Q&A: “THE LORDS OF SALEM” Actresses Meg Foster and Dee Wallace
The city of Salem, Massachusetts probably would have stayed anonymous through history if it wasn’t for the notorious witch trails that took place there between 1691-92. Cinema has frequently found inspiration in these infamous events, and filmmaker/musician Rob Zombie returns to the screen this Friday with THE LORDS OF SALEM, perhaps his darkest and most audacious work to date, with veteran genre stars Meg Foster (from John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, pictured above with Zombie) and Dee Wallace (from Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING and others) among his cast.
Originating from a song on Zombie’s EDUCATED HORSES album, THE LORDS OF SALEM (released by Anchor Bay Films; see our review here) was originally intended to become a comic book with the help of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT’s Steve Niles. That project never saw fruition, and after directing the HALLOWEEN remake and its sequel, Zombie wanted to try something different and original. At this point, Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions offered him complete creative freedom on a film to be “supernatural in nature,” and Zombie revived the LORDS idea. Shot in the real Salem and in Los Angeles between October-December 2011, the film is a throwback to the psychedelic, satanic horror movies of the early ’70s.
Opening with a flashback to a 16th-century witches’ sabbath violently crashed by the local authorities, the film then switches to the present day. Heidi, played by Sheri Moon Zombie, is a recovering addict who DJs with Whitey and Jackson (Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree) at a local radio station. One day, she receives a mysterious wooden box containing a vinyl record and a note stating, “A gift from the Lords.” Assuming it’s a demo from a rock band, they put on the album, but it begins to play backwards, and the music, strange and sinister, causes Heidi to experience hallucinations and flashbacks to a past tragedy—heralding the return of the witches, seeking revenge for the atrocities that occurred over 300 years ago.
Zombie, who describes LORDS as “If Ken Russell directed THE SHINING,” has filled the film with familiar horror faces, also including Sid Haig, Michael Berryman and Andrew Prine. Fango caught up with Foster and Wallace (pictured below center with Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson) at last October’s Sitges Film Festival, right after the movie’s European premiere.
FANGORIA: Meg, your role as the head of the witches’ coven is small but pivotal; how did you prepare for it?
MEG FOSTER: I loved working with Rob Zombie. His crew was exceptional, and he created an amazing environment—he is the environment himself, totally free and constantly changing. I have never experienced this kind of direction before, perhaps because he also is a musician and a performer. I began feeling like I was a piece of the canvas, or paint on that canvas, and he just said how he wanted the scene done in a certain way, and I changed the color; it happened like that every day on the set.
I’m from New England and have been to Salem, as a child and as an adult, and when you live in New England, you know a lot about the witches. I also happened, when I was between grade one and two in school, to live on a road they called The Witch Lane, so I would say I was sort of mentally prepared for this role. But I and the rest of the cast were also helped by the extraordinary sets built by Jennifer Spence, who was the set designer for the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels. She created an environment that gave us all the backstory of the characters, and the costumes helped so much too; it was very simple to get into the part. It’s funny, because one day I was looking at myself in the mirror and thought, “Damn, I look like my brother!” But to prepare for the role, I did read a lot about Salem and the trials that started in northern Europe in the 14th century. It was a wonderful experience; I really enjoyed it.
FANG: LORDS OF SALEM has elements in common with Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY; was Zombie paying a sort of homage to that movie?
DEE WALLACE: Yes, it’s very similar; it has a similar flavor to it and a similar statement, but I don’t think Rob was intentionally tipping his hat to it.
FOSTER: I think the witches played by me, Dee and Patricia Quinn go through a similar religious journey, but I also think it wasn’t intentional.
FANG: Many critics say that Zombie is a very visual director, more interested in the visual aspects than the story…
WALLACE: I don’t agree with that. I don’t believe Rob chooses the visuals over the story, he uses his visuals to tell the story. He uses a lot of icons and images to make a statement about religion, and how it has limited people’s thinking and created fear. That statement seems to run all through this film.
FOSTER: I think story and imagery are two things that intersect with each other, but as Rob was also the writer, I believe that when it came to actually filming his script, there were moments where he realized he didn’t actually need dialogue, and therefore he sometimes took it out and chose to do it visually. Other times he decided to add it, because he was so generous that if he saw something Dee or I did with our own personalities, he changed the whole scene, as he wanted that side of our inner selves to come out. Rob is constantly creating; his process is like a stream that turns into a river and then an ocean. It’s not something he premeditates; it is just his own personality.
FANG: Dee, how would you describe this movie, and how was the experience of working with Zombie again after HALLOWEEN and voicing Trixie in THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO?
WALLACE: All I can say is that it’s Rob Zombie’s most audacious project. The last scene is worth the entire movie. It’s amazing, and a huge cinematic departure for him, as far as the look is concerned. Sheri Moon really had to step up in this film, and do some pretty amazing stuff out of her comfort zone. I believe she does her best acting to date. I can’t say enough about Rob, and how much I love him and appreciate him and love working with his creativity. He wrote it, directed and edited it, a lot of his music is in it, he did the poster for it… I mean, literally, everything is Rob. You know, he called a lot of us and we were there. He wrote the part for me, and it is finally not the typical role I get at my age; if I have to play one more f**king mommy, I’m going to lose my mind! You just want to work with him.
FANG: How do you feel about working in movies as brutal as Zombie’s?
WALLACE: When I’m doing it I love it, but when I watch it I turn away!
FANG: Your character at the beginning looks like a New Age guru, a very kind lady with some moments of humor, and then she turns evil. Were those two opposite sides of her in the script from the beginning?
WALLACE: Rob actually wrote this part for me, and he knew my other side in my real life—that I do healing work—so he incorporated that into my role. I am happy that there are moments of humor for my character, because it lifted the energy.
FANG: Can you tell us a bit more about your healing work? I know you have a radio show and just published a book…
WALLACE: Yes, the book is titled BRIGHT LIGHT: SPIRITUAL LESSONS FROM A LIFE IN ACTING. It’s a great journey through all of my experiences with the major directors and actors I’ve worked with, and through that are also all the lessons I have learned as a creative person: how not to give up your power, how to regain your energy and our joy about what we do. I think it’s very timely for anybody who is out there creating in every way; we’re creating our lives, for sure, and have to realize that nobody can take anything away from us, and if we think they have, we are the only ones who can change that perception around and move back into our joy and our manifestation again.
FANG: You’ve worked with many filmmakers in the fantastic genre, and special FX have changed a lot since movies like THE HOWLING and E.T. Is it more difficult to act now with all the digital FX, as opposed to the practical kind?
WALLACE: Well, I like to have a job, so I don’t mind if there are digital effects. I’m just as comfortable in front of a greenscreen as I was in front of E.T., which was a real object mechanically animated on the set; all the effects just become another character to me.
FANG: Satan in THE LORDS OF SALEM is presented as a sort of tentacled thing rather than a powerful being; did you discuss that at all with Zombie?
FOSTER: Well, he didn’t actually discuss the Satan material with me, and I wasn’t there when they filmed it, but a lot of Rob’s images are surreal and I totally accept them. You know, Satan is Satan, evil is evil, no matter what shape it has.
WALLACE: It’s an interesting question, and I think, if I know Rob well enough—and I very well may not—it’s kind of his statement that the Christ figure, the God figure or the Satan figure are less than what we created them to be—that these images of power that we’ve given our own power away to are actually quite smaller, or created in our minds as being a lot bigger than they really are. But as Meg said, Rob didn’t really discuss it with anybody.