The Lords of Salem. 2012. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Geeson, and Meg Foster. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
★★ (Blu ray release)Always with my unpopular opinion, I’m a constant fan of Rob Zombie’s work in film. I grew up listening to his band White Zombie, but really took to him more so once he made his way into movies. I think he has a real sensibility about what real horror is, as well as what it used to be – all his films so far boast a huge flair made of full-blooded nostalgia. He likes to pay homage, however, I don’t find anything in his films you could say is a rip-off. The spirit of the 1960s and 1970s is alive in Zombie. He has a knack for shooting things low budget, which gives his films a nice raw feeling. That being said, The Lords of Salem is a little more polished than his earlier work with House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, and even the Halloween re-imaginings. This is a much more classically cinematic horror. There are bits of nasty horror mixed with incredibly brilliant, mesmerizing sequences like snippets of a fever dream. If The Devil’s Rejects was Zombie’s 70s-style serial killer road movie, this is a psychedelic horror ride of terror into witchcraft and devil worship.The Lords of Salem follows Heidi Hawthorne, a D.J in Salem, who has a show with Herman ‘Whitey’ Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (legendary horror veteran Ken Foree). One day, Heidi receives an elaborate wooden box containing one ominous vinyl record, simply from “The Lords”, whom Herman then dubs “The Lords of Salem”. After playing it on a segment for their radio show called “Smash or Trash” in the company of an author who writes about the Salem Witch Trials, Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), Heidi and other women around the town listening experience strange feelings. From here, Heidi’s world beings to spin out of control. Still trying to kick a former heroin habit, people around her believe it’s just a sort of relapse, but unfortunately something much more sinister and rotten is happening to Heidi.
The landlord of Heidi’s building, Lacy (Judy Geeson), along with her sisters Sonny (Dee Wallace) and Megan (Patricia Quinn), seem to be manipulating the young woman on behalf of the coming Lords of Salem. Matthias tries to intervene after discovering Heidi is long descended from the line of Reverend Hawthorne, who killed the Lords, and may be a target of witchcraft herself. Tragically, Matthias is quickly dispatched by the three sisters. After his death, not much else stands between Heidi and the Master of the Lords of Salem: Satan himself.Not sure why a certain amount of people really seem to not dig this film. A lot of times I wonder what exactly people are looking for when they go to see a horror. Here, we’re given a story about witchcraft, and the plot itself is really great. Maybe the general problem is with some of the imagery Zombie decided to go with rather than the story. I’m still not sure. Maybe it isn’t exactly how others envisioned the story looking, but at least he didn’t choose the same old boring, played out images as most do. He didn’t go for the typical “possessed” stuff – shaking beds and epileptic-type fits, et cetera. Some of his effects were really great, and effective to boot.For instance, at one point Heidi is really tripping with all the witchy and satanic imagery floating through her brain. She sits on the toilet and holds her head in agony, unable to stop these awful dreams recurring constantly. A picture on the wall of the bathroom begins to bleed – through the eyes and mouths of several figures – just as the mask of Margaret Morgan did when Rev. Hawthorne had her executed. I thought this was a great effect, and also a really wonderful way to tie things in with the original witches. Plus, this was done practically. As Zombie explains on the Blu ray commentary, this was an easy feat only on paper; once actually read to do it, he realized there would be only one take because afterwards gallons of blood would be pumped out over this nice black and white mural-sized picture. I think he achieved the effect quite well. It’s also a chilling sight. Afterwards, Heidi falls off the wagon, so the blood is literally like that dam breaking inside her, letting things spill out. Great shot.One thing I really loved about the film is the dialogue. While I really do enjoy all of Zombie’s films, here he opts not to go for the campy sort of stuff he included in both House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects (for instance – in the latter you’ve got a few really hokey yet awesome lines such as Otis Driftwood spouting off about Willy Wonka or the guy who loves Groucho way too much & shits on Elvis). Here, it’s all about service to the plot and the characters, as well. Instead of trying to infuse the dialogue with his sense of nostalgia, Zombie puts his love for old school horror in its place.
