In his sixth—and possibly final?—fright film Lords of Salem, filmmaker-slash-musician Rob Zombie, a onetime Manhattan resident, ventures into the dream realm.
By Rachel Sokol
While Rob Zombie is synonymous with the ‘90s heavy metal band White Zombie, or as a writer and director with horror movies full of gore, the eclectic former Parsons School of Design student is still shocking audiences—both in music venues and in movie theatres.
We spoke in a New York City office about his glory days as an NYC resident, his non-OCD, and, of course, the famously-haunted town of Salem, Massachusetts, where Lords of Salem was partly filmed.
The movie stars his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, as a Salem-based DJ who is haunted by her town’s creepy past when she listens to an eerie record she receives.
What were the ‘80s and ‘90s in New York like for you?
I think I was 18 when I moved here in ‘83 and moved about 10 years later. I lived in the Lower East Side—because that was the only place you could afford to live—and for stretch in Brooklyn. God, it was a long time ago. The first thing I do when I come back here is eat. I’m a vegan, so it’s not easy to find restaurants, but here there are great vegan restaurants everywhere. When I lived here I couldn’t imagine leaving it, ever, but the band (White Zombie, which he fronted) needed to move to California as a career thing, so that’s why I did it.
At the time, the rest of the world was like a foreign planet. But all the clichés about New York are true. I love the on-the-street action here. In LA, everyone just gets in their car, and goes to their special place and acts fabulous, and gets in their car and goes to the next place…there’s just no sense of reality, ever.
Sometimes that sense of reality can make you crazy, like when you’re sitting in a subway car for two hours thinking OK, this is a little too much reality in my life…
I liked that Lords of Salem wasn’t so gory; it felt more like a bad dream. That was your intent, right?
It’s not gory at all. My other movies are visceral, violent movies that are brutal and can be hard to watch. This movie’s not violent at all; it’s more of a psychological nightmare type of film. That doesn’t mean it’s easier to watch. Sheri, for instance, would watch this movie but she doesn’t like violent things, even if it’s a boxing movie like Raging Bull she can’t stand the physical violence. But she’ll watch something more cerebral, more mental. The whole movie’s pretty weird. I think Lords of Salem isn’t what (viewers) think it is.
(Laughs) That’s what I always say about it.
The poster art for the film shows Sheri in a skeletal, haunting, form. Did you draw that picture?
The art was basically my idea, but they tweaked it around. As soon as we shot that scene with the skull makeup and that sweater and crazy hair I knew that would be the image that would pop-out from the film.
Most horror fans know about Salem’s witchcraft-rumored history. What do the residents of Salem think of your film?
I don’t know! I’m sure they’ll be horrified. I hope they’re happy; I guess I’ll find out in a couple of days, right? I think they’ll be excited just to see their town on screen. I can’t even think of another movie that was filmed there, so they’ll be pleased to see their town, streets, and buildings…I hope.
Would you ever consider filming a movie here?
I filmed something in New York recently, a comedy special for Tom Papa. We did the standup stuff at Skirball Center and stuff on the streets. New York is an amazing place to film, but also a tough city to film in, so I don’t know.
Have you ever considered writing scripts or music for Broadway? Will we ever see ‘Halloween—The Musical?’
Well, yes. In a way, because my first film House of 1000 Corpses is really theatrical and wacky and ridiculous I always think it would translate well to Broadway much like Spider-Man or Spamalot or Hairspray, and that seems to be the trend with theatre: taking old things…With the younger generation, it seems like people want name-brand things. Kids don’t care as much about seeing Oklahoma or A Chorus Line, and they don’t even know what those are.
House of 1000 Corpses has enough of the ridiculousness that it could maybe be the new Rocky Horror for the stage or something. I was friends with a Broadway director who directed Beauty and the Beast and Aida and when I got to see the inner workings of what he did and stuff and it was cool…it’s not really my thing, but I could that one film translating, maybe.
You’re a Capricorn. Did you live up to your sign?
I think so, and the funny thing is a couple of my friends are not only Capricorns—like Howard Stern and my friend Wayne who does all my special effects—but we have the same exact birthday, January 12th. I guess Caps veer towards Caps.
Pretend I’m an SVA film student with delusions of grandeur. What advice do you have for me about surviving this business?
My advice is there are no rules about how to do this and no right way, but people try to create a system of how it’s going to work. Whatever I did was not any normal path. That’s the problem— the business side of it wants to create rules one can follow because they feel like they can make sense of it, but since essentially you’re talking about making art—as pretentious as that sounds—there are no rules.
Just like some big blockbuster movie that they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on goes in the toilet and then some weird little movie becomes a huge hit that makes no sense, there are no rules in this business.
You just have to stick with your gut and do what you love and as soon as you feel like you’re doing things because someone else told you it’s a good idea and you don’t believe in it, you’re fucked, you know?
Sheri has appeared in all your movies. What’s your secret to working together so well?
We’ve always done it that way! We kind of did everything together so our paths were so intertwined. My first film was her first film. She says it best: When we first met, I was always on tour and stuff and if she didn’t go on tour and be part of it, we’d never see each other. That’s just the way we’ve done things, and it has worked out great. It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t.
In June, you launch the tour for your new album. Do you have any pre-show rituals for good-luck?
I’m kind of the exact opposite of that. I’m not OCD, but I’m so chaotic that I’ll always do something differently, not even on purpose.
That’s the funny thing between me and Sheri, she’s so organized. She’s so precise in the way she does things that she could tell if I moved a coffee cup just slightly, and I’ll think I didn’t even realize there was a coffee cup there. I’m so oblivious.
What’s next for you? Is it true you’re stepping away from horror movies?
I just feel like I’ve done six movies in that world and that’s enough. I love movies, not just horror movies, and I feel like after a while you get pigeonholed with the outside world and in your own mind about what you’re doing and I don’t want to do that. That’s why the next several movies I have lined up, if they all go according to plan, are not remotely horror on any level. The next movie is called Broad Street Bullies about the Philadelphia Flyers NHL team and the next movie I have after that I can’t say yet, but that’s even more of a departure.
Is Sheri going to be in these movies as well? I have a hunch one is a book adaption because you strike me as an avid reader.
Ah! Maybe. Maybe, maybe. I want to keep it a surprise. My wife doesn’t look like a 70s hockey thug, but she’ll be in Broad Street Bullies somewhere. When looking into the future, I’m mostly thinking of the next movie or record and that never-ending quest for perfection.
For more info on the film and tour, visit www.robzombie.com.
Trackback from your site.