Horror-meister Rob Zombie returns to theaters this weekend with an eerie new project titled “The Lords of Salem.” The film stars Zombie’s real-life wife, Sherri Moon (star of his “Devil’s Rejects” and “Halloween” remake), as a radio DJ working in modern-day Salem, Massachusetts. One night, she is delivered a mysterious record to play on air from a group known only as “The Lords.” The band’s creepy sounds subsequently seem to posses Moon and the women of Salem, filling their heads with nightmarish visions of Satan and a coven of witches seeking revenge from beyond the grave.
Despite staying in the horror realm, “Lords of Salem” is a very different kind of Rob Zombie film. Light on gore and with an emphasis on cerebral, visual scares, “Salem” shows off new cinematic skills from the shock rocker.
Zombie spoke with Moviefone about the need to create something new for horror, struggling with “pointless” studio remakes and taking on an even bigger departure for his next film: a sports biopic of the notorious ’70s line-up of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Moviefone: “Lords of Salem” is a definite evolution of your filmmaking style; it’s much more methodical than your fans are used to.
Rob Zombie: That was my intention. I really wanted to do something very different from what I had done before, pacing wise, style wise and basically every-wise.
Modern, young audiences that go see mainstream horror movies are not used to a slow, psychological take. How do you try to tell a methodical horror story with that audience hurdle?
You just can’t worry about it, because I really feel that the death of anything is when you start catering to the audience. That’s not an insult to the audience, it’s just you go in there, you have a vision, and you try to carry it out, hope if it works well, and that people will discover it .
They may not discover it the day it comes out, they may discover it years later. But trying to crank out cookie-cutter product because the studios have decided that’s what audiences want — the audience doesn’t want that! But sometimes you force feed them crap because there is nothing else. They may go “Oh I want to go to the movies tonight” they look at the list of movies and go “I don’t want to see any of these movies!“
I want to go see something and go “Wow I’ve never seen that before,” and I think most audiences do, too. They get beaten down. Maybe you like “American Idol,” but you don’t need twenty other shows exactly like it. F—ing over-kill, but that’s what they figure. Try to turn art into Coca-Cola.
You have an interesting perspective because you’ve worked on remakes and original ideas. What differences did you see working with a major studio on an original idea as opposed to developing a remake?
The remake is more difficult because, on some level, remakes seem pointless. But the reality of the business is those are the movies they will give you money to make. So it’s sort of like “I can do this or I can do nothing.” I love movies and I want to make movies so you go, “All right let me do this.” With the “Halloween” movies I made, I wanted to go in a different direction because it’s so pointless to go, “I’m going to copy what John Carpenter did.” That’s the struggle: You want to change it enough that it’s worth making, but not so much that there is no resemblance.
When the project first came up, the studio strangely enough didn’t care if Michael Meyers or Dr. Loomis was in the movie; they just wanted it be “Halloween.” And I thought what appealed to me was Meyers was like a modern-day Frankenstein. These characters, like Meyers, Freddy Krueger, are our generation’s Wolfman and Frankenstein — the iconic monsters — so why not treat it that way? This is just another retelling of a classic story.
Inevitably, whenever a filmmaker directs their spouse, critics will judge that performance with more scrutiny. Does that impact how you direct your wife?
I try not to think about that stuff. I know that she will get more attention than she normally would. People who have no sort of public persona whatsoever, they might not even mention the director’s name. With me, they mention my name and then start pontificating on what I was thinking, what I was doing and who I am — and they read a lot into it, and unfortunately they do that a lot with her as well. Which is a good and a bad thing; in one way it gets you more attention, but in another way people can’t distance themselves enough when they are watching the movie. It’s ridiculous at times.
What is your approach to getting these crazed performances out of your cast?
I try to tell them as much as possible, but sometimes it does seem stupid what I’m telling them, truthfully. “OK, bring in the fake goat. You’re going to ride that goat. This is going to happen: there’s going to be all these nude women with animal heads walking down a hallway.” I think, more than usual, the cast and crew were in a state of constant confusion.
Do you personally get scared by the concept of Satanic horror?
No, not at all. But I know others do, that’s why I like messing with it.
Then how do you ensure a movie like this is scary?
I don’t find movies scary, so I have to figure out what I think other people would find scary. That’s really the trick. I figure out what would push other people’s buttons. A lot of the stuff in the film was really bothering Ken Foree because he is very religious. He was really wigged out by a lot of the stuff in the script.
I wanted to switch gears and talk about the next movie you are working on: the biopic of the Broad Street Bullies. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve seen working on a true sports story?
You have to find a way to stay true to the facts as much as you can but still make it a compelling movie. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly exact retelling of the truth; it might be accurate but it might not make for a good film. I’m trying to make it as detailed and accurate as possible but also make it work as a drama… We’re at the point where the script is finished and we are trying to figure out how and when and where we are going to do it because I have a new record coming out, so I start touring in June. My year is pretty booked up with tour dates. So I’m hoping late in the year to start that one.
Do you consider yourself a horror director, and will this movie be an “experiment”?
I consider myself a director and I love movies. My first bunch of movies for the first ten years were all from a certain genre, and now I’m going to move off of that and do other things. Maybe I’ll come back to it sometimes, maybe I won’t. I don’t know, but I didn’t wake up one day and say “I’m going to do this forever.” I like movies of all kinds and I want to make movies of all kinds.
If you could score the work of any director, living or dead, what would be your dream music job?
I love silent movies, and I think it would be pretty cool to go back and score silent films. “Hunchback of Notre Dame” or “Metropolis.” The really epic ones could be kind of cool. I think with “Metropolis” you could do some pretty interesting things.
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