A compelling part of The Lords of Salem is absolutely how creepily Zombie presents his vision of the Salem witches and Satan. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the Satan baby, however, I’d argue there was almost no other way you could’ve ever expected Zombie to represent him. I mean – honestly – you know Zombie is not only a nostalgic sort of guy, he’s a rock and roller. Specifically, I’d say he’s a heavy metal dude. Understand where I’m going? Look up the album cover for Black Sabbath’s 1983 album Born Again, and tell me Rob didn’t, maybe unknowingly, use this as reference. On the Blu ray, he basically said he wanted to show a ridiculous version of Satan aside from the typical horns and hooves usually associated with his presence. Also, he explains the bit with the Satan baby’s flying intestines, and Heidi holding them, was his way of showing her impregnation – do you really want to see another movie where a demon/Satan just straight up rapes a woman? I don’t think so. Rosemary’s Baby is probably one of the only movies to not make this look bad. I think Zombie does a good job changing things up. It serves its purpose, as well as looks really strange and creepy.
Zombie has already said it himself, but there’s a definite Ken Russell The Devils vibe going on at times, even a few similarities to The Shining. The Russell (almost)homage in the film really comes from the witches themselves, the flashes back to the Hawthorne days especially, and that Shining feel mostly emanates from all the creepy, spooky things happening at the apartment building/Heidi’s apartment itself. Either way, I think Zombie infuses some of his biggest influences into this movie, aside from all the campy 1960s style stuff (which I love) that his earliest films contain.I really enjoyed Sheri Moon Zombie in this film. She shows there is much more to her ability as an actress than playing the looney Baby character from Zombie’s first two feature films. Some may disagree – I’ve read reviews saying she can’t act, et cetera. I really don’t know what these people are on about – she was fantastic. I thought the hinted relationship between Heidi and Whitey throughout the film worked well because Sheri Moon and Jeff Daniel Phillips have really good chemistry. That’s one of the other great parts about this movie. Zombie doesn’t force in a big love story, as is often the case in modern horror. While the previous relationship between Heidi and Whitey is absolutely present, you can tell by how they both act around one another especially once alone, there’s no need for Zombie to jump into it more than he does; skirting around the edges appropriately, he doesn’t feel that need, as others might. Phillips is also pretty excellent in this movie. I enjoy him enough anyways, but I think the character Whitey must have been written with him in mind. He has the radio D.J vibe down pat. I’d actually say he belongs in the 70s, more than any other character, even Herman, that Zombie has written – in either of his films. Great cast. Ken Foree doesn’t have much to do, but what he does have he chews on. I always love seeing him.
Meg Foster needs to be mentioned on her own. While there are a couple other roles aside from Heidi I really like (the three sisters), I really believe Fosters is the star who shines brightest. Not only because she really nails the character of Margaret Morgan, chief witch of old Salem, but also for the fact she rocks it naked a bunch. I think it’s tough enough for women to bare their bodies on camera, let alone older women. Not because I’m against it – I love ladies of all ages. I just think the climate in entertainment for older women, and women in general, is not forgiving in any way. For Foster to step up, as well as a few other women in the witch flashbacks, and play a lot of scenes in the nude is really brave. She pulled it off exquisitely. Coupled with the marvellously creepy performance she gives, I don’t think her work could have gotten any better.
Loved the finale of the movie. There’s like whole other section of the film, in another universe, which comes down upon us. Everything cobbles together from bits and pieces of the journey. Zombie explains on the commentary how you can pretty much tie all the images in the finale back to events prior in the film (true – if you pay attention most everything comes together), so I really dig this stuff. The imagery is weird, disturbing, bizarre. A real collage of nasty business.The film is a triumph in horror as of late. Zombie is becoming better as his filmography progresses.
I wish there was more on this Blu ray release, but the picture and sound are really excellent. All that really comes with this release is the audio commentary. And while I do love listening to Zombie do commentary (his other movies have lots of great indie filmmaking tips & writing tips), there is not enough to give this particular release any more than 2 stars. I’m sure there is a lot of footage Zombie cut, as many of the cameo performances ended up cut, or very shortened, so I hope eventually there will be a more comprehensive release. If not, there is a lot wasted in that case.
I really love this film, despite a less than mediocre release on Blu ray. There are great scenes here, very horrifying and wild. People are looking for something in modern horror – I’m not sure what it is they’re looking for, but they are indeed looking. I think this is a masterpiece amongst many terrible films getting pumped out, low budget, with the same ideas over and over. Maybe the ideas here aren’t fully original, however, the way Zombie presents them is certainly unique. You can’t say this looks exactly like anything else, or plays like anything similar in theme. If so you’re kidding yourself. Maybe you just don’t like Zombie. This movie has great images, it shows Zombie getting better with his dialogue, boasts a few nice female performances, and also has an unsettling & odd score.
Check this out if you’ve yet to experience the film. If you like it, I’d suggest buying the Blu ray, but get it on the cheap – wait to pay more for a better release with more extras.