Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie

There are few genre filmmakers working today who are as exciting and unpredictable as Rob Zombie. The rock musician (he continues to make music – he just dropped a new album,  Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor) has a singular love for all things horror, particularly the down-and-dirty chillers from the seventies and early eighties, augmenting these earlier films with bold stylistic experimentation and a kind of gleeful willingness to push the envelope when it comes to sex and violence. His latest film, "Lords of Salem," produced by Blumhouse Productions and distributed by Anchor Bay, was released last week. A bold stylistic departure for Zombie, it's a leisurely paced descent into madness more akin to Roman Polanski's apartment trilogy than anything involving Texas, chainsaws, or massacres.

Zombie's first film, the screechy "House of 1000 Corpses," was almost all influence and no authorship. Thankfully, Zombie rebounded with "The Devil's Rejects," which placed the 'House' characters inside a galloping revenge western; one of the finest films of the aughts, genre or otherwise. Zombie followed that up with a pair of "Halloween" remakes for The Weinstein Company, these were movies that were contested in both production and release but have rightfully gained a cult following (along with a critical reappraisal). Somewhere in there he also directed "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," a Ralph Bakshi-like animated sex romp.

All of these projects are wholly different from "Lords of Salem," which stars his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, as a Salem, Massachusetts DJ who comes under the spell of ancient witches. Or maybe she's back on drugs. Zombie plays fast and loose with what is reality and what is fantasy, with beautifully languid shots that go past haunting into the world of sheer mesmerism. It's one of the boldest, most brilliant horror films released in a while and makes the also-playing "Evil Dead" remake seem even more turgid and creatively bankrupt. We talked to Zombie about what his inspirations for "Lords of Salem" were, the status of his hockey drama "Broad Street Bullies," and whether or not he'll do a sequel to "The Devil's Rejects."

John Carpenter's "Halloween," a Shout! Factory release.
John Carpenter's "Halloween," a Shout! Factory release.
You had a bunch of things going on after the second “Halloween” – “The Blob” remake and more. What happened to those other things and why did you do this?
There are so many projects that don’t happen, just sometimes they don’t get announced so no one ever knows about them and you don’t have to talk about them. "The Blob" was going to happen. I was dealing with people on the movie, even though I was on the fence about doing anything that was considered a remake again. I really didn’t like the idea of that, but just as I went down the road further with the producers and the guys that owned the property, I didn’t feel good about the situation and I just walked away from it. My gut told me this was not a good place to be.

What was your take on that?
It was different cause I thought just a giant blobby thing might just seem funny so there was some twist on that.

So it was more of a horror-comedy?
No, it wasn’t. It was dead serious. I was almost like a dark science fiction film, but it was serious. To me, horror and comedy never work. Never worked for me, anyway.

So "Lords of Salem" was a song initially?  Did you always want to do it as a movie?
Well, it was several things. First it was a movie. I had an idea for this thing called, “Lords of Salem.” I just wrote it down. I didn’t know what it would be. It was right after I finished the first “Halloween” and I still owed Dimension two more films and I came up with this idea for “Lords of Salem” and I may have told them about it, I may have never even got that far. And then I filed it away, but I always liked the title. I thought, “Ah, that’s a cool title.” So it became a song, just because I liked the title and then six years later when Blumhouse came to me to do a movie, they were basically like, “We want to make these low-budget movies with short shooting schedules, but we want them to be sort of psychological. Do you have anything you want to do?” And I just remembered “Lords of Salem” – that idea and pulled it out and that’s how it came back to life.    

What was it like working with Blumhouse Productions?
Their whole deal is sort of they don’t get involved, like “You have total freedom to do whatever you want, call us when you’re done” sort of scenario. It was good...I set out to make a movie that I knew under normal circumstances with a studio, you would never be able to do.

"One of the main things when you get notes from a studio is they don’t want anyone to be confused ever."
What specifically were you able to do here that you think you couldn’t have gotten away with at a studio?
Everything. The movie’s pace is very '70s, almost like an Italian horror movie. So the pacing and the structure and the fact that I wanted the movie to, at times, be purposefully confusing. One of the main things when you get notes from a studio is they don’t want anyone to be confused ever, everything has got to be so obvious at all times unless it’s a twist ending. I just wanted it to unfold in a sort of surreal dream-like manner. I mean it makes sense, but it’s not an obvious structure and that would be hard to do in a conventional sense. That’s what was best about it.

It seems like you were calling back to “Repulsion.”
It was sort of like Ken Russell films or like Polanski or some Argento films or Kubrick. There’s only certain filmmakers who really do this – and David Lynch does it – where just the vibe of the movie is odd all the way through. A David Lynch movie is just odd even when people are doing normal things. You’re like, “Why does this feel so weird? What’s happening here?”

How did you choose the music for "Lords Of Salem"? That seems to be a great part of all of your movies. I know that “Devil’s Rejects, ” you got the rights before you shot the movie so nobody could say no after they saw it. 
A big mistake a lot of filmmakers do is they like, “We cut our whole ending to a Rolling Stones song.” You better find a new ending then, because unless you have $2 million for that song.... I made sure I had the rights to “Freebird” before I put it all together because I knew that’s how I wanted to end the movie cause I couldn’t think of a bigger, more iconic American song to use. That’s pretty much the same with all of the movies. The new movie ends with “All Tomorrow’s Parties” -- the Velvet Underground song is really important and I locked down the rights to it in advance. I do that with everything just because.

You said something earlier about one of the actors dying and that kind of screwing up what you had planned to do. Can you elaborate on what happened?
There was a big opening sequence that takes place in 1692 that explained a lot more about what was going on in the backstory of this movie. Richard Lynch was a lead character in those scenes and when he showed up to work, he was very old. I had worked with him on “Halloween” a few years earlier and he was fine, but he was basically blind by this point. I could tell he wasn't doing well, so I tried to work with him to work through it. It just wasn’t really happening, but I thought somehow we’ll come back and finish this on another night or at another time. But he passed away not that long afterwards. So all the stuff I had shot didn’t really make sense. So then I had to go back and restructure the movie and literally change character’s names. “Okay, you’re that character now.” Without even telling the actors. That made it a little trickier.

So, it was all the flashback stuff?
It became flashbacks because originally it was a different chunk of the movie, but I didn’t get enough content to do that so I had to make it flashbacks.

Lords Of Salem
Was there anything you didn’t get to do in this that you wanted to?
There was tons. This was tricky because I had never made a movie this quickly for this little money so that was something that made it hard, because we shot the whole thing in 4 ½ weeks. “Devil’s Rejects” was the fastest I had ever made a movie and that cost $7 million, this cost like $2 million. On paper, I’m like, “Yeah, we can get this done.” In reality, every day was like, “Fuck, we’re never going to get this done.” So everyday was a weird compromise. Probably worked out better that way, but at the time it was stressful.

What have you thought of the re-assessment of the "Halloween" movies as sort of one entity? Have you read any of that stuff online?
No. In what sense?

That you have to watch them together as a "Kill Bill" kind of thing?
Well, that’s one way to do it. I wanted it to be like that in a sense that’s why one ends and essentially picks up, starts with the end scene of the other one. I really like those films. I didn’t have a good time making them. It was actually a kind of miserable experience. Anytime they vary from the format is when I really like them.

Do you still owe the Weinsteins something?
No, I don’t.

Would you ever work with them again?
Yeah, if the project was right I would, sure. I’ve come to the conclusion now cause I’ve made six movies, every movie you go into thinking, this is going to be the one that’s super easy and it’s going to be super cool and there’s always something. It’s just a crazy business and a crazy situation.