After a small role in Endangered Species in 1982, Bill Moseley burst onto the horror film scene in 1986 with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, starring as the infamous Chop-Top. In the more than three decades since, Moseley has fashioned an envious career in the genre, starring in projects with acclaimed directors such as Wes Craven, Tom Savini, Sam Raimi, Adam Wingard, and, perhaps most notably, Rob Zombie, starring as Otis Driftwood in the sadistic Firefly Trilogy, as well as a smaller character in Zombie’s reimagining of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Moseley’s latest film, Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland, is an outlandish genre hybridization of horror, action, western, and a dash of Japanese ultraviolent revenge thrillers.
Co-starring a zany Nicolas Cage, Prisoners of the Ghostland marks another villainous role for Moseley, who plays The Governor opposite Cage’s Hero. Throughout the course of the film, the two characters endure a shifting power dynamic as Moseley sends Cage into a spectral abyss to find a young woman named Bernice (Sofia Boutella).
Ahead of Prisoners of the Ghostland‘s release, I had a chance to speak with Moseley about what intrigued him about the film, working with Nicolas Cage, the sociopolitical relevance of the horror genre, his collaborative relationship with Rob Zombie, and more.
What drew you to this project?
Well, I was friends with the co-writer and producer, Reza Sixo Safai, and I invited him to the premiere of 3 From Hell, Rob’s (Zombie) third in his Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses trilogy. And Reza looked at me playing Otis, and said, “That’s my Governor.” And so he ended up running that by Sion Sono, our director. And Sion apparently, as it turned out, was a big fan of my work with Rob and Chainsaw 2 and Repo. And he was all for it. And I read the script, and I was all for it. So it was a marriage made in heaven.
Your character, The Governor, is a leader, which you’re used to playing on either side of the law. Do you prefer playing the top dog or the underdog?
I’m good either way. I did a lot of underdog. The first thing that pops into my head is Pink Cadillac with Clint Eastwood. I’m part of a group. That’s always a good way to start your career is part of a group where you can throw in a couple of lines every once in a while, but you don’t have any heavy lifting. Over time, I got used to lifting more and more. And even with Chop-Top, my first big part, I’m still part of the Sawyer family. And, for that matter, with Otis, I’ve got Sid Haig and Sherry Moon Zombie. And so it’s fun. It’s fun to be the king, and certainly in the case of The Governor. But it has its downsides. But the good news is The Governor, whenever I get into any kind of trouble or anything scares me, I can always call on Tak Sakaguchi, the preeminent martial artist in Japan to straighten things out with a Samurai Sword.
That was a great addition.
*Governor Voice* Yasujiro!
Even though this film bridges several genres, it definitely has a horror element to it. What intrigues you about the horror genre, in particular?
Well, first of all, it’s such a wide genre that you can do so many things, play so many parts, tell so many stories. I really consider it a great tradition. I think back to, obviously, Vincent Price and Boris Karloff and Bella Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. and Sr. It’s such an amazing genre. I’ve always loved it as a kid. I would sneak into our library at midnight on a Saturday night to watch Shock Theater which was the local horror show outside of Chicago. So I’ve always loved horror movies. They scared me, but they also excited me, and I’m just happy to be a part of the genre.
And it can be so many things, like you said. Do you view it more as a vehicle for shock value or a tool for sociopolitical commentary?
I think both. You’ve got your jump scares. You’ve got your supernatural, which always freaks me out. But then again, you’ve got Night of the Living Dead. Just think of what George Romero did. That was at the height of the Vietnam War, and also the Civil Rights Movement, and you have a Black hero. It looks a lot like Vietnam at the very end of Night of the Living Dead. It’s just a beautifully crafted movie. You see so many things going on in Night of the Living Dead. I remember that just blowing my mind, not only as a horror movie, a good old-fashioned movie where zombies are eating the entrails of people – which was pretty wild, and they’re fighting over intestines after the teenage boy and girl blow up the truck. But it’s amazing to me. It’s amazing to me to see something like Midsommar or Get Out. I love it so much. There’s so many examples of social commentary in these movies making these very cool points, and also scaring the crap out of you. It just doesn’t get better than that.
I couldn’t agree more. And what was it like working alongside somebody so committed to the craft of acting like Nicolas Cage?
It was inspiring, I’ve got to say. I was a little worried, at first, that he would look down at me, just in terms of he’s an Oscar winner. I am certainly not. Your head can play those kind of tricks. But really what it came down to was I saw a guy who was completely committed. When he showed up on set, he got there early, knew his lines, in costume and makeup, totally that character. He was Hero. He wasn’t Nic Cage playing somebody. And that was really inspiring. That just fired me up and said, “You go for it.” He makes us all bring our A-game, or certainly invites us to. And that was a wonderful experience for me.
And he was a very nice guy off set. The first time I really spent any time with him was we shot the movie in November and December of 2019, and I got there right before U.S. Thanksgiving. And Nicolas rented or took over a traditional Japanese restaurant. There were maybe 30 of us, cast and crew. There was a wonderful five-course traditional Japanese dinner. There was a Geisha who sang and danced for us, and then he suggested that we go around the room and each one of us say out loud what we were grateful for. And that was how we started Prisoners of the Ghostland. So that’s someone that you can really admire. It was on his nickel and that was his idea. I haven’t had that experience too many times. So that also set the tone and just made it a really enjoyable experience.
That sounds like a great experience and great way to start collaboration.
As you mentioned, you’re a frequent collaborator with Rob Zombie. What is that relationship like and how did that come to be?
I first met Rob because I emceed a little horror awards show at Universal Studios in Burbank, California, October of ’99. And I came dressed at Chop-Top, and I had a friend who could do the Chop-Top makeup. So I was made up, and actually, I wore a ratty tuxedo. And Rob was one of the recipients because his label was affiliated with Universal Studios. And so I introduced him and gave him an award, and he was really gobsmacked. He told me later, he said, “I was backstage. I thought you were doing a pretty decent Chop-Top, but then I come out and it’s like, ‘Holy shit, it’s Chop-Top.'” And he was a big Chop-Top fan. And so a month later, his then-manager sent me a copy of A House of 1000 Corpses and said, “Rob would love you to play Otis Driftwood.” And so that’s how I got the part. I hung onto the part. We worked through House of 1000 Corpses and then, of course, we weren’t picked up for three years. So we worked through that part. We worked through the Devil’s Rejects and, ultimately, through 3 From Hell. We have a meeting of the minds. I know where he’s coming from. We have, generally, the same aesthetic. I’m into Three Stooges. 3 From Hell, Three Stooges, “In A Gadda Da Vida.” I mean, come on, that was one of Chop-Top’s favorite songs. And I’m a big fan of Brain That Wouldn’t Die, which was also referenced in 3 From Hell. I like to go for it and so does Rob. And so does Nic Cage. And so does Sion Sono, obviously.
We’re a happy bunch. We’re not the “Is this my better side? Let me call my manager.” It’s like, “Let’s fucking go for it.” So that’s really what it comes down to.
Are there any upcoming projects that have you particularly excited?
I just did a movie called The Chastiser, which will come out, I’m sure, in five or six months. Right now, I’ve done some videos with a band called Ice Nine Kills, and they’re running right now called “Assault & Batteries.” And I’m working on a new Spider Mountain CD. I have a band with a guy named Rani Sharone. We put out a CD about seven, maybe eight years ago, and just due to COVID, it’s time to do another one. So I’m in the middle of recording.