If there is one horror director who is unafraid of taking major risks in Hollywood, it has to be Rob Zombie, and he proved his level of fearlessness at the recent Toronto International Film Festival premiere of his latest horror film, The Lords of Salem, to a fueled-up crowd!
The Lords of Salem (review) was no exception since it has been dividing audiences with its slow-burning, non-narrative and visceral-heavy elements; and critics and viewers have both equally praised and trashed the film that is unlike any other film Zombie has done before.
Dread Central had the chance to attend a roundtable interview with the charismatic director at the festival to talk about his latest project, his battle with the studio system and his reasons behind making the abstract Lords of Salem in the first place.
When asked if his script and vision for the film were already pre-meditated, Zombie candidly admitted that he rarely stuck to the script while filming.
“I don’t always go, ‘Here’s the script. We’re going to stick to this no matter what’ because sometimes things change and it never goes as planned. The movie kept getting trippier and trippier, and I liked that because I didn’t know how many chances I would get to make a movie where I had complete control to do whatever I wanted. No studio would ever want to make this movie. They would be like, ‘What the fuck is that all about at the end?’ As the movie progressed, I wanted the vibe of the whole thing to have impact on the audience because that’s how I would feel when I watched David Lynch, Cronenberg or a Kubrick movie. I wanted people to feel like they were in the movie for the journey rather than just watching images that are spooky.”
Notoriously known for his plot-altering unrated director’s cuts, Zombie also talked about the possibility of a longer cut and what he also felt of the crowd at the premiere.
“This is probably the final cut. If I got more editing time, I might go back and tweak things here or there, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. The audience reactions were so hard to gauge because I felt like there was a moment where it turned in a good way. No one knows what the movie is so they had no idea what they were going to watch. I think with the nature of the Midnight Madness premieres, everyone thought it was going to be a crazy, fast-paced movie, and I could feel at some point there was this weird shift and everyone stopped trying to make funny comments and they started paying attention. People were then locked into not what they thought it was going to be but rather what it actually is. I was a little worried at first because I knew people were waiting for someone’s head to get chopped off or something crazy like that,” Zombie admitted.
During the Q&A at the premiere, Zombie had quickly revealed that many beloved character actors like Clint Howard, Udo Kier and Camille Keaton filmed scenes that were unfortunately left on the cutting room floor for the final cut, and he elaborated further about this in the interview.
“There was a lot of stuff cut out. The whole beginning of the movie had a lot more 1692 stuff. Sid Haig and Michael Berryman are in the movie about two seconds, but there was a whole lot more with them that we never got to do. I was kind of bummed by that. There was also a lot of stuff that we used that didn’t make the final cut.”
One of the actors who also filmed an important role in the film and was cut out happened to be late actor Richard Lynch. Zombie went on to talk about working with Lynch and how he came to the conclusion that none of the footage he shot with Richard was suitable for the film.
“The Richard [Lynch] situation is actually very sad. I really liked Richard, and when we worked together on Halloween, he was phenomenal. When he came in to do Lords of Salem, I could tell he was not in great health. He was actually Jonathan Hawthorne in the film. Richard was basically blind and he showed up to shoot his scenes, and I would have no idea how to shoot because he couldn’t see. I tried to shoot around that, but it just didn’t work. I tried to use him, and I thought we would get back to it. Sadly, I had to cut around his scenes. He was a nice guy, and I’m glad I got to work with him.”
Rob then went on to talk about his cast and playfully joked about one of the most horrifying things he had to deal with on set: the women fighting over their wardrobe.
“With a cast with all women, getting them into wardrobe is a bit of its own horror movie. They all don’t want to wear anything. We had hundreds of clothes, but Sheri [Moon Zombie] was like, ‘I found only two things that are acceptable.’ Pat Quinn flew in from London and was like, ‘I can’t wear any of these frocks! They’re hideous!’ Dee Wallace hated her clothes and Judy [Geeson] hated her clothes. They were all literally fighting with each other and stealing each other’s clothes. It was insane,” he joked.
For years it has been widely documented how Rob Zombie had struggled in the past directing studio projects like the Halloween remakes and how they compromised his vision many times while cutting and shooting the films. Zombie candidly admitted his grievances with working with studio executives and how he didn’t budge once to accommodate their demands for Lords of Salem.
“The movie I explained and the movie I made were two different things. I think it seemed like a movie about witches. It seemed very conventional. When the producers saw the movie, they were like, ‘This has no relation to what we were told!’ I had just gone off the rails, but that was my deal. I could do whatever I wanted,” he stated bluntly.
“Halloween 2 is pretty in your face violent because I thought that movie had a certain expectation of what people wanted. But with [Lords of Salem] it’s original. What I love about European movies is that the audience is a little more patient. The movies are slower, and with studio system if something gory doesn’t happen in five minutes and if anything is ever confusing, they freak the fuck out. Who cares if the audience is confused for a minute? They’ll keep watching. Look at Inception. How huge was that? People loved it, and that just proved to me audiences aren’t stupid. Studios think viewers just want to be spoon-fed popcorn entertainment, and I just don’t believe that. I think people are much smarter than executives think they are.”
One of things that makes Zombie’s Lords of Salem different from any other film he has directed is that the film lacks any narrative whatsoever. We asked about his decision for this, and he had no problem responding to what was thought to be a “hard” question to answer.
“I’m not a fan of super complicated plots. Sometimes movies just get so convoluted with the plot and I zone out of the movie and all I see is screenwriters thinking they are super clever. I like movies that have time to breathe. I was hoping people would be patient enough to let it breathe and not feel like there has to be a twist and turn every so often. There were notes expecting me to have the supporting characters rescue Heidi from the witches, and that wasn’t going to happen. I like movies that end with a bummer. Why do we have to leave a movie feeling good? Sometimes it’s good leaving feeling like shit.”
After the screening many fans have already been wishing thinking for a sequel, but Zombie suggests to those fans to not hold their breath for a future installment.
“Will I make a sequel? Probably not. That hasn’t even crossed my mind. There’s so many other stories to do, and sometimes sequels are weird. Both times I did sequels it was not my first choice to do that. But it is so hard to get money to make a movie that it seems psychotic to turn the chance down. When I initially did The Devil’s Rejects, I just said, ‘Sure, I’ll take your money; yet, I will actually make a completely different movie and it’s not really a sequel.’ I did the same thing with Halloween 2.”
Concluding our interview, Zombie talked about his upcoming future projects and the status of his long-time passion project Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Tyrannosaurus Rex is nowhere. The next movie I’m working on now is Broad Street Bullies, and that’s a totally different thing; it’s about the story of the Philadelphia Flyers winning the Stanley Cup in the Seventies. I couldn’t pass up the chance to do a violent hockey movie in the Seventies.”
We thank Rob for taking the time to talk with us, and if you live in the Toronto area, make sure to catch The Lords of Salem at the Toronto International Film Festival and help spread the word.
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