Rob Zombie on searching for the most disturbing image his mind can conjure: ‘I honestly don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface on that’

Rob Zombie

With The Lords of Salem out now on Blu-ray, chats to it’s director  – Rob Zombie – to look back on the movie which had “wonderfully astute ways of creeping out even the most hardcore gore hound”. Rob also talks about “the current state of horror, and cult movies in general.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Rob Zombie Talks Cult Classics, the State of Horror, and The Lords of Salem!

by B. Alan Orange

The summer movie season is officially over and the fall awards season has yet to kick into full gear, so we, as film fans, are stuck in a weird sort of limbo that consists of last month’s leftovers and B grade schlock at the Cineplex this weekend. If you can’t muster up the energy needed to see Vin Diesel in the Drive-In classic-to-be Riddick, you could instead crank up the AC, grab any beverage of choice, and select The Lords of Salem on Blu-ray or DVD. Even better, it’s also available on VOD, which just takes a couple of clicks on the remote to enjoy!

Released in the spring to bewildered stares and mostly slack-jawed amazement, now is the prefect time to either see The Lords of Salem for the first time, or revisit its weird and wonderfully astute ways of creeping out even the most hardcore gore hound. Its one of directorRob Zombie’s best efforts to date, and as it makes its way home, its sure to collect a strong cult following yet unprepared for how well this thriller works its way past the skin and deep into your brain. Its like the best kind of album, it only gets better with each new listen.

We talked with Rob recently about just that, as well as the current state of horror, and cult movies in general. To celebrate this awesome release, join us for a conversation straight out of Hell with the master of the macabre, and then be sure to watch The Lords of Salem before this weekend is over! You won’t regret it!

Are you still searching for the most disturbing image your mind can conjure, or do you feel you’ve already found that, and maybe now…You are moving away from disturbing?

Rob Zombie: I honestly don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface on that. So, I will continue the search some day.

Do you feel sometimes that you would rather pull back, and go against the grain of what the audience expects? Is that more where your head’s at nowadays? Is it more fun to do something that’s not expected from you?

Rob Zombie: That’s really a double-edged sword, because once you get an audience, that’s what you’ve always wanted: An audience. But now that audience has expectations. And their expectations are for you to deliver the same things they like you for. You know, if you keep delivering the same thing, they’ll get bored. But if you don’t deliver the same thing, they’ll lose interest in you too. So I try to ignore all of that. For me, any film is going to be a long journey. I need to stay interested in it, to get it done. So you can only do the things that keep you going. Frankly, with every film I have ever made, people go, “Ah, I wish he had of done a movie more like that other one! Because I love that other movie!” But, having been there, I know! No one was there when the other movie originally came out. No one liked it when it came out. But now they love it, and it paves the way for everything else. None of the films I have done seemed like they landed at the time, but now they all have big followings.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I think is going to happen with The Lords of Salem…

Rob Zombie: That’s what I figure. I believe that too. You’d like to put out a movie, and upon release, have everyone go, “Oh, I love it so much! Its so great!” But I have never had that happen with a movie. Nor have I had that happen with records. So, its just kind of the way it goes, when you do things that are less conventional. I have people going, “Man, I love House Of 1000 Corpses. Why didn’t he do that again?” But when I put out House Of 1000 Corpses, I couldn’t find anyone that liked it. Nor could I find one review that was even slightly positive. The Lords of Salem has been the best-reviewed film I have had. The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the main stream press, it has been one of my most embraced films. The Internet has been the villain here. Certain people will say things, and then everyone else repeats it. Sometimes you’ll read something, and you see that he is spitting out a bunch of stuff as fact, and it becomes clear that he didn’t even see the movie. He figures that’s what everyone else is saying, so he says it too. But that’s not what movies are about. That’s not what I grew up on, and that’s not what I am attempting to do. I am not trying to make a crowd pleasing mainstream audience movie. I don’t know that I could do that if I wanted to.

Well, speaking as a fan, and someone who appreciates art above commerce, we don’t want you to do that. Say what you will about the movies you put out, it’s clear that you have a distinct voice and an original voice, and your work evokes heated commentary and discussion, which is what art should do. That’s not to say you’re out there making “art movies” though…Does it get frustrating from that standpoint?

