“What’s The Matter Kid? Don’t Ya Like Clowns?”: A Conversation with Sid Haig

Character actor Sid Haig was a Hollywood mainstay and a Grindhouse legend, appearing in hundreds of films through his long career. However, it was his role of Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s 2003 film “House of 1000 Corpses” which made him a horror icon and household name.

Originally published at pop cultureaddict.com in 2008.

Women love Sid Haig. 

It’s true!  From a line up of women requesting to give him a hug, to cute Goth chicks flashing him wearing Captain Spaulding thongs, Sid Haig got more attention from women in the hour I was with him then I’ve gotten all year.  Even Faster Pussycat!…..Kill!….Kill! star Tura “Varla” Satana stopped by to give him a great big kiss.  So what is it that Sid Haig has that attracts women to him like mosquitoes to a bug zapper?    He doesn’t have the boyish good looks of Leonardo DiCaprio, the sex appeal of Brad Pitt or the mysterious enigmatic charms of Johnny Depp.  No, Sid Haig has something that makes him cooler than those guys.  Sid Haig has personality.  Tons of it.  You know in all those women’s magazines where they survey one hundred women and they all say they want a man with personality?  A man who can make them laugh.  Well it’s Sid Haig that they are all talking about.  There is no doubt that Sid Haig is either dancing through their dreams at night, or at the very least haunting their nightmares.  Smart, charismatic and funny as hell, Sid Haig has a boat load of that personality women talk about wanting, and for what I see, he proves that personality does go a long way.  In other words, Sid Haig gives hope to average men everywhere.  When dealing with the opposite sex  the male credo should be WWSHD – What Would Sid Haig Do.

However Sid Haig is anything but average.  Towering at a height of 6’4” and recognizable with his trademark shaved head and untameable beard, Sid Haig has been an unforgettable presence on our television and movie screens for over four decades.  Studying theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse at the end of the 1960’s, Sid Haig went on to appear in some of the most beloved cult films of all time and over 350 television productions.  He has worked with an eclectic group of directors such as Jack Hill, Roger Corman, George Lucas and Quinton Tarantino, and he has appeared on a wide range of TV programs including BatmanStar TrekThe Man From UNCLEThe Lucy ShowGet SmartGunsmokeMission: ImpossibleCharlie’s AngelsJason of Star CommandQuincy MEBuck RogersTJ HookerThe A-TeamMacGyver and even Just The Ten of Us.  However, it was only in 2003, after coming out of retirement for nearly a decade due to his disenchantment with being typecast as brainless thugs, that Sid Haig found the type of iconic role that all character actors dream of finding – Captain Spaulding,  the psychopath in greasepaint who was an unforgettable character in Rob Zombie’s directorial debut House of 1000 Corpses.  Nobody could have imagined the impact that House of 1000 Corpses or its highly successful sequel The Devil’s Rejects would have on audiences but in five short years Captain Spaulding has become horror’s newest icon and has turned Sid Haig from a cult film actor to a cult film superstar!

I caught up with Sid Haig on the final day of Rue Morgue’s 2008 Festival of Fear in Toronto, Ontario.  Sid invited me to sit with him at his table piled with photographs, T-shirts and the very popular Captain Spaulding thong, sprouting the phrase “It Just Tastes So Damn Good.”  As a crowd lined up to meet and talk with Sid, buy merchandise and get autographs and photos, Sid multi-tasked by allowing me to monopolize some of his very busy schedule and to speak to me about some of the moments in his career.   Now being a career that is so rich in pop culture history as Sid’s is, we didn’t have time to cover all the interesting projects and programs that he has appeared in or the people he worked with, but we did get the chance to talk about most of his major screen appearances, some of the cultural icons he had the opportunity to work with, and talk about the characters that he has created that are beloved by film buffs and horror movie fans world wide. 

Sam:  Now Sid, I read that you didn’t start in show business as an actor but as a dancer?

Sid:  Yeah.  I started as a dancer when I was six because I was clumsy.  My parents didn’t have a lot of money so for entertainment they would just put me in the living room and watch me grow.  When I was nine years old I was as tall as my father.  He was 5’7”.   That’s how fast I grew.  By the time I was in high school I was as tall as I am now.  So everything started from there.  I started getting paid as a dancer at the age of seven. 

