Rob Zombie’s highly anticipated latest film ‘The Lords of Salem’ will hit the big screen in a little over a month, on April 19. Rob sat down with our Carsten Berg to talk about ‘The Lords of Salem’, his experience shooting the film in Salem, Mass., as well as about his new album ‘Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor’, which will be released on the heels of his new film on April 23, and the influence of music in general.
Carsten: We first spoke about ‘The Lords of Salem’ about two years ago when the project still lay ahead of you. Now that the film is complete, in your own words and from your perspective; What is ‘The Lords of Salem’? What is the story, what is the film about?
Rob Zombie: It is really several stories. Now that the film is done I see that it could be interpreted in a couple of different ways. I mean I know what the story is and I know what I set out to do. But now that I show it to people, I sort of stopped explaining it because I have seen that people are taking it in several ways in the sense that it is a story about a piece of music that brings back that curse from witches from 300 years ago in Salem. Is it just the story of an ex drug addict descending into madness? Or is it both? That is what I love about it. Now that the film is done, I see that people are a little confused by it which is great. It is whatever you want it to be.
WATCH Carsten’s interview with Rob from June 2011 on Horrorug
Carsten: Could it be that people are focused on one or the other aspect of the film more than on the respective other aspect of it, but that all those aspects have to be there for the film to work?
Rob Zombie: I never thought of ‘The Lords of Salem’ as a straight forward horror movie, not necessarily. There is horrific aspects but, as I was pursuing it and was working with the actors, I would say the same thing: Part of it is more of a deranged, sort of a demented drama for that reason. For me, a horror movie, if you say I made a horror movie, the first thing that someone will be saying to you is “Oh, is it scary?” And as I was making that movie, yeah, you want it to be scary, but that was not my main objective. It was not the point of the whole movie to make it scary. I wanted it to be more of a psychological trip where, at the end of it you are thinking about it instead of just saying “Wow, I jumped few times, how scary.” Because to me, I do not find that interesting anymore. I like movies that have a longer lasting effect. Like, at the end of the day, you know, I find a movie like ‘Eraserhead’ scarier than most movies because it is such a mind f*** and I can not stop thinking about it.
Carsten: In ‘The Lords of Salem’, darkness prevails through out much of the film, literally, because many sequences are set at night, but also figuratively. Do you see a specific connection between evil and darkness, does the one further the other, or is that really a thing of perception?
Rob Zombie: It is surely a thing of perception. There have been times where I wanted a movie to be set completely at night. But also, when we go back to a different film, when I made the movie ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, my point was that I wanted all the horror and the violence to take place in bright daylight. Because I thought that would be shocking in that movie. It is a bright sunny day, blue sky, looks like a John Ford movie, and then these horrible things are happening. For this movie I thought, when I went to Salem location scouting, it was that time of year, it was October, the skies were always gray, even during the day it was always dark and it seemed the sun never comes out, it was always raining, and it was such an atmosphere for the movie I wanted to capture that that city had. That is why I set it predominantly either at night or at sunset.
Carsten: While ‘The Lords of Salem’ deals with satanism on the surface, it also brings up somewhere in the movie Wiccan and witchcraft, and the differences between the two. While many people see that as things of the past, somewhat a remainder of the dark middle ages, how do you see the role of it today? In “The Lords of Salem”, it plays a big part in the story.
Rob Zombie: I know from being in Salem that a lot of the people there consider themselves witches or Wiccan or whatever, and I am sure whatever is in the movie will be upsetting to them that I am not portraying it in a proper light. So I really was not approaching it, any part of it, with any sort of accuracy necessarily. I was not trying to be “Oh, this is an actual portrayal of what these things would be.” Even the part that takes part in 1697 is purposefully not accurate because I did not think it was cinematic enough. I really based witches and the look of the cages and the torture devices on the European witch trials because, and this may sound stupid but, the Salem witch trials are cinematically kind of boring. They really just hung the witches while in Europe they had the spiked chairs and the cages and iron masks. So I was taking quite a few liberties with the portrayal.
Carsten: The Europeans were much more inventive when it came to torturing people.
Rob Zombie: Yes. They had a lot more style [laughs].
Carsten: You just mentioned going location scouting. A lot of the film is shot in actual Salem. How was the reception there? How did people react when you told them about shooting the film there and what the film would be about?
Rob Zombie: The fans were very excited when we were in Salem. Every time we were shooting people would be coming up and watch us. They were very excited. Salem is really a very tiny town, you can almost walk from one end to the the other in like two seconds. So people seemed excited. Towards some of the people who were helping us, who were more on an official basis, I was keeping the script a little vague because I did not know if it would turn them off if they read the script. We still wanted their help, you know. But all in all it was good spirits.
Carsten: You mentioned the story the film is based on and you took your liberties with it. That actually happened in the real life Salem in the 1700s and powerfully reaches into the present. Generally speaking, do you think that our past, collectively, not necessarily based on the individual, still influences us very much today?
Rob Zombie: I think so, of course. One thing, just speaking specifically of Salem, you can not escape it when you are there. It is not that people in Salem just go “Oh yeah, the Salem witch trial happened here but we don’t talk about it. Everything in the city relates to it. Constantly. From the cemeteries where people are buried, to memorials. Even the local newspaper and the police station, their logo has a witch on it. Really everything. I do not know how much of that is real or how much of that is tourism and prefabrication, but everything definitely in this sense. The routs are buried pretty deep.
