THE LORDS OF SALEM | ©2013 Anchor Bay

THE LORDS OF SALEM | ©2013 Anchor Bay

In the new Rob Zombie directed horror film THE LORDS OF SALEM (which is in theaters now), Salem, MA radio d.j. Heidi, played by Zombie’s real-life wife Sheri Moon Zombie, is sent a record with a strange musical riff that is tied to the famed Salem witches, who seem to be reaching from beyond the grave to further their original goals.

At a small press conference, Zombie talks about his new movie.

On how he came up with the storyline for THE LORDS OF SALEM…
“The storyline came to me about seven years ago,” says Zombie. “I was just reading a book on the Salem witch trials and for some reason spun off this idea for the movie. I just had this idea for this thing called THE LORDS OF SALEM and a vague notion of how it would all come together. I was doing comic books at the time back then, I thought, “Oh, maybe it’d be a novel, maybe it’d be something else.” It wasn’t necessarily going to be a movie. But then it really never materialized into anything. Right around the time I was doing HALLOWEEN I think I first started messing with it. I grew up in Massachusetts, so I always knew about the Salem witch trials. When we were little kids, we were doing class field trips, we would go to reenactments of the Salem witch trials and the witch museum and all that stuff in Salem, but I kind of forgot all about it, and a few years back, when I was reading a book on it – this is very interesting, the subject, and I don’t know – it just seemed like something to do. I wasn’t a particular great lover of witches or anything like that. Then when the opportunity came up about two years ago – Blumhouse [Productions] came to me about doing a low-budget movie, but they wanted it to be a supernatural horror-type film. That was sort of their thing. Someone reminded me about this LORDS OF SALEM thing I’ve been talking about years ago.”

On working with Blumhouse Productions, which produces the PARANORMAL ACITIVITY films, and credited producer Oren Peli…
“They approached me,” says Zombie. “I really didn’t even know who the team was – but I didn’t really work with them. Oren’s not involved on any level. I think he just has a credit as a producer on all their projects. I think he came to set one day for lunch or something on one of the first couple days, but that was the only time I ever saw him. He’s a nice guy, I’d talked to him before, but they weren’t involved.”

On writing roles with particular actors in mind …
“Most of the films I’ve done, I’ve written the parts with everybody in mind, truthfully, even if I didn’t know them,” he says. “Even on my first movie, HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES, with Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, I wrote it with him in mind not knowing him, having never met him, hadn’t seen him in a movie in ten years, but I’d just always loved him, and I thought, “My perception of how he is, is exactly what I want this to be.” So I’ve always done that. From Sheri to William Forsythe to Ken Foree to whoever I’ve put in things, it’s because I had them in mind and tailored it around them.”

Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor

Rob Zombie's new album is Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor

On working with actors …
“As far as [Sheri Moon Zombie] saying how she feels about things, [she does], but only to the extent that any actor would,” explains Zombie. “‘I was thinking maybe this’ – and I’m always like, ‘Yeah, great. Try that, if I don’t like it, we won’t use it.’ I never want to shut somebody down, but I know a lot of directors do that, and I only know that because the actors tell me. You hope that they bring something to the table, and when they do, that’s great.”

On the nighttime outdoor nude scenes with the witches …
“It is difficult,” he says. “It was f**king cold, so I felt bad for the people, and we were up in the canyons [of California]. I mean, you feel bad – they’re all naked and everyone else is in huge coats in front of heaters. They’re troupers. It was kind of hard to find people, because people are real uptight now – a lot of actors – about nudity. But the ones who were committed were really committed. And Meg Foster was somebody who I kept talking to about it. I was, ‘Does she really understand what I’m asking?’ Because I kept thinking that she would get on set and go, ‘Wait? What? No one mentioned this.’ But she didn’t give a s**t. She’ll run around naked all day – she doesn’t care.”

On the secret of scaring people with a movie …
“I don’t know – that’s the thing, you’re never sure,” says Zombie. “I mean, I wish I knew the secret of everything like that. I think the one thing that’s hardest to do, every year that goes by, is find that, because people do get jaded and they feel like they’ve seen everything and people’s movie knowledge becomes vast. In the past, people would see a movie and they’d forget about it, but now it’s always on Netflix, it’s always on DVD, it’s always there, and they’re just watching everything all the time, so nothing ever gets old in a way, so just trying to present anything in a new light and trick people in a new way is always something that’s the trick.”

