Establishing your own unique persona and not living in fear of how people will perceive not only was a mantra that guided not only the women accused of being witches in the 1690s during the Salem Witch Trials, but also daring horror writer-director, Rob Zombie. The filmmaker’s latest horror-thriller, ‘The Lords of Salem,’ which will be released tomorrow on Blu-ray and DVD, not only chronicles the accused witches’ continued drive for vengeance, but also the filmmaker’s continued pursuit of creating original, terrifying horror films. The director forgoed making the movie with a bigger studio and distributor, such as The Weinstein Company and MGM, who he worked with on his ‘Halloween’ remake series, to make the film independently and maintain more creative control.
‘The Lords of Salem,’ which is set to be released on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD by Anchor Baby Films on Tuesday, tells the tale of Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a radio station DJ living in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives a strange wooden box containing a record, a “gift from the Lords.” Heidi listens, and the bizarre sounds within the grooves immediately trigger flashbacks of the town’s violent past. Is Heidi going mad, or are the Lords of Salem returning for revenge on modern-day Salem?
Zombie generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘The Lords of Salem,’ as well as curating and performing at his haunted house and music festival, ‘Great American Nightmare,’ over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he initially came up with the plot for the horror thriller after seeing news footage surrounding Judas Priest’s trial for featuring backwards messages on their records; how he prefers penning and helming his own original material, particularly while working with producer Jason Blum and his independent production company, Blumhouse Productions, as it offers him the creative freedom to make the type of story he wants; and how wanting to work on his own Halloween event led him to work on the ‘Great American Nightmare,’ which will star next month at the Fairplex FEARplex in Pomona, California.
ShockYa (SY): You both wrote and directed the horror thriller ‘The Lords of Salem.’ What was your inspiration in chronicling Salem’s past in a film set in the present-day?
Rob Zombie (RZ): Well, I first came up with the idea awhile ago. I had just wrapped ‘Halloween,’ so it was around 2007. I don’t know what the inspiration was, I’m trying to think. I think that I had seen some news footage when Judas Priest was on trial for having backwards messages on their records. I thought, “What a ridiculous thing.” But I thought it would be cool to make a film about a band that actually has backwards messages, and they can control people.
That’s how the idea started. But by the time I had gotten to the point of making the movie, I had changed the idea a million times. But I think that’s where it first started.
SY: How did growing up in Haverhill, Massachusetts influence the way you both wrote and directed ‘The Lords of Salem?’ How much research did you do into Salem’s history as you were writing the script?
RZ: Yeah, since I grew up there, I knew about the Salem Witch Trials. I had been to Salem and visited the sites wen I was younger. When I started putting the movie together, I was keeping it very factual, and was reading all the books. I also went back to Salem and visited all the places. I started off making it more historically accurate.
But then as the film progressed, I realized that I really didn’t want to do that. The true facts, as bizarre as they are, aren’t as interesting as I wanted them to be for what I wanted to do. So I got off that idea early on, and started to introduce elements from the European witch hunts. They were a little more cinematic, I thought.
SY: Jason Blum, who has released such recent horror hits as the ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Insidious’ series, as well as ‘Sinister’ and ‘The Purge,’ produced ‘The Lords of Salem’ through Blumhouse Productions. What was your experience of working with Jason on the film like overall?
RZ: Well, the experience was fairly easy, as the deal I had with Jason was the same deal that several other filmmakers had with him. The deal was that as long as you deliver the movie on the budget they give you, they basically stay out of your way. You have total control over everything that you’re doing. So on that front, it was great.
SY: Did having that creative control from Jason and Blumhouse Productions allow you to tell the story you wanted, as both a writer and director?
RZ: Well, yeah, because the movie itself is not the typical type of movie that someone would want to make. I knew early on that I wanted to make something that was a psychedelic, European-style horror movie, for a lack of a better term. That’s not really a super-commercial idea. Obviously, most producers are worried about that the idea you’re working on is commercial. So having that deal made this as easy as possible.
SY: ‘The Lords of Salem’ had the lowest budget out of any of the films you’ve directed. How did making the movie independently on such a small budget influence the way you shot it overall?
RZ: Well, yes, the budget for this one was a third less than my previous lowest budgeted film I had ever made. I wasn’t used to having this small of a budget, so it definitely impacted everything we did all of the time.
So the original script kept changing, as you come to realize everyday that we’re not going to be able to do that, as we can’t afford that. Sometimes, because of money, you change things. Sometimes it makes it better, and sometimes it makes it much more difficult to cope. But the budget was always tricky to deal with.
SY: Many current independent films are receiving limited theatrical, as well as VOD, releases. What are your thoughts on VOD-are you a fan of watching movies On Demand?
RZ: Well, I think eventually, that’s the only thing you’re going to be able to do with certain types of movies. At first, there were some talks about doing ‘The Lords of Salem’ that way, and then we changed our minds. But I think that’s going to be a standard thing.
But there’s a certain stigma that if something goes straight-to-video, it’s because the movie’s not good. But there are so many great movies on VOD, and it’s just because they’re not big movies. The theaters are only going to be reserved for big movies after a certain point, because it’s too expensive to release films theatrically.
They probably spent more money promoting ‘The Lords of Salem’ than we did making it, and they hardly spent any money. That’s the thing-if we went to VOD, it could have been easier. You can make more unconventional films by releasing them On Demand, because they’re more cost effective. I think in the future, that’s how anything besides blockbusters will be released.
SY: ‘The Lords of Salem’ is your first original live-action horror film since 2005’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects,’ as like you mentioned earlier, you wrote and directed the 2007 remake of ‘Halloween.’ Do you have more creative freedom, both writing and directing, with your original films?
