Rob Zombie impressed many (ourselves included) with his grisly and demented sophomore effort, "The Devil's Rejects," only to betray many admirers of that film with his tepid stab at the "Halloween" franchise. After helming the 2009 sequel to that reboot, new film "The Lords of Salem" (which world premiered in Toronto in the Midnight Madness section) finds Zombie back in non-remake mode with a gonzo tale that proves the musician turned filmmaker has lost none of his mojo.
[Editor's Note: This interview originally ran during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival." "The Lords of Salem" opens in select theaters this Friday.]
A melding of Zombie's heavy metal background and horror sensibilities, "Lords" centers on a radio station DJ (Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie) tormented by nightmares and hallucinations involving a coven of Salem witches (and one sadistic-looking baby), after listening to a sinister sounding vinyl record sent to her office.
Indiewire sat down with Zombie the day following "Salem"'s world premiere to talk about his latest and find out if he'll ever return to the "Halloween" franchise.
What's with you and your fascination with witchcraft? "Lords of Salem" marks your first film to feature a posse of witches, but the witch trials have fueled your songwriting before.
I don't know that I have a fascination with witches per se -- well, maybe I just have a fascination with everything that's weird. Without really analyzing it, I grew up in Massachusetts, so the Salem witch trials were always something that I was around. The average kindergartner probably doesn't know about it, except that in Massachusetts, you do, because they'll take you on field trips to see reenactments and stuff. I always found it fascinating, even though I really didn't know much about it until I revisited it later, for the film. It's a fascinating subject.
Why got at it from a modern bent?
Because I feel like that story's been told. That was one thing also with researching it, you realize how many -- besides movies like "The Crucible" -- PBS TV movies there've been on the subject. I figured we didn't need another one. Mine, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the reality of the witch trials.
Did you write this after helming "Halloween 2"?
No, I started this a long time ago, six or seven years, maybe? But it wasn't really like I was working on it. I was like, "Oh, this would kind of be a cool idea. Like, Salem radio station, blah blah blah, music," and then forgot I even wrote that down.
Then about a year ago, Jason Blum, who's one of the producers [along with Oren Peli, the team behind "Paranormal Activity"], came to me and was like, "Oh, we're making these low-budget films" -- like they did with "Insidious" and "Paranormal" and stuff -- "and if you have an idea, we want to do one with you." Their only stipulation was, "You have total control, but we would like it to be supernatural in nature." That's their model, or it was then.
It was actually Wayne Toth -- who does all my special effects -- who went, "What about that 'Lords of Salem' thing you were talking about years ago?" And I was like, "Oh, yeah." I had totally forgotten all about it, but somehow he remembered. And that's what brought it up.
What do you make of the "Paranormal" movies?
I saw the first one and thought it was great. The second one, too, also, but I haven't seen the other. What I really liked about working with them was that I had freedom. You'll sign a deal with anyone if they give you final cut.
Have you ever wanted to go down the found footage route?
No, I think those movies are cool, and that "Blair Witch" and "Paranormal" were effective, and there are probably still ones that are very effective, but I feel like it just starts becoming... to me those are quick burn movies. I don't know if you could really re-watch them. You watch them once and go, "Oh, they're scary," and you're done with it. I like movies where you can come back and re-watch them and admire the cinematography 25 years later. You go, "Wow, how'd they get that shot?" That's really what I am about.
The reason I asked earlier if you wrote this following "Halloween 2," is because "Salem" marks such a departure from your "Halloween" films, both in its outlandish style and operatic scope. I got a sense that you made it in an effort to break free from whatever constraints you felt while making those films.
Pretty much, yeah. Making the "Halloween" movies was kind of a nightmare, for two reasons. There's the expectations of what it's supposed to be -- because any person that's a fan of "Halloween" thinks, "Okay, this is my idea exactly of how these movies are supposed to go." So no matter what you do, it feels like this is some weird thing. And the studio looks at it as a franchise that they want to protect.
With my second one I got pretty wacky, but it was a battle. They look at it as a franchise. With this, it was just nice to be told, "You can do whatever the fuck you want as long as you stay on budget." And that's essentially what I did. I wanted to just make a crazy movie. Last night when I was watching it, I was sitting in the theater going, "I can't believe somebody gave me money to do this." The ending's so nutty, but those are the type of movies I like. I like movies where sometimes when they end you go, "What the fuck? Huh? What did I just watch. I gotta watch that again. That barely made sense to me."