‘Lords of Salem’ Director Rob Zombie Talks About Witches, Hell, and Strippers

Brent Simon
Movie Talk

When you take "Zombie" as a surname, you might seem to be limiting your career options, not unlike getting a face tattoo. Yet Rob Zombie, who burst onto the scene as frontman for the theatrical hard-rock act White Zombie in the late 1980s and early '90s, has carved out not only a successful entertainment career but also a varied one as a musician, multimedia producer, filmmaker, and graphic novel impresario.

His latest film as writer-director, however, "The Lords of Salem," is a horror offering right in his experiential wheelhouse. When Massachusetts radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (wife Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a package with mysterious music, it triggers headaches, hypnosis, and visions of her town's violent past. Is Heidi, a recovering addict and trauma survivor, slipping back into madness, or is something even more sinister afoot? Recently Rob Zombie spoke one-on-one with me about his film, sunny memories of Salem, what hell is to him, and what's next professionally.

Brent Simon: The title for "The Lords of Salem" is taken from a song you did. Is one medium a more fertile breeding ground for ideas than the other, or are music and film separate and distinct creative endeavors?

Rob Zombie: Well, they're separate and distinct fields for me, but I think there's more freedom in music, and it's a quicker thing to do. With music, even when we're making the record and it's the final product, there's like two or three people involved. I can get together with the guys and say, "Let's write a whole bunch of songs, let's work out these ideas." But with a movie it's such a huge production and there's so much ramp-up to get it to go, that you feel like it's a miracle you're back on set, because it's so hard, even with the lower-budget movies.

BS: Then what was the genesis of the idea for "Lords"?

RZ: I was back in Massachusetts attending somebody's wedding and poking around a gift store and found a book on hunting witches or something like that. Reading it, and all the information about the witch trials, which as a kid I certainly didn't take in, got the ball rolling. I thought Salem and something with this as the backdrop would really make for a cool movie. And I couldn't really think of any movie that hadn't used it in a factual way, because there's been a lot of PBS movies and things like that where they tell the true story. But I just wanted to use it as an interesting backdrop and go crazy with it.

BS: One of the background clips on television in Heidi's apartment touches on this interesting idea that "the embrace of pleasure keeps violent impulses at bay."

RZ: [Laughs.] I'm trying to remember -- is that when she's having her palm read, or...? Everything like that [is a result of] reading the stuff on the witch trials, because it seemed like the Puritans left England because they wanted to have an even stricter religion to go by. So if someone was weird in any way, they were like, "Witch! You're done." I had the idea that the witches were these weird hippie women out in the forest just giving in to their natural instincts and impulses, and that's why they had to be destroyed.

BS: Your films have delved into psychological horror to great effect. What is hell to Rob Zombie, though?

RZ: Hell to me is waiting in line at the bank or something like that. [Laughs.] You know what hell is to me -- when you get on the plane and you're on the runway and ready to go and it doesn't move. And it's like, "What just happened? Are we going to literally sit on this runway for seven hours until the bathroom is overflowing and the passengers are revolting?" One time I had just done the Letterman show and we had to rush to the airport and fly to do this other show. And I kid you not, we get on the plane and of course, because we're going to Las Vegas, some drunk chick who you know was a stripper wouldn't take her feet down off a seat. She starts an argument and then we're stuck on that frickin' runway for hours because of some drunk stripper -- fat as hell, too, I should've mentioned that. People get weird on planes; they don't think about what a pressure cooker a plane is. And they really shouldn't serve alcohol on planes, I think. [Laughs.]

BS: Is "Tyrannosaurus Rex" your next film?

RZ: No, the next film is "Broad Street Bullies." I'm a huge hockey fan, but particularly then, back in the 1970s, when that story takes place. That's why I love it so much. But I don't know when that's going to go into production because I have a lot of live touring dates I have to do first. They start June 29, heading the Mayhem Tour all through the U.S., and then after that we head to South America and branch out throughout the rest of the world.

See the trailer of 'The Lords of Salem':