The Lords of Salem (2012)
Let me start off by saying that a Rob Zombie film is like Japanese porn. It’s not for everyone. I’ve loved everything Zombie has made. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES was his love letter to the genre where we got to see all of Zombie’s influences. With THE DEVIL’S REJECTS we see a slightly more mature Zombie searching for his own voice (successfully, I must add). With his two HALLOWEEN films I think Zombie proved he has his own voice and it was original and one to be reckoned with. Up until I watched THE LORDS OF SALEM, HALLOWEEN 2 was my favorite Zombie flick. But if you’ve seen LORDS then you’ll understand when I write, “Wow.” THE LORDS OF SALEM is an intense, surreal trip that will partially have you loving what you just saw and will have you scratching your head. This is definitely Zombie’s most mature work to date and it’s absolutely amazing how far he’s come. I’m just gonna say it: Rob Zombie is the most original and creative filmmaker working in the genre today. What I really love about his films is that he makes films for himself. He doesn’t care if you hate his film; he loves it and he knows that he made exactly the kind of film he wanted to make.
THE LORDS OF SALEM starts off exactly where it should: Back in 1696 in Salem. We meet the Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine; the role was originally Richard Lynch but he died during filming) as he’s writing in his journal. In it he vows to rid the earth of every last witch, especially the witch Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster, unrecognizable except for her eyes). Margaret has a coven of seven witches and these are definitely not your friendly, granola-eating, earth-worshipping Wiccans. These witches pray to, make sacrifices to, and hold ceremonies for Satan, often times nude. The witches are eventually caught, “tried” in court, and burned alive, but not before Margaret curses all the future women in Salem and vows that a Hawthorn woman will eventually be the vessel for Satan’s baby. Those wacky witches and their curses!!
Flash to the present. Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a DJ in Salem. Zombie takes time to set up Heidi’s back story nicely without her ever having to utter a word. She’s a recovered user who doesn’t have too many friends and lives a rather boring, isolated life with her dog. One of the other DJs, Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips), who must have won a Rob Zombie lookalike contest, has an interest in Heidi, but she keeps him at arm’s length (there’s hints of a past relationship between these two). The third DJ in their gang is Herman (Ken Foree) who is there mainly as the voice of reason.
One day after their shift, Heidi finds an odd package waiting for her at the front desk. It’s a vinyl record in an old wooden box. The receptionist tells her it’s addressed specifically to her and the only thing she can find on it is that it’s from The Lords. Thinking it’s a new hardcore band, Heidi takes it home to listen to it. As soon as the bizarre music and chanting begins Heidi goes into a trance and collapses. The next day at work she plays the record over the air waves and all the women in Salem fall into the same kind of trance. From this point on the film becomes surreal, trippy, and sometimes just downright weird. But this isn’t Zombie being weird for weird’s sake. Zombie has a story he’s telling and he’s dipping into the satanic films of the 1970s as inspiration in telling that story. The most obvious influence here is ROSEMARY’S BABY, but horror fans will also spot strong Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento vibes throughout THE LORDS OF SALEM. The cinematography, the pacing, even the damn framing of every single scene is brilliantly done and shows just how mature Zombie has gotten as a filmmaker. If you’re expecting a blood bath then this is not the (Zombie) film for you. The scares here are subtle and will get under you skin. I watched THE LORDS OF SALEM three days ago and I’m still thinking about it (I actually watched it twice in a row on the same night).
This is definitely a film that needs more than one viewing to “get” everything that’s going on. Early in the film, Heidi interviews Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) on the radio. Matthias is an expert in witchcraft in Salem and was pushing a new book he wrote. At the end of the interview Matthias was asked if he’s ever seen any evidence of real witchcraft and he responds, “Witchcraft is nothing but a psychotic belief brought upon by a delusional state of mind.” Does this mean all the odd things happening to Heidi are really happening or are they a sign of her deteriorating mental state. Or are these events happening to Heidi causing the deterioration of her mental state? I love how Zombie layered this film by including one subtle line said by Matthias’ character. But don’t think Zombie leaves the events in the film up for interpretation. By the end you’ll know whether the events really happened or if they were all in Heidi’s head.
Other noticeable characters include Lacy (Judy Geeson), Heidi’s landlord, and Lacy’s two sisters Sonny (Dee Wallace) and Megan (Patricia Quinn). If you’re Argento sensor isn’t going off then you just ain’t paying attention. Three sisters mirrors Argento’s “Three Mothers,” a trilogy of Argento films about a witch coven (the films are SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, and, MOTHER OF TEARS). The three sisters in Zombie’s film are bat shit crazy and some evil bitches if I ever saw some. The way they manipulate and pull Heidi’s strings is creepy as hell and very chilling. Other scenes that will get under your skin and give you the creeps is Heidi’s encounter with a priest, masturbating demons, the flashback scenes to the 1600s, and the final scenes at The Lords live concert.
Once Heidi starts going down the proverbial ‘rabbit hole,’ things go from bad to very creepy. In this case the ‘rabbit hole’ is apartment number five on her floor. Inside that room is the stuff of nightmares and nightmarish hallucinations that will stay with you for a while. Heidi hears the room whispering to her and becomes more and more attracted to it until, with the help of the three sisters, enters it and forever changes her life. The build up is remarkable and Zombie shows an incredible amount of restraint here. He could’ve easily gone for the quick, easy scare but instead decides to slowly build up the tension and suspense until the audience is ready to explode. The soundtrack brilliantly reflects this build up. Griffin Boice and John 5 (previously the lead guitarist for Marilyn Manson) create possibly the eeriest, get-under-your-skin soundtrack I’ve ever heard (I included a link to the pervading Lords theme below).
And as mentioned above, there’s plenty of flashback scenes to the 1600‘s where we get to see the witch coven in action and where they burn for their crimes (ever see a witch spit on a baby?). These are pretty intense scenes. But perhaps the best element of the film is Sheri Moon Zombie’s role as Heidi. Sheri Moon Zombie does a fantastic job and carries the film beautifully. Her performance is understated and she hits all the right notes in her characterization of Heidi. It’s a fantastic performance and shows just how much she’s matured as an actress.
THE LORDS OF SALEM won’t be a film for everyone and as far as Rob Zombie is concerned, that’s okay. Those who can appreciate a creepy, atmospheric horror story that echoes the satanic-exploitation films of the 70s and takes the ‘slow burn’ approach will be greatly rewarded. The ending is a mind-fuck that you’ll be watching over and over again to make sure you took it all in. I’ve always loved Zombie’s films and THE LORDS OF SALEM is destined to become a cult classic. Definitely watch this one more than once. Highly recommended!!
Director: Rob Zombie (& writer)
Plot: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains (unless you’re referring to “Rob Zombie Mayhem.” In this case I’d give it 5 out of 5 brains)
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer
Here’s the song that recurs throughout THE LORDS OF SALEM. It’s absolutely haunting and mesmerizing!!