Many musicians have thought themselves filmmakers — or, worse, actors — but few have actually delivered the goods the way Rob Zombie has. In addition to having a new solo album out, the former White Zombie frontman has a new film: “The Lords of Salem,” his sixth and a slight deviation from the brutal, unpleasant and divisive horrors he’s made (including “The Devil’s Rejects” and two “Halloween” entries). But it still offers naked witches, freaky spirits and Satan’s toddler — dark things you wouldn’t expect from someone who, in person, is jolly, friendly and approachable.
You said with this you wanted to try something different. Did you mean different from the “Halloween” films or just in general?
Just in general. I felt like the last group of films I did were in the same wheelhouse. I just wanted to break out of that within the structure of what we were making. I hate that phrase “horror director.” It sounds so limiting. I just want to make movies. That’s why my next film isn’t even remotely a horror or genre film.
Can you talk about it?
It’s called “The Broad Street Bullies.” It’s the true story of the Philadelphia Flyers. Which seems, wow, why would you make that? But it’s a crazy story about when they formed the team they had this idea to make it the toughest team that ever existed. And that’s how they won the championship. Literally other teams were scared to play them.
“The Lords of Salem” had a lower budget than you’ve had recently. Was that the plan?
That was a freedom thing. Because after doing the two “Halloween” films, which were with Dimension films — that’s a very hands-on studio. So you’re always fighting to retain some sense of what you’re trying to do. But with this film I had complete control, contractually. That was the appeal. Working with a small budget is kind of a drag. But the other part was great.
Those films don’t seem too constrained by studios, though.
I’ve had what is probably a ridiculous amount of control at all times. No one’s told me who to cast and so forth. It’s more about the battle for control. It’s so tiring. You’re working long days, 14-15 hours, and you’re on the phone at lunch, constantly fighting. It’s mental torture. So to not have to do that was a relief.
This film is less gory than your other films, with a lower body count.
I don’t really think my films are that gory. I think “Halloween II” is pretty violent, but it’s not that gory. I’m not a fan of gore, necessarily. I think when things become too gory it just becomes cartoony — it becomes like a bloody Roadrunner cartoon. This one isn’t that violent. It’s not even that vulgar, in terms of the language. I tried to make it different. The art direction’s a lot cleaner and sparser, more composed. It’s the opposite of what I normally do.
In your films, evil isn’t always defeated. The endings are usually downers, even when the heroes live.
I think that comes from the fact, when I was a kid watching movies, the movies I would always love, and I don’t know why, would always have endings like that. Even when the bad guys got their way, say in “Bonnie and Clyde,” there was some heroic ending where I felt bad for them. Back then movies didn’t always have happy endings. This was my big thing with “Halloween” that got misunderstood. I did a lot of research on what makes a serial killer. Obviously they’re sociopaths. It’s like that born-bad theory: they’re already wired wrong. But they usually have a really messed-up life. With “Halloween” you’re not supposed to feel bad for Michael Meyers, but there’s supposed to be a sympathy for him.
You tend to cast a lot of the old cult movie stars, some of whom haven’t worked in ages, like “To Sir, With Love”’s Judy Geeson and “They Live”’s Meg Foster. Do you tend to become friends with them?
Sometimes. I used to moreso in the early days. But then I realized that unfortunately it creates weirdness. Because you create friendships, but if they’re not right for this movie and don’t use them, they immediately think something’s wrong. What did I do man? Nothing you just don’t happen o be a 60 year old woman. Now I keep more distance than I used to.
Were there non-horror film influences on this?
Well, there’s Ken Russell. But even something like “Barry Lyndon.” The pace of it is so odd. At first it seems like, “This movie is painfully slow.” But it feels like they shot the movie in 1776, just the way it unfolds. Not that [its influence] is particularly noticeable here. Polanski’s “Macbeth,” that was a big one. That was the only movie I could think of where I liked the way witches came across on screen. They just semed nasty and dirty and real. They weren’t sexy, they weren’t spooky-witchy.
The ending montage [spoiler], where Heidi is taken to hell, is a pretty unusual way to end the film.
I thought how do we show this — how do we show her mind being ripped apart as she’s transported. I think if you’re going to hell, it’s not going to be an easy trip. How can I show her life being ripped apart. Everything you see in the montage is somewhere else in the film. Everything Heidi ever took in in her life is being ripped out through her brain super-fast, until she’s vacant. That’s why at the end of the movie she has no tattoos, she has nothing. She’s reborn as this Satantic Virigin Mary. You can’t show something the incomprehensible in comprehensible terms.