On whether LORDS OF SALEM is relevant to contemporary real events …
“There definitely is, because you can read about the witch trials and you think, ‘Oh, my God, how did this ever happen? How did these right-minded people ever come to the conclusion – they’re pointing fingers at their friends and family and hanging them?'” says Zombie. “And I look at it and I’m going, ‘This is something that could easily happen today. People are so hysterical and insane that people would do this.’ Crazy mob mentality and the way people are about their beliefs – it’s just like, ‘Hey, I’m pro-life. I’m so pro-life I’m going to kill you, because you’re not pro-life.’ [laughs] It’s almost like the witch trials. It’s like, ‘You’re killing me in the name of goodness. Oh, I get it.’ I didn’t make the film because of that [laughs], but it totally seems like this could happen again without much thought. I just think people are nuts and they have a great capacity for killing each other whenever they feel like it.”

On loving horror movies …
“I like all kinds of movies,” he says. “These are just the ones that I happen to have made, because when you’re starting out – if you look at a lot of directors’ careers, a lot of times, they start in more genre-type films, because you can get them funded, but my love of it came when I was a kid. When I was really young, it was a great time for things like this, the late Sixties, because there was such a horror bloom. On TV, there was TWILIGHT ZONE and THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, and all the Universal films and the Hammer films were always on TV, and there were horror movie hosts – there was just so much of it in the culture, and the magazines CREEPY and EERIE. I just grew up loving that. I mean, we didn’t even call them horror movies – I never thought of them as ‘horror,’ they were more like monster movies.”

On Seventies horror films…
“I really think that, for me, the Seventies for me was the last great time when I loved horror movies,” he says. “Not to say that there haven’t been great movies happening all along, but that was the last time I really felt like the movies were speaking to me, because once horror movies entered the Eighties and it became very much like – they just took a weird turn. They started getting shitty. It seemed like in the Seventies, you’d get William Friedkin, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski – A-level major directors would do a horror movie and there was no shame in it. And then suddenly there was nothing but shame in it. It just became like cheap slasher material – that literally was all there was and I just never liked that stuff, and the movies never really recovered from that. That’s one of the frustrating things about it is, horror movies are so looked down upon, it’s almost insane. Not by the people who love them, but just by the studios, even if the studio is backing. And by the actors. Sometimes you’ll see an actor – they’ll be in a horror movie, will be on something like GOOD MORNING AMERICA, talking about it, and keep trying to change the subject, like they want to change the subject back to some TV show they’ve just done or something. They’re so embarrassed about it. And when you’re casting it, a lot of people go, ‘Well, why do you use a lot of the same people?’ Because they love it and they love to do it, whereas sometimes you try to vary off – the agent’s like, ‘I’m not even telling my client about this, they do not want to do this.’ It’s a really weird thing.”

“I’ve just gotten so used to it, because it’s the same thing in music with hard rock and heavy metal – it’s just looked down upon, and I don’t care, but if you look at something like the Grammys, you could have a hard rock record that sold ten million copies and they don’t even have a category for it, or if they do, they’ll present it off-camera, but then a spoken-word children’s record, they’ll present it on camera, even if it sold literally fifteen hundred copies,” he says. “The companies love [horror] because it generates a fortune – most of these companies like Lionsgate wouldn’t even be in business if it weren’t for the horror movies, but it almost seems like they build a company on horror movies, and as soon as they get big enough, they just pretend like it never happened and they never want to go back and it’s a dirty little secret. And they treat them just slightly above the way they treat p**no movies, I think.”

 On whether his music career helped with his filmmaking career …
“Well, I think in some ways, it helped and it hurt. It helped in the sense that, I think I had done so many things like making music videos, or putting tours together, where I already knew that when you accept a sum of money to produce something, you have to do it,” says Zombie. “There’s a pressure if you come out of film school and you’ve manipulated your short film for nine months and you want to make it perfect, but the reality is, if you get behind on set and this starts happening, it’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, I know you’re a genius, but you’re fired.’ It teaches you the reality of the business, which is not always the nicest thing in the world, but since I’d already made music videos for other people, like say Ozzy [Osbourne], where it’s like, ‘Okay, here’s two hundred thousand dollars, and this video better be done exactly when we want it, how we want it, by this date, or you’re f**cked.’ You just learn how to do it quickly. The part that might have hurt me was, the perception that moving from one field to another, nobody ever likes when people do that, usually. If I had worked in a deli and said, ‘Oh, now I’m making movies,’ [people would say], ‘Oh, the guy from the deli is now making movies, that’s kind of cool,’ but, ‘The guy from music? Ah, I don’t know about that guy.’ So it was a little bit weird, because I think they couldn’t detach the musical persona from a person who wanted to make a movie. I think for awhile it sort of worked against me, but that’s okay. I understand why, because especially in hard rock, a lot of the perception is that everybody’s a drunken idiot all the time, so, ‘Oh, great, this guy wants to do it.’

