This Friday, Rob Zombie ushers The Lords of Salem into select theaters. No, it’s not a sequel. And no, it’s not a remake. The film is purely a “Zombie original” – something that echoes his macabre aesthetic, but is filtered through a style that is decidely different from his previous original works like House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. The Lords of Salem is like something cold, vicious and black slowly sliding down your back. And its influences are everywhere (from Kubrick to, in my opinion, Fulci), still, it definitely has Zombie’s fingerprints all over it.
In anticipation of its release, Shock sat down one-on-one with Zombie to talk about this change of pace, putting his wife – Sheri – in the lead role, working with Meg Foster and more. Head inside for the interview!
Shock Till You Drop: The Lords of Salem was born as a song, but did you always have this story in mind or did it evolve over the years?
Rob Zombie: It was always a loose idea. I thought it’d be cool to set a movie in Salem with the witch trials as the backdrop and a radio station. A satanic band. I had all of these ideas I couldn’t settle down on and it was after Halloween, it was potentially something I was going to do after. I remember talking to Weinstein about it once. I got off of the idea for a bit. At one point I was going to turn it into a graphic novel and I got bored with the idea of that. I liked the title. I’ll just make a song so I can save the title and then, however many years later, I blame Wayne Toth. It’s his fault. The deal with Blumhouse came along and I could do whatever I wanted. But it had to be cheap. They gave me total freedom but little money. And it had to be supernatural. Wayne brought it up to me at this time, “Didn’t you want to do Lords of Salem?” And that’s where it all began.
Shock: The film reflects a decidedly different approach to filmmaking for you. It takes its time to build dread. Did you enjoy this tonal switch up?
Zombie: I liked doing it and it was cool. I think if I was doing it again, I’d feel more comfortable. But I was uncomfortable as I was doing it because my natural inclination is to go hand-held to make it rough because I love how it looks. Just before we were shooting, I thought that the look that I used to love looks like TV. Even Parenthood moves the camera around. It looks too TV. Coincidentally, I had gotten to see The Shining on the big screen again and it reminded me of how great it is to do things big like that. I saw it when I came out as a kid, but ever since I’ve only seen it on the small screen, so the scope of it got lost on me. That’s when I decided to go a more slow, controlled route.
Shock: And how did Brandon Trost, your d.p., roll with that?
Zombie: Well, it was funny because we were both fighting that in a way. The big thing is that we shot the movie in 22 days which is super fast. We didn’t have a lot of money, soto do these big moves on a short schedule is stupid. You have to do six takes to get something like a dolly move down. Once we got into it, we were like, ‘This looks great, but it may have been a bad idea.’ It was time-consuming, but I’m really happy.
Shock: You got Meg Foster to really open up on this project, did you know her beforehand?
Zombie: I never met her before, let alone worked with her. I knew who she was and liked her, but I don’t know when I hit upon her. It was probably her eyes – as cheesy as it sounds – that hit me. Then we talked on the phone and she’s pretty ethereal and I knew she wasn’t going to make the witch this [cacklels like a archetypal witch]. Because this could have been really corny with spooky witches saying spooky shit. But she’s so invested. She would burst into tears in every monologue. If she lived in 1697, that would have been her, living in the woods, which she does anyway. She was more than I hoped for which was a nice surprise.
Shock: A lot of this film rides on Sheri’s shoulders. Talk about moving her into the forefront of one of your films now…
Zombie: I kind of feel bad about that. [laughs] I wasn’t thinking about it. I’m sure she was. It wasn’t until we were at SXSW…I was so close to the movie that I couldn’t see the big picture and we’re watching it and I was like, ‘Fuck man, I put a lot on her shoulders.’ Now I know why she was so stressed out. I wasn’t seeing it at the time. It was a lot to carry and I didn’t realize how often she’s on screen and all she really had to act with the most is a dog. Who was a pain! I’m kidding, great dog. [laughs] There’s this moment where she’s on the phone talking to Jeff, who’s on a dock, and I can always tell the audience is invested in it. They’re invested in her, so it worked.
Shock: How did the residents of Salem respond while you were shooting there?
Zombie: Well, they were happy. I don’t know if they’ll be happy when they see it. There’s not one grain of historical accuracy in this movie, so we’ll see how they feel. [laughs]
Shock: Talk about finding the theme of the Lords album…
Zombie: The theme was kind of weird, that was tricky. It’s funny because when you hear it you would say, why is that tricky to come up with? But, me and John 5 went back and forth on it a lot. It had to be catchy enough that you can remember it, but not sound like a song. I was on the East Coast and he was on the West Coast and we just went back and forth, humming different note patterns and neither of us can remember who thought of it. What I think is cool about it, he went into a studio with all of these musicians and recorded it with all of these old instruments. They could get in the room and it’d be the same, we didn’t enhance it at all. It sounds like a ship creaking.