think George Romero did a really good vampire movie called Martin. It shattered a lot of the myths of vampires, like the garlic thing and all that crap. You have all the newer ones which are very slick and big budget like the Underworld movies and things like that. I don’t know, I still like the older ones better.
What makes a good Western?
Well, I don’t necessarily like Western movies, per se. There are a lot of good American Western movies, but there are a ton of terrible ones. I like where the Italians came in and reinvented the American Western and actually did it better. So I like Once Upon a Time in the West. I like all the Clint Eastwood ones. [Filmmaker Sergio] Leone is great. And then, of course, [director Sergio] Corbucci and the original Django is really good. There’s so many, just forgotten Italian spaghetti Westerns because they were cranking them out till the late Seventies, early Eighties.
Those movies are also violent as hell, too.
Well, you’ve got to have some violence and shooting and people getting shot, so we have all that with close-ups, grimacing at each other [in Death Rider]. Look, I want movies to be fun and I want people to be entertained by them.
What do you still get out of horror movies?
You know, there’s a lot of terrible ones out now, and I just don’t get the point. For me, I just like watching something cool, new, original, or something old that I’d never even heard about and I finally got to see.
Any favorites recently?
I finally got to see this Mexican werewolf-woman movie called La Loba, which was cool. It’s cheesy in some parts, but it’s cool, especially for the time period.
Are there any newer horror movies that you like?
No, nothing that’s blowing my mind [laughs].
What’s the last thing that really shocked you, whether it’s a movie or a book, or anything?
Oh, it’s pretty hard to shock me these days. I’ve been surprised, maybe, but I haven’t seen anything that I’m just like, “Wow.” There are some scenes that are like, “Whoa.” Like, where the girl saws off the guy’s leg in Audition with the piano wire. That’s like, “Whoa,” because they don’t flinch away from it. They show it. It’s tough to watch. Especially if you put yourself in that spot, and you’re just like, “Oh, man.” But it makes it more real because you can see that happening; like, the mob uses piano wire. It becomes reality. Like, this could actually happen.
When did you start getting into horror movies?
Back East, late at night, we had Chiller Theatre [on TV] and other things where they would show monster movies, horror movies. We had [TV host John] Zacherle when I was a little kid. I think every town had their own kind of horror host who would host monster movies and horror movies. So, I think everybody was exposed to it.
You wrote a bunch of songs in the Misfits about horror movies. How did that start?
I just would use them as a catalyst to jump off from and write about. So the songs aren’t necessarily about what the title is. A song like “Astro Zombies” is not really about Astro Zombies; it’s about world domination. So what I would do then was take the title on some of these songs — not all songs — and play with it and do lots of different stuff, make some social commentaries, things like that.
What’s the story behind “Last Caress”? That obviously wasn’t about a movie.
It’s just a crazy-ass song. We would do things just to piss people off.
So was that song just, “Let me think of the most fucked up things I can think of”?
Part of it, yeah. Like, “Fuck everybody. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck the world.” And that was pretty much the attitude. It was just like, “Fuck your system, fuck all this bullshit.”
It was something else. I don’t think people will ever see anything like it again. There won’t be any new bands coming out like that. Now, they will immediately get canceled.
What do you mean?
People don’t understand, because everything’s so cancel-culture, woke bullshit nowadays, but you could never have the punk explosion nowadays, because of cancel culture and woke bullshit. You could never have it. It would never have happened. We’re lucky it happened when it did, because it’ll never happen again. You won’t have any of those kinds of bands ever again. Everyone’s so uptight and P.C., it’s just like, “OK, whatever.”
What do you draw inspiration from these days?
Just whatever inspires me. Right now I’m probably working on, let’s see, three or four comic books, probably about three scripts. I might be doing this thing for DC Comics, a one-shot deal, me and [artist Simon] Bisley. So, we’ll see where it all pans out, but I’m already working on the script for Death Rider 2. They want to do a Verotika 2, so maybe we’ll do that. There’s another script I’m working on, a martial-arts movie.
Where do your ideas come from for these things?
Just out of my head [laughs].
How did you get into making comic books?
I would meet a lot of Danzig fans after the show, talk to them on the bus, sign stuff for them and everything, and a lot of them were comic fans. Back then, the indie comics scene was just, like, low-budget, black-and-white comics. I’m a fan of comics from all over the world — Japanese comics, Italian comics, which are crazy by the way — so I just said, “You know what? I’m going to start doing a comic company and get the best people. And it’s all going to be in color on really good stock, kind of like DC and Marvel.” And when we first came out, we did them one better because [publisher] Image [Comics] were the only people at that time doing quality paper, quality stock, and computer color. So we followed their lead. And so we did it before Marvel and DC.
You recently announced two upcoming Danzig concerts. Do you plan on rescheduling the Danzig Sings Elvis dates you had booked last year?
Yeah, we’re talking about doing that. So we’ll see. I don’t know about in L.A., because it’s 25 percent capacity, so we’ll probably do someplace that’s a little more sane and go from there.
Is the Misfits reunion done?
I don’t know. I mean, right now, something like a Misfits show would have to be in a bigger place. And I don’t know that those places are open yet. So we’ll see. I mean, the door is open. If we do it, I would like to play some places we haven’t played yet, Texas or Florida or places like that. We haven’t done any shows in those states, and those states are fully open.
Have you been working on any new music in the last year?
You know, with people thinking they can download your record for free and all of that stuff, it gets to the point where you’re just like, “Why am I going to do a new record? People are just going to steal it. It’s going to cost me money to make it. Am I going to make any money back?” I love doing music, but if I spend a ton of money doing a record and it just gets downloaded for free and people steal it, what’s the point?
That sounds like a “no.”
Probably a no. I mean, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll just go in and do a song or two and give it away for free or something, I don’t know. It doesn’t cost too much, but for the most part, I think all these people who just decided that, you know, “Fuck the bands, I’m going to get this for free,” well, your bands are probably not going to put out new music.
Well, now you have a new career making movies.
I think people are going to dig Death Rider. I think people need their escape now. So that’s why one of the things that we’re doing with this theater run is so that people can get out and just forget how fucked up the last year was [laughs].