The Wolfman Cometh speaks to the stars and director of The Lords of Salem
Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips, two of the stars of Rob Zombie’s latest movie The Lords of Salem join the director in this interview with The Wolfman Cometh, which was conducted back in March during the SXSW Festival, where The Lords of Salem get it’s USA premiere. The film hits theaters in the USA this Friday 19 April. To read the interview
Before we get any further, let me remind you of one really important and really simple thing: The Lords of Salem was fucking awesome. There were a lot of great horror movies that played SXSW this year, and even though this movie wasn’t my most anticipated, I was really intrigued by the subject matter. With the subject matter in mind and the fact that I’ve had mixed feelings about Rob Zombie’s previous films, my mind was fucking blown by what he came up with. Luckily I had already had an interview set up with Rob the next day, along with his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, who played the lead role of Heidi, as well as the lead actor, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips. What they all managed to confirm is that they’re all quite talented people who had a clear vision of what they wanted to make and were able to make it, and it also confirmed that Rob Zombie has amazing taste in horror film. In fact, if you are someone who’s heard me rant and rave about Suspiria before, or if you’ve read My 50th Post, you’ll see that there’s one point Zombie makes that is almost word for word something I’ve said before. I can’t wait to see this movie blow people’s fucking minds when it comes out next week.
WolfMan: I’m from Massachusetts so I’ve spent a lot of time in Salem, taken college courses on the Salem witch tri–
Rob Zombie: So you probably recognized everything.
WM: Exactly. In the film, you mention John Hawthorne and the fact that only 25 people actually died. When I saw that, I knew you had done your research. I just wanted to commend you for that, because up until now, the best movie that we had involving witches in Salem was Hocus Pocus. Which isn’t AS scary as your film.
RZ: Wellll…. (laughs)
WM: Anyways, this film is definitely a lot different in style from some of your previous stuff, with the style coming through in the editing and the incorporation of the music. This was a lot more about the locations themselves and leaving the shots there. Could you talk a little bit more about that? Was that a conscious effort to depart from your previous styles?
RZ: I like the style that I’ve done in the past, especially Halloween II. I love when movies look like that. I like really rough, raw looking movies, but I didn’t think that for this story that it was appropriate. A couple of times I questioned myself and thought maybe it would have been better had I done it that way, then I’d picture those scenes and think that there was something about that style that you would have lost the surreal nature of it. It would’ve just seemed too real. Also, I might have already said it before, but the fact that we had no time and no money, I didn’t want to cave into that and make something that looked like a low budget movie, because that would’ve been easy. I wanted to make it look like a big budget movie with big sets and grandness and much more controlled camera work, so that was really the motivation, the lack of funds. At times, it was the stupidest idea I’ve had, because you have no time and, just seeing the final shot, like the Virgin Mary shot, it just took forever to set up. With a 4 week shooting schedule, you certainly don’t want to waste half a day taking up one shot. But we did. It was worth it because I can’t imagine it any other way.
Rob then went on to discuss further the influences on the style of The Lords of Salem:
It wasn’t a conscious effort at first, but as I started working, it became apparent that the style of movie that was starting to form had a very European sensibility. As we were shooting, I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen in America but they’re going to fucking love it in Italy ” (laughs) And it’s funny because I was recently in Italy where they were screening it and they fucking loved it. (laughs) It was really funny, they loved it just like I thought they would. Saying, “It’s just like Argento.” There’s a few filmmakers that I thought, ”Whose movies just feel weird when nothing’s happening?” LikeSuspiria is weird when she’s walking through the airport. Nothing’s fucking happening, she’s just walking through the airport. Or any David Lynch movie, Polanski movies. Those are movies I’d look at that had that sense of dread at all times, even when nothing was happening, which I felt was important.
WM:You introduced the film by saying that half of the audience would like it and half of the audience would hate it–
RZ: Which is pretty much everything in life, I suppose.
WM: I approached the movie very cold, because I knew I was going to see it. And I fucking loved it. I absolutely loved it. But, it seems like you know it’s not going to be for everybody because it is very different from some of the other stuff you’ve done.
