A short sequence of spooky notes is as critical as any character in Rob Zombie’s latest directorial endeavor, The Lords of Salem. The witchy strain lies at the core of all that goes horribly wrong for Heidi Hawthorne, the radio DJ, dog lover and former drug addict played by Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie.
Rob Zombie recalls standing in his back yard on the phone with John 5, the guitarist in his rock band, humming ideas back and forth to get that perfect passage of music for a film involving a 300-year-old witches' coven, Beelzebub and a blasphemous modern-day rock station.
"I truthfully don’t remember if he came up with it or if I came up with it, or if it was just a combination, but we were doing that non-stop," Zombie told Rolling Stone at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film screened for a rowdy crowd at the festival's Midnight Madness series.
"[We said] 'Let’s do something creepy, but doesn’t sound like we’re trying to be creepy. It has to be easily memorable, but has to be kinda droning; it has to sink into your head," he said, laughing.
But there’s nothing funny about this bizarre and menacing music that arrives on vinyl inside a wooden box at the Salem radio station, addressed from "the Lords" to Hawthorne. When played, the sound triggers flashbacks to Salem’s violent past in the 1690s.
And so begins a different kind of horror film for Zombie, whose previous forays in the genre include House of 1000 Corpses, Devil’s Rejects and two Halloween remakes.
"[The audience] probably thought it was gonna be loud and crazy and super violent and they should be hooting and hollering," Zombie says of the Toronto crowd's reaction. "But it’s not that type of movie. It’s a very slow, deliberately paced movie. And there was a certain point where I could feel the audience sink into that depressing mode of the movie, which is what you want. That’s when I knew that they were watching it in the spirit that it was made."
The soundtrack isn’t all cacophony. There’s a mix of songs from Rush, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and the Velvet Underground to Bach and Mozart, which will all be released on one compilation, says Zombie. "I’ll probably put the DJs talking, intro-ing the songs into all the different pieces."
With The Lords of Salem now completed – Anchor Bay has just acquired the U.S. distribution rights; the theatrical release date has not yet been determined – Zombie will hit the road on September 28th with his band until Christmas. He is currently in L.A. mixing a still-untitled new album, produced by Bob Marlette. "It’s the first time I’ve really been super excited about a record in about 10 years," he says.
Zombie is also working on his next film, The Broad Street Bullies, about NHL franchise Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s, a non-supernatural horror that sounds bloodier than The Lords of Salem. "Other teams were terrified to come to Philadelphia to play this team," says Zombie. "The great thing is you don’t even have to exaggerate because the real story is so insane.
"People forget, but back then fights would break out with every member on the team and police would have to come on the ice to break up the players. They’re playing with blood gushing down their faces; their uniforms are covered in blood. It was just like the Wild West."
So will Zombie ever find time to relax on a beach somewhere or sit at home for days on end doing nothing?
"If I have a couple weeks off, I start getting edgy," he says. "I think there’s an inborn paranoia a lot of people have that if you don’t do something, everybody’s gonna forget you’re alive."