Sam:  Do you still dance?

Sid:  Socially.

Sam:  So how did that progress into acting.

Sid:  Well the progression was dancing, music and then acting. 

Sam:  Well you were a drummer, weren’t you?

Sid:  Yes.  I had a band called the T-Birds and we cut six singles for King Records which was Sam Cooke’s label when I was still a teenager.

Sam:  So how did you get into acting from dance and music then?

Sid:  It was just a natural progression.  When I was acting we did a production of The Wizard of Oz and I kind of really liked that.

Sam:  Did you play a Munchkin?

Sid:  No no no.  I played the Scarecrow. 

Sam:  Now my two favorite films that you did are Spider Baby and Foxy Brown which were both directed by Jack Hill.  You’re in a lot of his films.  How did you get involved with Jack Hill?

Sid.  My association with Jack Hill started in 1961; a month after I graduated from the Pasadena Playhouse.  His advisor at UCLA phoned one of my instructors, telling her that they were having trouble casting a role so she sent me over and I got the part in Jack Hill’s student film The Host and we’ve been working together ever since.  As a matter of fact, Quentin Tarantino found the lost footage from that film and put it all together and it is now on the backend of The Switchblade Sisters.

Sam:  Do you mind if we talk about Spider Baby for awhile?

Sid:  I don’t mind at all.

Sam:   In Spider Baby, as the character Ralph, you do a lot of unique physical acting.  You need to move your body in a different way and bring a lot of complexity to a character which is basically mute.  Where did you find your inspiration for Ralph?

Sid:  Well when I read the script well, y’know, [Ralph] is something that I had no frame of reference for so I kind of had to figure out where the character was and all that kind of business.  So I had to basically find where he was coming from.  So I realized, story wise, that the family members start regressing the older they get so I tried to bring that animalistic aspect [into the character].  So I spent a lot of time in the LA county zoo in front of the primate cages studying them.  Their body movements and their sociology.  How they establish pecking orders and all that business and because [Ralph] still had human characteristics that were child like I spent a lot of time at playgrounds watching children play and watching how they were acting and interacting.

Sid Haig in the role of Ralph with Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner and Lon Chaney Jr. in Jack Hill’s 1967 cult film “Spider Baby”: ” I spent a lot of time in the LA county zoo in front of the primate cages studying them.  Their body movements and their sociology.  How they establish pecking orders and all that business and because [Ralph] still had human characteristics that were child like I spent a lot of time at playgrounds watching children play and watching how they were acting and interacting.”

Sam:  Now you have a really amazing chemistry in the film with Jill Banner who plays your sister Virginia, the Spider Baby.  I was wondering what working with her was like.  I haven’t seen her in anything else but I think she is just amazing in Spider Baby.

Sid:  She did very little after that film. 

Sam:  Well Spider Baby was her first film, wasn’t it?

Sid:  It was her first film.  In fact, she lied about her age to get in the film.  When she left the house in the morning her mother thought she was going to school but she was coming to the set to do the work. 

Sam: So did you two work well together?

Sid:  Oh yeah.  Well you see, she was the closest one to [Ralph’s] age so we were kind of close to one another in terms of our demise, so there was that association, so we kept that alive.  We used to play together and even when we were on the set we used to play kids games to just keep it working.  It was a very good experience.

Sam:  Now I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but what was Lon Chaney Jr. like?

Sid:  Lon Chaney was an absolute gentleman.  He was a creative genius.  The guy just had everything in the world working for him and when he decided to do this role he had it put in the contract that he would not take a drink for the whole duration of the film, and that was a pretty big commitment because he was pretty much a full-on alcoholic.

Sam:  Was that hard on him?

Sid:  It didn’t seem to be because he was so appreciative that people actually thought that he was still alive and wanted to work with him.  So it was a rewarding situation for him.

Sam:  Now Spider Baby was pretty much the last good film he did.

Sid:  It was his last good film.

Sam:  Were people not willing to work with him during this period?