RZ: I’ve never really thought that anything I’ve done is for everybody. I remember everything that’s happened in my life but other people I don’t. I remember when White Zombie first started and everybody hated us. I remember our first big review, which I remember because it’s so funny, and I think I put it on t-shirts back then, and it was in Alternative Press, and the review said, “This is the worst band EVER”. There’ll be some billion dollar blockbuster that everyone loves, so I go see it, and I don’t like it. I know that my tastes are just not the norm.
WM: Going forward, do you think you’re going to explore a completely new genre that you’ve never handled before, or stuff more in the tone of The Lords of Salem, or more like House of 1000 Corpses?
RZ: The next movie I’m doing is TOTALLY different. The next movie I’m doing is a true life sports film called “The Broadstreet Bullies” about the Philadelphia Flyers, which is totally different so I don’t know what anyone’s going to think about that. And that, in a sense, is being setup as if it’s going to appeal to everybody, but then again, they hired me because they don’t want it to be that way. It’s a really rough story that they wanted to stay rough and were afraid that someone would Hollywood-ize it, but it was about tough thugs beating people up on the ice.
Rob talked some more about the marketing of his films and whether this different style could alienate American audiences:
I don’t think the audience would be, necessarily. I think it’s sort of become a catch 22. I think that the studios think that way, right out of the box. It was really funny dealing with the guys who had produced Paranormal Activity. Paranormal sat on someone’s desk for YEARS. It was unreleasable, no one was going to watch it, it looks like it shot with a security camera. Then it was a blockbuster so everyone wanted to make movies like that. But that’s not a typical blockbuster, and nothing ever is. I remember talking to people years ago about how nobody wants to see another pirate movie after Polanski’s pirate movie, until there was a blockbuster, and then it was, “Oh! A pirate movie! It’s so obvious!” People like different things. Remember Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? That became a blockbuster. That could have easily been another forgotten fucking kung fu movie that no one gave a shit about. People aren’t as close-minded as the studios like to think. Studios aren’t in the art business. In fact if you say that word, they practically throw you out the door. I said, “It’s kind of like a weird, arthouse horror movie” and they said, “DO NOT FUCKING SAY THAT IN THE PRESS.” I loved working with Lionsgate and Devil’s Rejects was a pleasure, but marketing it, they wanted to market it like it was Saw, because they had just had Saw. That wasn’t going to make anyone happy, the people who go see it are going to be disappointed and the people who wanted to see it won’t see it. The first poster was a severed head from ANOTHER movie. They showed me the poster and I asked, “Whose head is that? What the fuck is this stupid poster?” It was miserable.
WM: Obviously there are heavy 70′s Italian, Argento, Fulci influences, and those are things that you’re clearly a big fan of. As far as contemporary horror movies, are there any filmmakers that you’re currently really digging or movies that you’ve seen that helped influence things?
RZ: As weird as it sounds, I never watch current horror movies. Ever. That would literally be the last thing I would go see. My favorite movie last year was Amour. That’s the type of shit I would go see. I don’t give a shit about Spider-Man, or stuff that people think I rush out to see. I generally don’t care. I used to care. I would’ve shit my pants when I was 15 over The Hobbit or John Carter, but I don’t give a shit anymore. Not saying that they aren’t good movies, I just personally don’t care anymore. Everything that everybody thinks I like, I don’t care about. Everything that I love, no one thinks I like.
Lastly, Rob spoke about what he hoped audiences would take away from watching The Lords of Salem:
What I was trying to achieve with this movie was something that I don’t know if I can explain correctly, because everyone has their own reality that they see movies in. There was a feeling that I used to get, say when I was 16 years old, and obviously before the internet and DVD, when you would see things…like I had this one book called “Midnight Movies” and you’d see pictures from Pink Flamingos and A Clockwork Orange and wondered what this film could be. I remember when Night of the Living Dead was finally playing somewhere and I had just been reading about for my whole life, which seems absurd to have not been able to see it. I rode my bike, because I couldn’t drive yet, for four hours to get to see Night of the Living Dead at midnight. It was sort of that feeling of watching something you’d never seen before. The next time, it wasn’t a zombie movie like Night of the Living Dead, it wasThe Rocky Horror Picture Show and then it was Eraserhead, then it was A Clockwork Orange. It’s like everything was this new, trippy experience. I never criticized the movies, I never compared the movies, I never even thought in that way. I was such a bored person waiting to see something I’d never seen before, and that was the feeling I was trying to get with this movie. It made me feel really good one day, on set, I forgot about this until you brought it up, where Pat Quinn took me aside because she was so happy to be there. She was in tears and said, “I haven’t felt like this since I was on set with Richard O’ Brien making Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is what it was like. This was the crazy spirit we had back then when we were doing things and there were no rules.” And it was just so cool to hear that, because that’s how I felt, so that was sort of the goal, to create something like that. Something that reminded me of seeing one thing and wondering what kind of fucked up thing it could be.
