Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release date: 26 April 2013
Rob Zombie’s new film is a departure from gorier efforts like House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and his two Halloween remakes. In fact it’s initially quite quiet and restrained, before growing increasingly surreal and unhinged as it progresses to a climax as garish, lurid and loud as an MTV rock video. That’s an observation, though, and not a criticism; The Lords Of Salem is Rob Zombie’s love letter to the movies of Dario Argento, Michele Soavi and Lucio Fulci (among others) with a healthy dose of Ken Russell’s sheer wild exuberance thrown in for good measure.
Heidi LeRoc (Sheri Moon Zombie), one of a team of three DJs at an alternative rock station in Salem, Massachusetts, receives a record in a wooden box from a group identified only as ‘The Lords’. When she plays it on the radio, women all across the town – descendants of those who presided over the town’s notorious 17th century witch trials – are affected, while Heidi herself has visions of the Salem Witches and their leader Margaret Morgan (an almost unrecognisable Meg Foster). Local author Francis Mathias (Davison), suspecting something’s amiss, begins to probe Salem’s – and Heidi’s – past in more detail. Assailed by bizarre hallucinations and fits of sleepwalking that lead her to her apartment building’s supposedly unoccupied Room 5, Heidi slips into a drug-fuelled downward spiral, watched helplessly by her fellow DJs Whitey (Phillips) and Munster (Foree). Meanwhile, her apparently kindly landlady Lacy (Geeson) and her friends Sonny (Wallace) and Megan (Quinn) have their own plans for her…
Some have made comparisons between The Lords Of Salem and Rosemary’s Baby, but Zombie’s film bears a closer resemblance to Soavi’s Devil’s Daughter (only minus that film’s redemptive denouement.) As for the performances, Sheri Moon Zombie brings a spot-on blend of sassiness and vulnerability to the role, preventing Heidi from becoming the passive, uninteresting victim she could so easily have been; Davison is as solid and dependable an actor as ever, while genre vets Foree, Wallace and Quinn give their usual good value, but it’s Judy Geeson who steals every scene she’s in – kindly and maternal one minute and spectacularly, malevolently unhinged the next.
As an aside, it’s refreshing to see some main characters who aren’t squeaky-clean teen/early twenties type calculated to please some imagined demographic – ‘alternative’ characters (goth and rock types) who aren’t just there to provide the film with comic relief or depraved villains. Not to mention characters who – shock, horror! – actually smoke dope without immediately afterwards being despatched by a knife-wielding maniac.
Arguably, the film’s biggest problem is the concept that the witches of Salem were in fact malefic worshippers of Satan and not the innocent victims of mass hysteria and religious fanaticism, but anyone coming to a Rob Zombie film for historical accuracy has not so much come to the wrong building as the wrong city, probably the wrong continent and quite possible the wrong planet too – the Salem witches were hanged, for a start, not burned alive as in the film – and unlike, say, Argento’s Suspiria, the film doesn’t automatically equate female sexuality, or any manifestation of femininity that isn’t passive and virginal, with evil. Ultimately, if the film has anything to say, it’s that the past’s cruelty and tribal hatreds are only too alive and ready to do harm today.
Less frightening than it is weirdly fascinating, The Lords Of Salem will divide audiences. Some of the more seasoned cineastes on the night regarded it as deeply derivative, the sum of the films that inspired the director and little else. Others will appreciate its all-out weirdness and gleeful throwing together of influences. But whatever flaws it may possess, it’s a contemporary horror film of rare passion and ambition, and beats the hell out of the formulaic dross peddled as mainstream horror these days. And its images linger in the mind long after the final reel has come to an end.
“Despite its narrative flaws and predictability, The Lords of Salem is at its highest points an incredibly stylish and downright fun film which pays tribute to some of the great cinematic horror masters of yesteryear. With a solid soundtrack from John 5, psychedelic visuals and a recognisable Rob Zombie stamp it will appeal to select fans of Zombie’s previous output. That said this is amongst his weakest films and is ultimately disappointing.”
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