“Wear something you can run in.”
Those six simple words are the terrifying summation of what patrons can expect at Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare according to the event’s musical co-producer John Reese. The 15-night, not-for-kids experience combines the twisted minds of Rob Zombie and famed haunted house producer Steve Kopelman with the concert production expertise of John Reese and Kevin Lyman for this first-of-its-kind event. Did we mention it’s not for kids?
Starting October 10th and continuing through November 2nd at Pomona Fairplex, Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare will feature fifteen nights of live music and haunted houses pulled straight from the scripts of Zombies’ classic horror films Lords Of Salem Total Black Out, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 3D, and Haunt of 1,000 Corpses.
We tried to get a few hints from John Reese as to which portions of the haunted house we should shut our eyes for, but unfortunately, everyone is pretty tight-lipped about this one. We did learn that the goal is to shock the hell out of people, and no, apparently nothing was “crossing the line” for this controversial bunch.
Here is what Reese could tell us about Great American Nightmare:
So you must be busy with this one…
John Reese: It is an insane production! Seven semis full of stuff have descended upon the Pomona Fairplex, and we’ve got 85 people working to build this monstrosity.
The obvious question for you is what is the biggest difference between this kind of production versus a Mayhem Festival?
There’s a lot more involved with design and schematics. Once you get something going and on the road, you’ve done it so many times that it almost becomes second nature, and you’re really dealing with personalities. With this, it’s a situation where we’ve really never done this before, but we know how to produce big things, and we’ve engaged who we consider to be the best haunted house guy in America, a guy by the name of Steve Kopelman. He is a mastermind of haunted houses, so between his vision and Rob’s vision coming together, we think we’ve got a jewel here.
Did you and Kevin get to contribute at all to the haunted house side of this production or was that all from Rob and Steve?
Rob and Steve have really driven the bus, and we have a big festival area called the Bloody Boulevard, and we were pretty heavily involved in that. The music portion of the event, Kevin and I have curated from day one. I can’t say enough positive things about what we have built because each of our respective expertises has been able to come forth. We created this thing where it’s not just dependent on the music and it’s not dependent upon the haunted house. It’s the whole event and something that has never been tried before.
So, in saying that, it’s super exciting, ya know? It’s super exciting doing five different genres of music — we’ve got something for everyone. You can check out one of the greatest haunted houses ever built, you can check out some of the biggest bands around, some of the biggest EDM artists around, and so forth.
How did you actually choose which artists were going to make the cut for Great American Nightmare?
Well, on the EDM stage, we wanted the heavy bass. Take Destroid — that’s a prime example of what we’re doing. I don’t know if you’ve seen them. I saw him headline the second stage for me on my dance festival, and I loved him as a person, and I thought his music and his heart kind of meshed with what we were doing here. We also wanted a Latin component because LA has a great Latin community, so we have the Lucha Libre wrestling, and Ozomatli is playing. Some of the metal bands are geared towards the Latin audience (Metalachi).
Then obviously we had to have Rob. There were some things that we wanted to get, but ya know, all in all, I feel that we’ve got a nice journey of music. Rather than using all metal, or all hard rock, or all Warped Tour-style bands, we wanted to have a nice little buffet. And that’s what we tried to do.
That has to be refreshing for you. Is it a good break for your ears to have an event with such diversity?
Absolutely. I also just finished this Oddball Comedy Festival this year with Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Concords. I’ve branched out into a lot of different things, but what I love most about this is that you’re not dependent upon strictly selling tickets for a musical act. It’s getting harder and harder to do that just because of the nature of the business right now with record labels and a lot of bands who are over-touring. To do this, where you provide the most cutting-edge haunted house available in the country, along with A-class talent, and you can do it for $30 on a Thursday and Sunday or $35 on Friday or Saturdays, and they get all of this entertainment…I don’t know if there’s a better value proposition out there right now.
How important do you think these big festivals and big productions are to the survival of not only the music industry, but rock and metal specifically?
First of all, I don’t think metal is ever going away. Metal is a lifestyle. Ya know, we’re entering our seventh year on Mayhem and working on next year’s lineup right now. Mayhem is, as I see it, a right of passage for metal fans throughout the country and throughout Canada. We did as well this year as we did in our first year, and we’ve had bigger years and we’ve had smaller years, but it’s been very consistent.
If you’re a metal-head, you’re kind of a metal-head for life, whereas in the rock space…ya know, I just finished Uproar, and that’s more dependent on radio and dependent upon people’s taste and popularity at the time. In metal, we can put fifteen really, really good metal bands in there, and we’d have a ton of people come because they’re metal-heads. But in the rock space, you’re much more dependent upon the current popularity of the group that’s playing.
Going back to the haunted house, you’ve had a chance to see this thing come together. Are you able to give a little hint as to what you would consider the scariest part of the haunted houses?
The Superbeasto part is really cool, but it’s probably not the “scariest.” The Haunt of 1000 Corpses is going to be unbelievable. We have something that we feel is the coup de grâce of this. The Lords of Salem Blackout, we’re actually putting a black hood over people’s heads. I don’t know how people are going to deal with total darkness. I mean, they’re going to be prodded…it’s just going to be unbelievable because you can’t see.
That sounds terrifying…
You’re going to get three very different experiences for your senses.
Is there a rule that you’re not allowed to touch people at haunted houses or is that just a myth?
You’re not allowed to beat people up. It’s kind of mythical. You’re going to be hit with smells, you’re going to be prodded — there’s going to be people freaking out at this thing. We pushed the envelope with what we’ve done with this. This is not for twelve-year-olds. Our whole tag line is, “If you’re scared or easily offended, go to a fucking amusement park.” And we mean that.
Rob’s art pushes the envelope, and there’s our partner Steve Kopelman. We all wanted to push the envelope and bring something here that was like, “Holy fuck! Did they really get away with that?” It’s not for kids. You can call it NC17 or PG13 — this is not something that I would bring my twelve-year-old nephew to.
Was there anything you guys talked about doing for this that was pushing the envelope too far? Were there any suggestions that you all thought were maybe crossing the line and didn’t make it in?
At the end of the day a lot of the shit we have going on, and I don’t want to give anything away, is really controversial. We wanted to make something controversial and something that made people say, “Holy shit, did they really do that?” That’s part of our whole goal with this — to really shock people. There’s only so much you can do with a guy dressed up as a monster trying to scare you.
Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare goes from October 10th through November 2nd. A full lineup and ticket information can be found at GreatAmericanNightmare.com