Rob Zombie remembers the first time he saw Jaws. It was in 1975. He was a child at the time, probably in fourth grade by his recollections. “There wasn't anything scary happening,” he remembers. Yet Jaws became a legend of the horror genre it was, in a large part, thanks to the music. “John Williams was really the master of making…those notes, become a tangible thing,” Zombie says. “You hear the music and there's a shark even though there is visually no shark in the frame.”
Decades later, Jaws still stands out to Zombie as one of the best examples of film and music working together perfectly. “For 20 years afterwards, you couldn't get into a pool without someone singing the theme,” he adds.
Few people understand the power that music can have over people. Rob Zombie does. The director The Lords of Salem, due out in theaters on April 19, first made a name for himself as a musician. Actually, rock star is a more accurate description. In the early 1990s, he led the band White Zombie from underground act to rock radio mainstays. He eventually went solo and, ultimately, carved out a career as a director while continuing to release albums.
He made his directorial debut back in 2003 with House of 1000 Corpses and went on to helm the 21st century reboot of Halloween. Zombie has been straddling the worlds of film and music for a long time. In fact, he's releasing his latest solo album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, on April 23, just days after the film release and is headlining the Mayhem Festival tour this summer.
“Nothing can stir your brain like a piece of music,” says Zombie. “It can be a piece of music you haven't heard in 40 years and then someone plays it and all of a sudden you're transported back to your childhood. You can remember specific, tiny things.”
Zombie laments the lack of big screen earworms in today's hot films. “You can take a blockbuster movie, like The Dark Knight or Iron Man. Hum me the score,” he commands.
I'm stumped. “Superfans probably can, but the average person couldn't hum you the score to most popular movies,” he concludes.
“I think that now because of digital technology and whatnot, people are so visually oriented,” says Zombie. “They're cluttering the frame with so much insanity at all times that they forget that it can be simple.”
With The Lords of Salem, there is a certain simplicity to the visual storytelling. Sure, there are moments of psychedelic insanity, but it's tempered by quietly moody moments. As for the music, it's integrated into the story. In The Lords of Salem, radio DJ Heidi (played by Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a record that reveals horrors lurking within the town.
The director himself is from Massachusetts and grew up with knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials. Several years ago, though, he picked up a book on the events while in his home state. He read it in a hotel, “just to kill time.” That was the impetus for Zombie's film. “From there, it spiraled out of control. I would change the script everyday,” he says. “It became a runaway train while we were shooting.”
He's quick to point out that The Lords of Salem is absolutely fiction. “There's no real, historical fact in the movie,” Zombie stresses. It's set in present-day Salem, but elements of the town's past return.
As much as The Lords of Salem is a horror movie, it's also a music movie. In the early days of production, Zombie worked with the idea of music as a bearer of messages and of people who may be controlled by those messages. “As the film progressed, I got off that topic to an extent, left it in a little bit.”
The little nods to the world of rock fans are still there, from the banter between the DJs to the idea that a record could hold much more than music. The old adage “write what you know” is well at work in The Lords of Salem.
“I always try to set movies in situations that I know and understand,” says Zombie. “I thought a radio station would be a good backdrop. I know people like that. I know the radio station world.”