WolfMan: Some of the imagery and effects going on in the film, the audience didn’t know how to digest what was happening other than to laugh. It was just so absurd and surreal. What was that like on set, dealing with these images? Was it hard to keep a straight face and play the scene as intended or were you taken out of it by the absurdity?
Sheri Moon Zombie: During the 16th hour of the working day, I’d have laughing fits. I’m notorious for having laughing fits. Rob will warn people “Here it comes, I can sense it.” There’s one specific scene, the last shot on the last day of filming and we had gone into the morning, and I could NOT stop laughing. Generally you’re working very hard, everyone’s professional. There are moments of levity. You kind of have to have that to keep you going throughout the day.
WM: There was one scene in particular where Jeff, you were on the phone right near the ocean having a conversation, that when I saw you up on screen, you reminded me a lot of Tom Atkins in The Fog. You channeled that nontraditional love interest/hero, so that was really cool.
Jeffrey Daniel Phillips: Kind of like the traditional “chick” of the movie? Is that what you were trying to say? (laughs)
WM: Exactly. Thank you for answering my question. (laughs) How aware were you of what Sheri was going through? You said you weren’t really involved in that absurdist, surreal kind of stuff.
JDP: I kind of knew it was taking place a little, but quite frankly, I did not witness a lot of it, so I think that helped. I was just trying to work out our relationship and maybe there’s some kind of drug thing in her past that’s slipping in. I’m trying to help and I don’t understand.
SMZ: I think that’s what your character probably thought, that Heidi was back on drugs.
JDP: Right. So it was kind of good that I didn’t see a lot of it. I think it worked well for us.
SMZ: And maybe she was! We don’t REALLY know.
WM: Obviously you’re known for the huge personality of Baby Firefly. With that character, you’re at a 10, just firing on all cylinders. What was it like to take those experiences and make a much more subdued character that you really had to tone it back with? The whole weight of the film rests on your shoulders because the audience has to connect with you. What were some of the differences in how you approached this to how you portrayed more of the Baby Firefly caricature?
SMZ: We were lucky because the first week of shooting was in sequential order. Most times, you just shoot the end first or something, so we did start with the radio station stuff. Very light, very funny. It was great, I loved it. Then we had the slow decline of Heidi, so it really worked for me. Even some of the sets, like the creepy buildings, the Lacey Street studios, and in the dressing rooms, we didn’t have nice trailers, everything was just grungy and grimy. The lack of sleep and everything like that just totally helped.
JDP: By the end of it, you’re a wreck, and it works in our favor. Emotionally, too.
SMZ: I think they wanted to work me extra hard.
Sheri then went on to speak a little bit more about Rob’s inspiration for the film:
We actually went to a wedding, ten years ago, in Massachusetts. We all went out there and killing time so we went to the hotel gift shop and were looking at books and Rob saw a book on the Salem Witch Trials, and he said he wanted to make a movie about that. Over the years, he would start writing, and between other projects, we’d talk about it here or there. When he really started writing it, I did not see the script until he was finished because he didn’t want me getting attached to anything that might be changed. We knew it was going to be a lot of work but that it was going to be really cool. I definitely had my concerns about things, especially the stuff towards the end of the movie, because I couldn’t envision what he was seeing. What he was imagining and what he wanted it to be. All the surreal stuff. Even until I was on set, I didn’t really get what was happening, and then we did have a motto for every take. It was “Let’s get weird”, and we did. (laughs)
And it worked, guys. This shit WAS weird. Weird and awesome. The Lords of Salem is in theaters April 19th.