Rob Zombie: I don’t get frustrated with people’s response to things. I’m immune to that. I get frustrated at the difficulty of getting things made. Right now, I could call ten different people and go, “I got an idea for a movie. It’s a spooky house, and there is the soul of a dead girl living in the house.” They all go, “Where do we sign up? Here’s the check.” There are these waves of certain things, if you want to jump on board with it. But it’s easier to go with another idea, that is more concise, but no one wants that original idea. They just want more of the same. Maybe it’s always been like that, and it’s just my reality now. Maybe you can talk to any filmmaker from any decade, and they will tell you the same story. But now more than ever, that’s all it is. More of the same. They don’t want to support you doing something different. You’ll get kicked out of someone’s office for even saying that.

That leads directly into Lords of Salem. It has your voice. You can tell it’s a Rob Zombie film and no one else’s. How hard is it to keep your artistic integrity in the studio environment that prevails today?

Rob Zombie: Its difficult at times. It wasn’t difficult with The Lords of Salem, because I had a contract in place that said I had control. And I wanted to make something that, to me, was the type of film I missed, that I liked. I wanted to make a trippy, psychedelic, European style movie, you know? I would have made the film even weirder if I had the time. But no one could interfere with it, it couldn’t wind up in the trash, because contractually I had control. It was when I was trying to make the Halloweenfilms that it was more difficult. Because contractually I didn’t have any control. So, I had to fight for every little thing. I sometimes look back at those moments as being brutal, because its hard enough making movies under the greatest of circumstances. But when every day is just hours of arguing on the phone, or there are problems on set…Its just a drain. The only way you’ll get through it is if you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. But then your vision keeps getting attacked and clouded, and muddied. That makes it the less you feel like you can deliver what you’re supposed to deliver.

How do you personally feel about Halloween II now? I know when it came out it was slammed, but even at the time, you could tell it was something very different and special. It was unique in the reboot/remake/sequel kind of genre. Here, removed from it a couple of years, people that truly love and understand horror movies look at it as a triumph. And I think it gets new fans every day. It almost, in some ways, feels as though you snuck in the back door to deliver a real, true Rob Zombie movie that is different than anything we’d ever seen in that franchise, or any other horror follow-up.

Rob Zombie: Yeah, that was my goal. I have a goal for every one of my films. House Of 1000 Corpses? That was my first film, so it was just chaos. You know? I actually saw a little bit of it on TV the other night, and I hadn’t seen it since it came out. I thought, “You know what? This is kind of cool.” At the time, I considered it a glorious failure. I just didn’t have the time to do what I wanted to do. Looking back, its pretty unique, arguably. With The Devil’s Rejects, I didn’t want to do a sequel to that. I wanted to do something different. The same thing happened withHalloween. The first Halloween was tough. I thought I needed to satisfy many things. When I got a call to do that, they didn’t know what they wanted. They didn’t care if Linus was a character, they didn’t care if Dr. Loomis was a character. They didn’t care about any of that. They had the name Halloween, and they wanted a Halloween movie. But I thought it was important to install some of the classic stuff. I didn’t want to bury the other movie, I just wanted something close to it. This film, for me, feels good. But with Halloween II, I thought, “Fuck it!” I wanted to do something that was completely off the rails. I don’t give a fucking shit about what anyone says, because that’s when you do great stuff. I love that movie. It was one of the few times I felt really proud. Some people love it, some people hate it, but of course it’s not for everybody. Over the years, it has been weird, like you said, like it was a back door…The most people come up to me and go…Its funny, I get more comments were people are apologizing for stuff. People come up to me and go, “I don’t care what anyone says! This is the greatest movie ever made!” The people that get it, get it. The people that don’t? They really don’t. So, it’s like that with everything.

I think the pizza scene sticks out in my head more than anything else.