Sid:  Well they were a little afraid of him because of the alcoholism thing was very prevalent and almost part of his DNA, so there was that aspect.  But at the same time there just wasn’t that much for him because they were all extremely low budget films and they couldn’t afford to use him for more then a day. 

Sam:  How was his frame of mind?  I know in his past he had battles with depression and suicide.

Sid:  Well he was happy because he was doing what he loved. 

Sam:  Now later on you did a number of blaxploitation films with Pam Grier.

Sid Haig with the first lady of Blaxploitation films,Pam Grier. Sid and Pam made six films together between 1972 and 1997: “She’s very cool to work with.  She’s like my little sister.”

Sam:  And she kicks ass.  Does she kick ass like that in real life?

Sid:  Yes.

Sid:  Yeah.  She did.  She’s a pretty kick ass woman.

Sam:  Was she cool to work with?

Sid:  She’s very cool to work with.  She’s like my little sister. 

Sam:  Are you still in touch with her?

Sid:  It’s hard to stay in touch with her right now because she is doing The L Word up [in Canada] so communication isn’t what it should be but when we did Jackie Brown Quinton Tarantino didn’t tell her that I was cast in the film so when I showed up on the set there was a big reunion and it was very cool.  She and I have done six films together.  The first one was The Big Doll House, then The Big Bird Cage.  Then Black Mama White MamaCoffyFoxy Brown and then Jackie Brown.

Sam:  Were people casting the two of you together on purpose?

Sid:  It ended up that way.  In the States we take surveys on everything…Fred Olen Ray, who wrote, produced and directed The Warlords, called Variety to give them the cast list for The Warlords and when he mentioned my name the guy said “Wow, his name is popping up all over the place.”  [Olen said] “What do you mean” and the guy said that somebody just did a story on films great love duos and Pam and I were number eight on the list.  So there you go.  The salt and pepper love connection.

Sam:  Now a real historical cinematic milestone that was part of your career was being in George Lucas’ first film THX-1138.

Sid:  THX.  That was fun man.  I had the only action in that whole sequence.  Yeah.  I raped the girl twice.  I punched Donald Pleasance in the nose.  I killed the robot.  What more do you want?  It was fun.

Sam:  Now I know you did a lot of television in your career.

Sid:  Yup.  350 episodics.

Sam:  Now when I was looking through your credits, the one that surprised me the most, and I must admit because I am guilty of being a fan, is Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Sid:  Holy Jesus!

Sam:  Now I haven’t seen your Electra Woman episode.

Sid:  Good.

Sam Tweedle and Sid Haig at Toronto’s Festival of Fear in 2008. Sid passed away in 2019.

Sam:  Do you remember much about it or is it something you don’t want to remember and you don’t want me to ask about.

Sid:  No.  I don’t care.  Everybody has done things in their life that they are not proud of and that was one of them.  So you just move on.  Okay, that happen, forget about it.

Sam:  Were the Krofft Brother doing mushrooms?  Is that how they came up with that stuff?

Sid:  I don’t know how they came up with that stuff. 

Sam:  Now another one of my movie icons, and I’ve never before met anybody who has worked with him, is Lee Marvin.  I know you did two films with him.

Sid: Lee Marvin was great a great guy.  Easy to work with, fun, the whole ball of wax.  We had the cast party for Point Blank and he and I were hitting the shots pretty good and at one point he said “You know what Sid?  You remind me of me when I was a kid starting out.”  And I said “Oh, you mean in Battle Cry” and he was totally shocked.  He said, “I only had one line in it” and I said, “I know…but it was cool.”  And so we just really got along well.  Years later we were both signed to do The Bob Hope Christmas Special.

Sam:  The Bob Hope Christmas Special?  Wow.  What a weird project for both of you.

Sid:  Well, it was when all the hijackings were happening and it was a hijack sketch and I played Fidel Castro and Lee Marvin was an FBI guy or something.

Sam:  Well that makes more sense once you start thinking about it.

Sid:  Yeah.  A bit more sense.

Sam:  Now let’s get to the million-dollar question.  Obviously Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects are a phenomenal success.  I know you quit acting for a while because of typecasting.  Do you feel that House of 1000 Corpses revived your career?