Carsten: So even in Salem it goes further than a tourism ploy, it still is a part of life and it is still present everywhere
Rob Zombie: Yes, I think so. This is kind of a weird place. You are walking around, see the tourism stuff and it seems kind of silly but then when you get to some of the memorials, there is one part where they have the final words of all the people right before they were executed carved in stone into the sidewalk. There are things like “Dear God help me, I am not a witch.” Phrases like that. It is really strange.
Carsten: ‘The Lords of Salem’ is a very different style from your previous films. It combines elements of traditional story-telling with very individual means, which I would describe as something in the realm of expressionism and psychedelic or, in film terms, art house. Is that something you felt necessary for this particular story, or is it a new chapter in the evolution of Rob Zombie as an artist?
Rob Zombie: I thought it was particular for this story. I wanted to shoot the movie in a way that was much grander a flow, a taste where the rooms and the buildings and the settings become the characters. By shooting it like that I could slowly, with each reel of the film, make it more and more surreal until, by the end of the movie, it is a complete trip. It becomes a complete trippy mind warp. Because I thought to myself “There is one basic story within the other stories. This woman has been chosen to give birth to the devil’s child. We have seen that in movies before, that story anyway. So, how do we make it play out in a way you have never seen before? You can not have her being raped by a big hairy beast and then a baby with weird eyes. We have seen that in “Rosemary’s Baby’, so I thought, since these are so fantastic situations, it is all about what would it be like being taken to hell and having your mind stripped of every thought you ever had because you become this vessel for the devil. That is why I came up with such an art house surreal way of doing it. I thought this was the only way I could come up with that felt like it would give that impact and take it away from just being a spooky movie.
Carsten: Music plays a major role in ‘The Lords of Salem”. A piece of music starts off the events and music in various styles carries the plot further. Music certainly plays a big part in your life. How do you see the influence of music on people and people’s minds in general?
Rob Zombie: I think music is obviously one of the most impactful things that your brain can experience. As you get older, you realize you have seen a lot of movies, you have seen a lot of television, you have read a lot of books and you have heared a lot of music. But nothing, in my experience anyway, will remind me of a situation or a feeling more than a piece of music. You can hear a certain song and you feel like oh my god, it is summer 35 years ago and I am standing in the back yard and my dad is mowing the lawn… It is such a strange thing that a combination of notes can have almost mind control over you. In a good way. But then there is all the people that have that… well, it is kind of a thing of the past now, but there was that time period where everybody went through their demonic music obsession, thinking the bands are controlling the minds of people with their music, which I wish was possible because I would be happy to do it. [laughs] That was kind of the genesis for the idea of the movie. It is not really what the movie is about but it was somewhat the idea that started the script rolling.
Carsten: Talking about music. Shortly after the film is coming out on April 19, you also have a new album coming out just four days later on April 23. While they are released at nearly the same time, is there any relation? The album is not the score of the film but is there any relation in the styles or the themes?
Rob Zombie: No, not really. There may be stylistic crossover simply due to the fact that I was working on the two things at the same time, but I did not do it intentionally. I think both projects a kind of psychedelic, let’s put it that way, because I was in that mind frame. Working on a project like a movie is very encompassing on your life and you sort of become the movie without wanting to. If you are working on a comedy all day, you are probably in a good mood, if you are working on a very depressing movie all day, you probably do not feel that great because it is just like that, especially editing and sitting there watching it for hours. I remember other times where the editor just said “We need to take a break, this is just getting depressing watching this for hour after hour after hour…” Well, with this movie it was kind of a psychedelic trip, so it seems that mindset found its way into the record. They are somewhat related, but I think only in that sense.
Carsten: So, how was your mind set while producing and being in post-production on ‘The Lords of Salem’?
Rob Zombie: My mind set on that one was tough because the schedule was so short that we were working around the clock trying so hard to make it perfect in almost no time. This is the shortest I have ever made a movie. We shot the whole thing in 22 days, which is just crazy for a movie. Especially when you are trying to do something kind of grand. It would have been easy if the whole movie just played in the apartment or inside the apartment building. Then it would have been okay. But trying to film all of this, all the crazy stuff, and going outside and all, it just takes time. A kind of bit of more than I could chew, but I am glad I did because it worked out but the post production was psychotic. We had to edit the whole thing in six weeks and turn it around… It was madness.
Carsten: There will also be, additional to the movie, a book on shelves on March 12, written by B. K. Everson with the title ‘The Lords of Salem’ and based on your script for the film. Are you excited about that project?
Rob Zombie: Yes. The book is based on the first shooting script, which is very different from the movie. The first shooting script is even bigger because that is when I thought, oh, we have enough money to make this script. And as I was shooting, I realized I was out of my mind. So, the book, because it is based on that script, is much more detailed with much more backstory on especially the stuff in 1697, what takes place then.
Carsten: For fans it is not either see the film or read the book, it is you have to see the movie and maybe read the book?
Rob Zombie: Yes, you absolutely have to see the movie. [laughs]
Carsten: What is next for Rob Zombie? I know you will be presented with the Golden Gods Award in early May. What else should we look out for?
Rob Zombie: What is next is a lot of touring. I will be on the road touring. And right now I am finishing the script for my next movie, which is called ‘The Broadstreet Bullies’ and that is a true life sports movie about a hockey team in Philadelphia. That is so different from anything I have ever done before. Not a horror movie, but it is very violent.
Carsten: Rob, I am sure we will hear about the tour and everything else you do in the near future. For now, I thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.Thank you very much.