Q&A: Actor Daniel Roebuck on the Life of a Collector, His Auction and Dr. Shocker’s House of Horror
Consummate character actor and acclaimed documentarian Daniel Roebuck has compiled an insanely diverse resume during his more than twenty-five years working in television and film, a tally that includes roles in such genre fare as RIVER’S EDGE, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, the HALLOWEEN “re-imaginings,” FINAL DESTINATION, and JOHN DIES AT THE END—not to mention a memorable turn as the exploding Dr. Leslie Artz on LOST. He also happens to own one of the most impressive and eclectic collections of horror memorabilia on the planet.
Well, for the moment, anyway.
Roebuck’s collection—ensconced until recently in a private Ackermansion-esque home museum dubbed Dr. Shocker’s House of Horror—hits the auction block this Saturday at the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood, California. The see-it-to-believe-it catalog of up for grabs treasures can be viewed here.
FANGORIA recently spoke with the exceedingly amiable Roebuck about the auction, monster fandom, the collecting bug, his Dr. Shocker alter ego, forays into horror cinema, how Rob Zombie compares to Alfred Hitchcock on ice, and more.
FANGORIA: For the benefit of those readers who haven’t seen your touching and eloquent open letter to “Fellow Monster Fans” in the Dr. Shocker auction catalog, maybe we should start with the obvious question: Why have you decided to auction off this exquisite collection?
Daniel Roebuck: You know, life is about transformation. And the monsters we love are about transformation—Frankenstein’s dead and then he’s alive; Dracula is alive and then he’s dead; the Wolfman is an ordinary guy and then he’s a wolf. I’m transforming, too. I’m getting older. My children are growing up. I got very sick last year—I’m not sure how many people know that—and while I’m all back together now, it just seems like it’s time to change my life up a bit, overall. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that a lot of what Dr. Shocker’s House of Horror was about was memorializing my own twelfth year of life. And my son was twelve. I started to wonder, will my son look back on this as the best time in his life? Or will he wish dad had been around more instead of out in the museum looking at his monster toys?
FANG: Do you have any specific memories of what first drew you to the genre?
ROEBUCK: I do. When I was a little boy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania I used to watch old horror movies on Dr. Shock’s Scream-In and that was the best part of any week for me. So the seeds were planted at very young age, and it obviously made a big impression—my Dr. Shocker character is absolutely an homage to Dr. Shock. The fact that I became a magician? Probably also a homage to him. Here I am now, always performing, doing these horror movies—it was all borne of this. It made me who I am.
FANG: Did any specific film or films really bowl you over in those early years?
ROEBUCK: I remember seeing BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN—it’s still one of my favorites—a movie where I realized you could have true empathy for the monster. As a child you don’t quite see that in the original FRANKENSTEIN because the film is so broad and the monster is murderous and made of criminals. But BRIDE? The monster is just so…screwed. I mean, he has no friends, no chance of finding a mate unless they make one for him, and even then the girl they make hates him. Oh, and by the way, wasn’t that all of us? I mean, really! Simultaneous to this auction I’m finishing up this documentary about people who collect monsters and why called DR. SHOCKER’S VAULT OF HORROR. And one of the interesting things that came out while we were making it was how many people associated themselves with the monsters. How many felt ostracized and different. These things I felt were by no means unique. They stretch across monster fandom.
It’s a little more difficult, honestly, for me to find that same sense of empathy in the modern monster stuff. Believe me, I know how blessed I am to be a part of some of these movies—the day Michael Myers ran down the hallway to kill me in HALLOWEEN 2 was one of the greatest experiences ever. But to me Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers and Jason don’t bear the same emotional stigma that Frankenstein, or Larry Talbot, do.
FANG: So you’re a fan from childhood. When does the collecting start?
ROEBUCK: The gateway for me was pictures of the Ackermansion in FAMOUS MONSTERS, which Forry Ackerman had filled with all these amazing toys and masks and monsters and posters. As a kid, I thought, I wonder if I could get away with that at my house? Like a lot of collectors, I started out with those Aurora models. Then you’d go to the Captain Company in the back of FAMOUS MONSTERS and order stuff from that. And it built from there.
I may not have been the most astute collector early on, though. When I was a kid we’d go to a store called Grant’s that had a pet department, and in the fish section Penn Plax Creature toy. It was a dollar ninety-nine. I looked at it for probably five years but never occurred to me to buy the future eight hundred dollar toy because we didn’t have a fish tank!
But, yeah, the fascination with owning it all? I’m positive came from Forry Ackerman. When I first moved out [to Los Angeles] we landed on Wednesday, went to Universal Studios on Thursday, got an apartment on Friday, and I spent Saturday at Forry Ackerman’s house. That I ultimately had my own museum does not surprise me.
