You don’t see a lot of witches in cinema nowadays. For every witch, (or in most cases, three witches,) there are at least a thousand zombies or nine or ten vampires. I don’t know about you, but these old bags don’t scare me very much. Little does. Then Rob Zombie corrected this, and no one slept anymore.
So here’s what I like to imagine happened: Mr. Zombie and Mrs. Moon Zombie were walking down a brightly lit street one day (somehow not being noticed despite the dreds, beard and rockstar/movie director and movie star statuses) when they overheard someone comment that they don’t get witches, they’re not scary at all. The lovely couple looked at one another, smiled, and the idea to film Lords of Salem was born.
Naturally, the story is set in Salem, Massachusetts, with the background of the rich history of the Salem Witch trials, which I was supposed to read about in “The Crucible” in high school and never did. The film centers around Heidi LaRoc, played by Sherri Moon Zombie, a popular radio personality who has a bit of a past with illegal drug use. Heidi is now clean and loves her dog and her co-workers. Things get weird when she unexpectedly receives a vinyl record from a group simply calling themselves “The Lords.” After playing it for herself, and then for all of Salem to hear on the radio, it becomes apparent that there is something strange about this record. We see it affect her, and as it is on the air, you see other women becoming mesmerized by this strange song.
Throughout Lords of Salem there are flashbacks to the witches of Salem. These old ladies are all filthy, in mind, body, soul—you name it, they are blasphemous old bags. On a normal day, these would be unpleasant people to be around, but the idea that they have some sort of power with ill intent is what is the most unsettling about these witches. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with living in the woods and being naked around a fire. That sounds nice actually. And yes, they are persecuted by the Christians. But, who isn’t? Once they start talking about Satan, you know they’re supposed to be evil. Also, they spit on a baby. Gross.
Watching Lords of Salem and reviewing it on its own without taking the rest of Zombie’s career into account would be fine. It’s a pretty good movie, but you wouldn’t be seeing the whole picture. Thirteen years ago, I’d heard Rob Zombie was going to direct a horror film called House of 1,000 Corpses and I was rooting for him hard. If anyone could make a kick-ass horror movie, it was him. I waited for over three years to see it, and maybe it was all the hype I’d built up, but I was a little disappointed. The Devil’s Rejects was a decent follow up. Halloween was alright, but I never bothered watching Halloween 2. Finally in Lords of Salem, he got the tone right. So goddamn right, you guys.
In House of 1,000 Corpses you could sense he was going for the madness of the dinner scene in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre but overshooting. Halloween was more of an unneeded back-story to Michael Myers, but still a similar tone to the original. In Lords, Mr. Zombie went full on Exorcist and nailed it. While it may be daytime in some shots, it’s never bright and sunny and there’s always a presence in the room with you. In the night, the darkness is all encompassing and seems to expand even past the TV screen. The dreary score slows the blood in your veins and you know that somewhere in your life you’ve felt this way before, you can’t remember when, but you know it did not turn out well.
It would be unjust to simply say that every member of the cast performed admirably, though that is the case. From Margaret Morgan and her coven of six to Dawn of the Dead star Ken Foree, all the way to the priest who went from ‘way nice guy’ to ‘JESUS-FUCKING-CHRIST’ in about 10 seconds. If I had the opportunity I would personally thank them for their performances, because they were so good.
The reason I have left Sheri Moon Zombie for last is because she wins my ‘Most Improved Actress’ award. When you see Rob Zombie is directing, you can almost be certain she will be in the film. And why not? She’s attractive. But when she fills her role as Baby, I simultaneously hear nails on a chalkboard, someone rubbing a balloon, and a child screaming somewhere because their parents are ignoring them. Basically I’m irritated. However, when watching Lords of Salem I began to stop thinking that she’s just in the movie because her husband is the director. You sort of want to hang out with Heidi Laroc. She seems like a fun person, and when bad things start happening to her, you begin to worry. You don’t want to see her go down the road she follows. You actually give a shit about this fictional character. That takes some acting.
I realize that with my comparisons to Rob Zombie’s other directorial efforts and Sheri’s other roles, either make the previous movies look really bad and/or Lords of Salem seems to just make the mark. This is not the case. They’re actually all very different movies and some are harder to make than others. You can’t always find the right tone for a certain type of movie, but this one had it.
I picked up this Blu-ray on a whim, knowing very very little about it. I’m glad I did. It’s definitely worth a watch come Halloween time each year. Or if you have a friend who hasn’t seen it yet you won’t mind pulling it off the shelf and out of the case. The only reason I can’t say that I would watch it more frequently is because it makes me uncomfortable. Not fully scared, but that’s still a pretty high compliment toward a horror movie when coming from me.