On making other types of movies…
“Well, this will probably be the last horror movie I ever do, I think,” says Zombie. “I did six – it’s my fifth live-action and one animated [horror] movie, but they’re all in that genre and I think this is a good one to end on. So the next movie I’m doing is called BROAD STREET BULLIES, which is a true-life sports film about the Philadelphia Flyers, and then the next movie that I’m going to do, maybe – I can’t announce it yet because we’re still dealing with the rights, but that’s not a horror film. I don’t see myself doing another one for a long time, if ever.”

On the ambiguity of the ending of LORDS OF SALEM…
“I know what I was thinking – I didn’t tell anybody,” says Zombie. “So I kind of just leave it that way, because I feel that people can look at it and think, ‘Oh, now she’s this,’ or ‘Oh, none of this even happened – look, she’s fine,’ or ‘Wait, now she’s …’ I don’t want it to be a specific thing, because I think it’s more interesting if you’re not sure. That was my intention with the movie all the way through. The great opportunity that this movie afforded me was, I had a contract that said nobody could say anything on casting, or the script, or the editing – it was a hundred percent freedom. That was the deal. That’s the deal those guys [at Blumhouse] make with everybody. And that’s rare. There are always people getting in the way and putting in their two cents. It always dilutes whatever you’re trying to do. So I didn’t think the opportunity to make something weird that didn’t have all the answers in it would ever come again, so I did it that way on purpose. I like things like that. I hate when everything’s over-explained. Because those are always the notes you get – ‘over-explain everything,’ until it just becomes there’s no mystery left.”

On being a vegetarian…
“I became a vegetarian when I was eighteen, so thirty years ago,” says Zombie. “I mean, now I do it because I think it’s healthier for you, because if you watch any documentary on how they produce the meat now, it’s just so horrible – is that even a cow you’re eating? It’s some weird fat beast pumped full of chemicals. But when I stopped at eighteen, I just stopped because I thought that the way that they treat and kill animals was just so inhumane, I couldn’t deal with it. And I don’t think most people can, but their answer is, ‘I don’t want to think about it.’ I don’t like to go through life ever using that phrase, “I don’t want to think about it.”

On advice to aspiring horror filmmakers …
“The biggest thing I think is that there are no guidelines or rules to anything,” says Zombie. “If there were, I certainly didn’t follow them, and I don’t know how to follow any rules about anything. So I don’t think there are. That’s what’s so great about it, because if you can do something and you have some talent for it, people will figure it out. I think people are worried that it has to look really professional or it has to be slick, and it doesn’t. I always relate it to music, because if someone hands me the worst-sounding demo, but the song is good, you’ll hear it and you’ll go, ‘That’s a great f**king song.’ You don’t care it if sounds like s**t. But if someone hands you a totally slick demo and the song is a piece of crap, you go, ‘Okay, wow, it’s total s**t.’ So it doesn’t matter. You can have crappy handwriting and still write an incredible story.”

On what people should know about LORDS OF SALEM going in …
“I just want people to know that it’s not what they think, which is a very vague answer, I know,” concludes Zombie. “We showed it at the Toronto Film Festival early on and I could tell that the audience somehow thought it was something else. Because for the first fifteen minutes of the movie, they were watching it like it was going to be like EVIL DEAD 2, like this crazy wild gory nuts movie. So they were sort of responding like that was what they were watching, and then I could feel after about fifteen minutes, they realized, ‘Oh, this is not what I thought it was going to be.’ But by the time we screened it several months later at the South by Southwest Film Festival, I felt like the audience came in and watched it for what it was. You don’t sit down and watch 2001 and expect STAR WARS, but that’s what it felt like the first time I showed it – ‘What the f**k, where’s all the blood? I’m so disappointed.’ Expect the unexpected.”

Related:Exclusive Photos from the special THE LORDS OF SALEM screening

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Article: Interview with Director Rob Zombie on his new film THE LORDS OF SALEM

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