Rob Zombie: Yeah! I don’t know. I think the movies that stick around for a long time are the ones that don’t connect right away. I know with some of the other films, these other franchises and remakes, when Halloween became a hit, they moved right onto A Nightmare on Elm Streetand Friday the 13th. That’s the reason why those movies went into production. And they tried really hard to deliver what they saw the fans wanted. And I don’t think the fans responded to those very well. Even though they felt like they were serving up exactly what those fans wanted. Its how you have to go after this creatively. You have to bring what you are going to bring to it, and let the chips fall where they may. That’s all it ever really was. People forget. Every single horror person right now will put John Carpenter’s The Thing on a pedestal and bow down to it. But when that movie came out, everyone hated it, and it was crucified, and it was a disaster. But that’s what happens when you don’t understand something right away.

But in today’s world, some of the remakes that are released, that people hate, are never going to get the love The Thing did down the line. Like the remake of The Fog? No one is ever going to profess a love for that. It will never be put on a pedestal. But the difference is that in the last ten years, these remakes were made because the studios were money hungry. I think we’re actually seeing a move away from that now. I don’t know if you think that is true.

Rob Zombie: Yeah. I definitely think the best thing you can have is a movie that polarizes the audience. People either come out loving it like it was the greatest thing they ever saw, or walking out like they fucking hated it. In the case of something like The Fog, you walk out and go, “Eh, whatever.” People don’t think of it in terms of good or bad, its just simply forgotten. I feel that’s the worst thing to be. I would rather have people hating what I do. Like, passionately discussing why they hate it, then not ever considering it. When things are polarizing films, which is most of the stuff I loved as a kid, movies that people considered crap…They find their audience. It’s not for everybody. But movies are never for everybody. In terms of the movies I’ve made over the last couple of years, they were never for everybody. It was never like that. A lot of those cult movies that are now so revered? Its because they had a cult following. They weren’t mainstream. They weren’t for everybody.

I think studios are too quick to label a movie that hasn’t even come out yet a cult movie. Its like the Evil Dead, they sold that as the greatest cult movie before audiences even got a chance to see it. You can’t do that.

Rob Zombie: A cult movie you can’t make. It just happens. I think every cult movie is…Someone was trying really hard to make a great movie. For whatever reason, they made one that was bad, or it was weird…It doesn’t matter. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it doesn’t matter, everyone involved with making those wer trying to make something great! You know? I remember, I was reading this interview withDyanne Thorne about Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. She thought they were making something where she was going to be considered a fantastic actress from it. Just from that. That is what you need. It’s not like, “Oh, let’s go camping and make a cult movie while we’re at it.” That’s not what it was. You take it seriously, and you try to make something that connects, or doesn’t connect. You just don’t know. It’s all a gamble.

Now, I’m almost out of time, but I was asked to talk with you about The Great American Nightmare. Can you tell me a little bit about what you have planned there? And what kind of mazes we can expect? ({ for information)

Rob Zombie: Aside from the fair and everything else, we have mazes. There is one based onThe Haunted World of El Superbeasto. There’s another movie that wasn’t understood when it came out. Its in 3D, you get the glasses, and the cartoon comes to life in front of you.

That’s a movie that is finding a whole huge audience on Netflix.

Rob Zombie: Yeah. It’s funny what changes in movies from when they first come out. Like, if you jump back to House Of 1000 Corpses, people now go, “Oh, my god, its Walton Goggins! Oh, my god, its Rainn Wilson!” Its fun when people become famous after the fact. It changes how people view the films, too. It’s really weird. You know? At first, its like, these are all people we don’t care about. But now, its filled with stars. So, there is that The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. A movie that has really blown up over the years, again, it’s not for everybody. There is a maze based on House Of 1000 Corpses. It’s the murderer ride from House Of 1000 Corpses blown up into a full-blown trip. Its full of real actors, and things are jumping out, and things are bugging you. The third one is The Lords of Salem maze. So those are the three big mazes we have built for people to walk through. It probably takes about 40 minutes to get through the whole thing, so it’s a pretty big thing that we’re building.

Are you going to have friend chicken in there?

Rob Zombie: I’m sure there will be fried chicken in there. There will be enough Captain Spalding that it makes people happy. I don’t know if they will be selling it directly in the maze, but that is probably a pretty good idea.