RZ: Well, I would always rather do original stuff, and I would rather everyone did their own original stuff. Remakes, even though I did the ‘Halloween’ one, really are pointless, unless you’re making something that’s obscure or old, and you’re bringing something different to it.
Like right now, they’re remaking ‘Poltergeist,’ and I don’t know if there’s any point to remaking it. It’s become that that’s just the way things are. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it, but I would rather always make original stuff, if possible.
SY: How does your experience as a singer, both as a part of White Zombie and as a solo artist, influence the music and soundtrack you include in your films?
RZ: With all the films, I just do what I like. If there’s music in the movie, it means something to me, and they’re songs that I like. As far as the score element, it’s whatever I think is appropriate.
It’s all based on my personal taste. I never do anything based on what I think other people are going to like, because I don’t have a clue what other people are going to like. All you can do is work off your own pace.
SY: Your wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, stars as Heidi Hawthorne in ‘The Lords of Salem,’ and has appeared in all of your films. What is the experience of working with her on your films?
RZ: I guess because it’s such a part of our lives. It’s so intertwined, it seems indistinguishable. I like as much as possible to do that with everything. Not only do I like working with her, I like working with the same group of people whenever possible, because it makes it a better experience.
But I don’t mind working with new people, too. There are many new people I would like to work with on future projects. I hadn’t previously met most of the people who worked on ‘The Lords of Salem,’ and I had a great time with them. So we do it because we enjoy it.
SY: ‘The Lords of Salem’ screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, as well as this year’s SXSW. What was your experience like screening the film at the festivals?
RZ: It was great, and it went well-it was a good time. I thought the screening at SXSW was a little bit better; when we screened it in Toronto, no one had seen it yet, so no one knew what to expect. But by the time we got to SXSW, the vibe of what the movie was a little better know. So I think people knew a little more what they were in for, so I thought the reaction there was a little better.
But sometimes it’s hard to tell sometimes when you watch a film with an audience. When I watch a movie, I don’t really react, unless I really love something. So watching the movies with an audience is a little strange.
SY: So did you receive a generally positive response from audiences at both festivals?
RZ: Yeah, the reaction was really good. It wasn’t a test screening, so we didn’t do a question period afterward. It’s not like people filled out cards with comments, so we didn’t get that sort of feedback. The only real feedback we could see, necessarily, was later that day, or the next day, when the reviews came out. This movie is without a doubt the best reviewed film I’ve ever made. So both of the screenings went really well.
SY: Are there any particular special features that you filmed for ‘The Lords of Salem’ Blu-ray and DVD?
RZ: Well, we made a making-of documentary, and it’s pretty long-it’s about two-and-a-half or three hours. But it wasn’t finished yet for this release, so we’re going to put that out later for another release, because we ran out of time.
SY: Besides releasing ‘The Lords of Salem’ Blu-ray and DVD, you’re also set to curate Great American Nightmare, a high-production value haunted maze experience meets concert festival at the Fairplex FEARplex in Pomona, California. What was your inspiration in creating the maze and concert festival?
RZ: Well, I’ve always wanted to have a huge Halloween event. I’ve been a part of Halloween events for years and years, but I’ve never had my own specific one. So finally this year we got it together, and put together this huge extravaganza. Besides bands playing, we have giant mazes and carnival rides and wrestling and car shows. It’s going to be an elaborate event from the middle of October to November. So it’s pretty cool, and I love things like that, so I’m really excited to be a part of it.
SY: You designed the mazes with preeminent haunted house producer Steve Kopelman, and will feature three attractions based on ‘The Lords of Salem,’ ‘The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto’ and ‘House of 1,000 Corpses.’ Are there any details you can discuss about the attractions, and your inspiration in creating them?
RZ: Well, designing the mazes was easy, since they’re based on the films. So it was really just the matter of going through the movies and finding the key things to put together.
Like with ‘The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto’ maze, you walk through with green classes, and it’s almost like you’re walking through a giant cartoon. It’s a super psychedelic thing, because everything’s popping out with the glasses. There are live people, and also things that aren’t alive.
Also working with Steve on the other two mazes, for ‘The Lords of Salem’ and ‘House of 1,000 Corpses,’ was great. He got the concept of what we were trying to do early on. I’m always suspicious, as I want things to be great. Early on, he sent me the design work, and he knew what he was doing, and he was doing high-quality work. So the collaboration was easy.
SY: Besides designing the mazes, you’ll also be performing in concert on the last night of Great American Nightmare. Are there any details you can discuss about the songs you’ll be performing during the concert?
RZ: Well, it seemed like an obvious thing to be a part of it, since it’s my festival. I haven’t really put together the show for it yet, as we just finished touring with the Mayhem festival. So we really haven’t reconfigured what we’re going to do for Halloween yet, but we’re going to put something together that’s Halloween-themed.
SY: Do you have any other upcoming films or musical projects lined up that you can discuss?
RZ: Well, the next film is in the works. I don’t know when I’ll start shooting it yet, because I’m still touring for the record (‘Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor’). ‘Broad Street Bullies’ is the next film that we’re setting up, and that’s a very different type of movie-it’s a hockey film. It’s the true story of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s, winning the Stanley Cup.
SY: Are you interested in writing and directing more horror films in the future, or are you interested in exploring other genres?
RZ: Well, the next couple of films I have in mind are not horror movies. But I would never say never to making another one, but the next couple of films are not.
SY: Are there any particular writers and directors, from any genres, that you’re a fan of, or have inspired your filmmaking career?
RZ: There are so many filmmakers who are influential. Any film I’ve ever saw have had an influence on me. It’s pretty wide-ranging, from Martin Scorsese to Steven Speilberg. You watch the work of very great director and see things. That’s how you learn, by watching things.
Written by: Karen Benardello