Dee Wallace on Rob Zombie: “His films are a unique vision into the horror genre that you don’t see most of the time.”

Dee Wallace

In the run up to the Blu-Ray and DVD release of The Lords of Salem on September 3 in the USA, sat with one of the female starts of the movie – Dee Wallace (The Howling, E.T., Halloween) – to discuss working on the movie, what it’s like to work with director Rob Zombie, and what she enjoys about working in the horror genre as a whole.

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Interview: Dee Wallace Talks Lords of Salem DVD

Written by: Karen Benardello

People have long sought to freely express their own unique perspective and ideals without the fear of persecution or ridicule by their peers. Not only did the accused witches of the Salem witch trials in the 1690s yearn to explore their religious beliefs without the fear of being targeted by the government or their neighbors, but writer-director Rob Zombie has also fearlessly expressed his unique opinions on society in his bold horror movies. The filmmaker has reunited with frequent collaborator, actress Dee Wallace, to explore the lengths people will go to seek revenge after they’ve been wronged, in the horror thriller ‘The Lords of Salem.’

‘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?

Wallace generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Lords of Salem’ and her role of Sonny over the phone. Among other things, the actress discussed how she always enjoys working with Zombie on his films, including his hit 2007 reimagining of ‘Halloween,’ as he is always open to listening to the actors’ suggestions on their characters’ arcs; how she enjoys working alongside the writer-director’s wife in his movies, as she openly helps welcome everyone onto the set; and how she’s attracted to films, particularly in the horror genre, that allow her to showcase her emotional range and truly commit to the characters’ pain and agony.

ShockYa (SY): You play Sonny in the horror thriller ‘The Lords of Salem.’ What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?

Dee Wallace (DW): Oh, it wasn’t the role, it was Rob Zombie. I did ‘Halloween’ for Rob, and I would do anything for him. He’s just a creative genius and an incredibly nice guy.

So it was fun for me because he wrote the part for me. In my real life, I do a lot of healing work, so he made her a self-help guru. I thought that was fun and tongue-in-check. That was my facade and cover-up.

But I love the part and the fact that I got to play the arc that I did. I was happy to play some different colors that I have not had the opportunity to do a lot. But I really enjoyed the role, mostly because it was with Rob.

SY: Like you mentioned, you previously worked with Rob on ‘Halloween,’ which led to him writing the role of Sonny for you. What was the process of working with him, as both a scribe and helmer, on ‘The Lords of Salem?’

DW: Well, working with Rob is always a joy, because he’s always in the moment. It’s a beautiful collaboration of effort. When I start out in the film, I’m this perky little cute blonde with all this energy.

But once we give her over to Satan, I went to Rob and said, “Everything in me says I can’t look this way anymore. I can’t be this way anymore, because it’s just a big act.” I needed to change the look, and he just looked at me and said, “Okay!” (laughs) I said, “I need to do it before this next scene,” and he said, “Well, you’ve got 15 minutes.”

There are a lot of directors who wouldn’t be that brave and into the actors’ thinking, and be willing to change things in a moment’s notice. But I think that’s why Rob captures the brilliance that he does-he is in the moment.

I know when I did ‘Halloween’ with him, things would come up, and he would say, “With this take, everyone bring in what you want to do.” Then we’d expand some of that stuff. It’s just a beautiful collaboration. He has a respect for everybody, and he really loves his actors. It’s always a great experience working with him.

SY: With Rob allowing you to offer those suggestions, were you given a creative freedom in building the character of Sonny?

DW: Well, it always does, if you feel like you have a director who does that. I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and starred in a lot of my own films, so if I have an idea, I always come forward with it. Sometimes it’s received, and sometimes it isn’t. But if you don’t come forward with it, then nobody can vote on it.

The difference about Rob is he encourages that. Most directors, especially if you have my body of work, are open to listening to anything you bring forward. But Rob really encourages everybody to do that.

SY: Rob’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, plays the lead character in the film, Heidi. What was it like working with her on the set?

DW: I adore Sheri; I think she’s a beautiful lady. I just love both of them. I love them individually, and I love their partnership. I would describe Sheri as a gentle soul; that’s the Sherri that I know. Of course, I don’t know her intimately, but I felt at home with her. I also felt welcomed by her, and she was so available to everybody. So it was a beautiful working experience all the way around.

SY: ‘Lords of Salem’ was filmed independently on a low budget. How did that influence the way the movie was shot overall?

DW: Well, having a low budget always brings forth challenges. The biggest challenge was that we had to lose some scenes, and shorten some other scenes. We couldn’t cover as much as we wanted to.

But I’ve done some of the biggest and smallest budget films. A lot of times, a more limited budget creates or invites even more creativity. Sometimes, when you have too much money, the creativity actually suffers.

I think a good example is the new ‘Superman’ movie (‘Man of Steel’). They had so much money that the second half just went on and on with special effects. It got to the point where you said, “Somebody kill somebody, so we can be over with this.”

We had a scene in ‘The Howling’ where we lost the generator. We had to get the scene, as it was our last night on the ranch. So everybody pulled their cars up, turned on their headlights, and that’s how we lit the scene. It turned out to be one of the best scenes of the movie.

Sometimes the creativity of man really comes forward, and that’s what Rob is so incredibly brilliant at doing. He’s innovative and not afraid to go against the studios and do his own thing and make his own statement. His films are a unique vision into the horror genre that you don’t see most of the time.

SY: Like you mentioned, you appeared in ‘The Howling,’ as well as several other popular cult horror films, including ‘The Hills Have Eyes (1977)’ and ‘Cujo.’ What is it about the horror genre that you enjoy so much?

DW: Well, I enjoy working. (laughs) It seems like the horror genre found me; I didn’t go looking for it. (laughs) But I’m a good screamer and crier, and I have a full range of emotions, and I love to play an arc. All those things come together really well in the horror genre.

The things I’m good at were perfect for the movies of the week in the ’80s , because they were all about women getting beaten. Those films called for an actress with a full emotional range. I don’t think it’s just horror films that I’m attracted to; it’s anything with a big emotional range, where you can truly commit to the pain and agony and the tears. I’m good at that, and I like it. I feel like I’m really acting when I get to do that. To do little, light comedies all the time would not rock my boat so much.

SY: The film played at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a positive initial response from critics. Were you able to attend a screening of the movie at the festival? What kind of response have you received from audiences, who saw the movie at the festival or when it was released in theaters in April?

DW: I was not able to go to Toronto. But the film also opened at Sitges, the big film festival in Spain, where I was honored last year. I’ve also done a lot of science-fiction conventions since then, and people just go nuts about it. True horror buffs can see Rob’s homage to the ’70s that he does with it.

I just did an event in England, and the Blu-ray is already out over there. Lots of people visited me at the table to talk about it and tell me how much they loved it. Some true Rob Zombie fans expect his old style, but almost all of them go, “Wow, it’s really different. We really respect Rob for going out and doing what he wants to do in a different way.” If you’re a Rob Zombie fan, you’re not going to be disappointed.

SY: Speaking of the Blu-ray and the DVD, were there any special bonus features that you participated in for the home releases?

DW: Well, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen it yet! (laughs) I don’t know what bonus features are on it. I know there was a behind-the-scenes camera there all the time, so I’m sure I was included in some of the bonus features. But I can’t even remember if I did an interview for the behind-the-scenes content. There was a lot going on, capturing the making-of the film. So I’m sure that’s a big part of it.

SY: Besides ‘The Lords of Salem’ home release, do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?

DW: I’m starting a wonderful film in September called ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard,’ which I’m looking forward to. It’s another horror film!