The Lords of Salem (2012)
We’ve been waiting … we’ve always been waiting.
Director Rob Zombie has had an interesting career thus far creating some bold pictures with House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), yet he has never truly reached the heights many fans had hoped, particularly with his Halloween (2007) re-imaginings. It’s clear within his films that Zombie desires to recapture the grittier days of horror and his latest picture, The Lords of Salem, seems to be his most fundamentally unsettling and structurally sound picture to date, a true throwback to the days of classic, uncompromising, psychedelic horror from the early 70’s. This bleak, gritty and strikingly crafted tale of old evil resurrected in modern times is an unnerving trip into true terror.
The Lords of Salem is set in Salem, Massachusetts, which is famous for its witch trials during the 1600s, shooting in Massachusetts allows Zombie to capture the true essence of the picture’s twisted subject matter. The film centers on Heidi Hawthorne, (Sherri Moon Zombie), a recovering addict whom works for a local radio station as a DJ in a popular late night show, the Big H Radio Team. One night, Heidi arrives at the station and receives a bizarre record encased in a wooden box from a mysterious band that calls themselves The Lords. Assuming the album is from an upcoming group who want on-air exposure, she airs the record on her show but when played, the music causes many of the Salem women to go into a trance, including Heidi, who begins to suffer from severe hallucinations. After listening to The Lords tune, Heidi’s life takes a drastic turn for the worse as she finds herself plagued by disturbing visions related to a wicked coven of witches who were executed in the late 1600s. Meanwhile, a local writer, Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) slowly uncovers the truth behind the music and its connection to the killing of witches in Salem centuries ago with his investigating leading him back to Heidi. However, things might be too late, as the witches have already returned and are out for blood.
Let me begin by stating, The Lords of Salem is definitely not a film for everyone particularly those who are more conservative viewers, it’s an intimate, dark and absorbing picture illustrating a slow descent into the depths of hell and may be a bit of a shock for those who haven’t really exposed themselves to satanic witchcraft films from the 70’s and 80’s. Zombie directs the picture with an appreciation and understanding of the horror art form, opposed to appealing to a wide audience. The film certainly won’t satisfy audiences who have become accustomed to feasting on today’s cheap jump scare tactics or over-the-top gore, but it will please, at least on an artistic level, genre enthusiasts in search of something that breaks the modern mold and captures a throwback essence that visually and psychologically shocks the nerves and shines in pure genre artistry.
The picture combines historical precedent and religious lore with a highly reserved modern flavor void of today’s technology or frantic narrative structure. Here, Zombie replicates an almost vintage feel while depicting a slow-paced and darkened world, one in which there are no distractions to interfere with the pending terror. The height of technology in the film comes from radio broadcasts and recorded music in the form of cassettes and vinyl opposed to digital media. Everything on show reinforces the grittiness, that slower pace and absence of technology that allows the audience to absorb the atmosphere in a true throwback style that embraces the grit, grain, and unsettling sensations of the terrifying Horror movies of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Lords of Salem is really all about its alarming visuals and sinister soundtrack, with Zombie channeling directors Dario Argento, Suspiria (1977), Lucio Fulci, The Beyond (1981) and Mario Bava, The Evil Eye (1963) while adding his own devilish touch to each frame. Sure, the plot is a little nonsensical and not everything totally adds up nor makes perfect sense, particularly with last 20 minutes of the picture being presented in a surreal horror mash-up with disturbing, lush, and genuinely haunting imagery paired with the sacrilegious carnival freak show that Zombie has became notorious for. This bizarre combination mixes art house elements with B-horror movie conventions in arguably one of the decade’s most interesting final acts. With The Lords of Salem, Zombie constantly blurs the line between fantasy, reality and terror; it’s never quite clear which is which, while the picture’s industrial style soundtrack accentuates the film’s themes and defines its subject matter.
Rob Zombie’s wife and long time collaborator Sherri Moon Zombie, The Devil’s Rejects (2005), does her best acting to date, although her character Heidi rarely does anything remotely exciting; sure she’s hot but her actions here are confusing and seemingly inert, we see her randomly walking, hallucinating, losing and regaining consciousness, but Zombie never truly fleshes out her character. Jeff Daniel Phillips, Faster (2010) does a solid job as the sympathetic Herman ‘Whitey’ Salvador, Heidi’s friend and co- worker who obviously has feelings her, while screen veterans, Judy Geeson, To Sir, with Love (1967), Patricia Quinn, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Dee Wallace, Critters (1986), are fun to watch as the modern day witches when they’re either cackling evilly or acting suspiciously sweet. Finally, Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead (1978), is an excellent addition to the cast as radio host Herman Jackson with his mystifyingly deep voice.
The Lords of Salem is more of a mood piece than a fully fledged narrative film, it may not build up the finest story, but what it lacks in cohesion it gains in atmosphere and throwback style to a time when horror films were truly horrific, frightening, disturbing, and artfully made. This is arguably Zombie’s most interesting film to date, if not his best; just know what you’re getting yourself into before taking this descent into evil.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
The Lords of Salem is released through Icon Film Distribution Australia
You can tell that Zombie can do a bit more than what we know of him through the Halloween remakes, however, this movie still doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s more or less just a snippet of what’s possible to come with the rest of Zombie’s movie-making career. Good review.
Yeah, I guess his fans are still waiting to see a good mix of story and visuals, but judging by ‘The Lords of Salem’ I think it’s possible we may see it some day!