Sid Haig went from Grinshoude maomstay to horror icon when he created the role of Captain Spulding in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” in 2003: ” people identify with him because he doesn’t give a shit.  You get in his face and he’ll kill you.  Piss him off and he’ll just tell you.  That’s it.:

Sid:  Absolutely!

Sam:  Why do you think that Captain Spaulding has become such a popular cult film icon in such a short period of time?  What is appealing about the character?

Sid:  Because people identify with him because he doesn’t give a shit.  You get in his face and he’ll kill you.  Piss him off and he’ll just tell you.  That’s it.  It’s just like the kids who come into the store.  He has no problem telling them that their idiots.  So people are getting tired of being boxed into the corner.  Government, pressure, media, and all that stuff and they just wanted a release and that character provided it for them.

Sam:  Where did Captain Spaulding come from?  Where was the inspiration for him?

Sid:  It came from Rob Zombie and I just sort of filled him out.

Sam:  Are you surprised by the way the audience has embraced House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects?

Sid:  Yeah.  To me I was just there having a good time doing a job and then, bam, all of a sudden everything happened.  It was pretty cool.

Sam:  How about the popularity of the phrase “Tutti Fuckin’ Frutti” which has already become a quotable classic movie catch phrase.

Sid:  Tutti Fuckin’ Frutti!   That is the moment in [The Devil’s Rejects] when the audience started rooting for us because everybody sat there watching that scene and said to themselves “You know what?  My family would fight over ice cream.”

Sam:  So…what’s the story behind the Captain Spaulding thongs?

Sid:  The story behind the thongs is my wife and I were sitting around watching television and I said “You know what?  I got an idea.”  And she goes “Shit.  Now what?”  So I told her and she said “Yes.  Get on the phone right now and do it” and so there it is.

Sam:  Well its definitely a bold statement.

Sid:  I’m just a big kid having fun, y’know.  That’s the line from the commercial for the chicken.  “It tastes so damn good.”  It works in a lot of ways.

Sam:  Do you have any plans on working with Rob Zombie in the future?

Sid:  I just did my voice over work on The Haunted World of El Super Beasto which is an animated feature that just grows everyday.  It’s like this giant mushroom.  At this point every third actor in Hollywood is in this film.  I think Rob’s working on getting the other two thirds.  He’s at home in Connecticut right now working on a new script which I hope that I’ll be included in. 

Sid Haig with Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley in Rob Zombie’s 2005 film “The Devil’s Rejects.”

Sam:  Is it a sequel to The Devil’s Rejects?

Sid:  No no.  We’re dead.  Never to return.  Unless, or course, somebody drops eighty billion dollars on us and says, “We want another one.”

Sam:  So one final question.  You’ve done so much in your career already, but if there was one dream project that you haven’t done yet, what would that be?

Sid:  I want to put the bad guy image to bed once and for all and play Rasputin!

Sam:  WOW!  That would absolutely be cool!

Sid:  Wouldn’t it?

Sam:  Any last things that you want to talk about?

Sid:  I don’t think so.  Have fun everybody!

And you know what?  It’s hard not to have fun with Sid Haig.  Sid Haig is just a really fun guy.  There is no wonder that he has become loved by the latest generation of horror fans.  Sure, Captain Spaulding is a sick and twisted psycho killer, but the sense of fun that Sid Haig put into the character could be the reason that the character is deemed to go down in the hallowed halls of the Horror Hall of Fame.

“Have fun everybody!”

About the author

Since 2013, Sam Tweedle has been writing as an arts and culture journalist for kawarthaNOW, with special attention to Peterborough's theatrical community. However, his career as an arts writer goes back further via his website Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict where Sam has interviewed some of the entertainment world's most notable and beloved entertainers. Sam's pop culture writing has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, The National Post, CNN.com, Filmfax Magazine and The New Yorker. You can follow Sam on Instagram at sam_tweedle_z where he posts about his four greatest loves: cats, comic books, movies, and records. Sam no longer uses Twitter because, as far as he's concerned, it's no longer a thing.