FANG: Right. So talk to me about the process of ending up with that museum.
ROEBUCK You know, I had a room. Then I had two rooms. Then as our family grew we moved to a nice big house with an expanded garage—three bays plus two extra rooms. We decided a few years ago to put the whole collection in one place. We have a lot of very talented friends—so we ended up with nice displays, a light and sound show, music, a self-guided tour set-up, elaborate signage… I don’t know if it’s the entertainer in me, but everything’s got to be a show. And people came. They came from all over the world and searched us out. My guestbook is filled with visitors from Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, Mexico—everywhere.
That was the greatest, most fulfilling thing about having the museum—and also, it turned out, the biggest drawback. I don’t have a regular nine to five job, you know? I have a unique work situation and time with my family is precious. But I found it really hard to say no to somebody who came 14,000 miles to see my toys. So I’d find myself leaving my son’s football game because the museum had guests. I think there’s desire within us fans to share our love with everyone—we want everyone to understand the wonder of horror movies. You have a conversation with somebody about FRANKENSTEIN and maybe they go home and watch it. That’s great! Still, I finally decided it was asking a bit much of the rest of my family to keep the museum open. I loved the experience, but it was time.
FANG: Does the Dr. Shocker alter ego predate museum?
ROEBUCK: He does. The first documentary we did—HALLOWEEN…THE HAPPY HAUNTING OF AMERICA (1997)—needed an introduction. One day Bob Burns, Chuck Williams and I were driving through the middle of Ohio and I said, “Why don’t we create a horror host?” So we did. Later I brought him out again for a Monsterama segment that I produced for Monsters HD, then I did a huge magic show as him at the Alex Theater a few years ago—they wanted a spook show and I thought, “Well we’ve got Dr. Shocker!” There’s great fun in playing the character—I see Dr. Shocker as something like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton.
FANG: What were some of your greatest triumphs as a collector?
ROEBUCK: Collectors always dream of walking in some random shop somewhere and finding something rare, which happened to me once while shooting MATLOCK in North Carolina. I went into antique store and they had all these model kits—Vampirella and a bunch of others. I was like, “How much? A dollar twenty-five? Oh, I’ll take…all of them.” [Laughs] Another time a friend of mine called me up and said he’d heard about a guy who had some masks for sale—a Frankenstein, a Dracula, and “something called a Nosferatu.” Now, one of my holy grails was this Don Post Nosferatu mask that they sold in plexiglass box with hands back in the late seventies or early eighties. I lusted after it, but at the time it was just too much money—and here it came through someone else from out of nowhere. Those are great moments in collecting.
And just so people don’t think I’m completely without a soul, I am keeping those items that—while maybe not the most expensive or most valuable in my collection—are meaningful and precious to me. You know, we collect sometimes to have the set. We really want the Frankenstein and Wolfman, but you get the Dracula and the Mummy to fill in holes in the collection. The fact was, I had to remind myself there was no hole in my heart if I kept only what I truly loved. So I’m going back to that.
FANG: Are you looking forward to the auction itself?
ROEBUCK: I am, with great pride. What the guys and girls at Blacksparrow Auctions have done for me is amazing. I won’t stick around for the whole thing. I’ll go in, say hello, and sign autographs for whoever might want them, then go home. I don’t want my presence to influence anything—good or bad. As for the items to be auctioned, I have no worries—I’m happy to see them go into the care of other fans. Some collectors can’t get rid of things. I’m not like that. I remember when Forry Ackerman died and people were horrified that his collection might be broken up…Well, I don’t know. That’s a modern theory, really. The paintings in the Louvre used to be in somebody’s house, you know? One day maybe they’ll be somewhere else. Who knows? Things change.
FANG: As a fan and collector, it must give you a degree of satisfaction to have done so much diverse work within the genre.
ROEBUCK: I really am the luckiest man on earth. I have two beautiful kids. I go to work every day and do exactly what I want to do. And when I’m not working on a movie or television show, I’m making a documentary about something that really interests me. I’m not a guy who spends a lot of time sitting around. And, yeah, I love being in these movies that scare the crap out of people! It really is all connected. What brought Rob Zombie and I together, for example, wasn’t him seeing one of my films and saying, “Man, that is a marvelous actor. I simply must use him!” No, we met at a screening for an Elvira movie where we talked about collecting monster toys. Of course, I’m not an idiot. I know he’s a rock star. But the first time I saw this guy who collects toys and directs me in movies perform with his band it was like Tippi Hedren going to watch Alfred Hitchcock figure skate. Oh, so this is what you really do? How amazing!
Look, bottom line, I used to read FAMOUS MONSTERS, and now my picture is sometimes in FAMOUS MONSTERS. These creatures that repulsed many but intrigued me have brought me some of the greatest experiences. It’s nutty. What the hell else could I want?