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The Lords of Salem Review: God Hates Them, but Will You?
The Lords of Salem is Rob Zombie’s newest movie, and the only one where he’s had complete creative control. This is both good and bad. When it comes to his other movies, I’m one of those rare people who likes House of 1000 Corpses better than The Devil’s Rejects, and I think his Halloween movies, while not perfect, were an interesting take on Michael Meyers.
The Lords of Salem is the story of Salem DJ Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who, along with Herman Jackson (Ken Foree) and Herman ‘Whitey’ Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) do the night shift, pulling weird little bits and interviewing guests, like Francis Matthias, a local expert on Salem’s past, especially witch trials. Francis is there when the Dj’s play a record sent to Heidi in a weird wooden box by a group calling themselves The Lords, which the DJ’s quickly rename to The Lords of Salem. The music is unpleasant and slightly repellent, as if listening to it for too long would cause a headache. It does cause Heidi some issues, and eventually she starts to have visions of old naked women dancing around a fire among other things.
Heidi lives in a building that’s on the creep factor level of the Overlook Hotel and the Bramford. Even the wallpaper in the hallway is weird looking and a little creepy. Then there’s mysterious apartment number Five, where no one ever stays for long, despite the attempts of the building owner, Lacy (Judy Geeson) to rent it out. Heidi thinks she sees someone in apartment Five, but Lacy tells her she’s mistaken. It’s the start of the downhill slope for Heidi. Even her dog can sense something’s not right in that apartment, but she doesn’t pay his warnings any mind.
Sheri Moon Zombie usually plays her roles with a lot of energy, but here she seems drained of her usual liveliness. We barely know anything about her and we only ever see her taking care of her dog or hanging out once with Whitey and going to a meeting for recovering addicts. Even then, for most of that she’s already under psychic assault by Satanic witches. There’s nothing over the top about her except her outfits. It’s interesting to watch her try a character so different from the ones she’s played before. We don’t even get to hear her trademark laugh more than once I think. This makes it hard for the audience to care about her even when the bad stuff starts to go down. We may have been watching her go about her life, but Zombie never manages to bridge the gap between her character and the audience.
The film itself is told in a jagged narrative that jumps back and forth in time and goes between the world of the regular characters and the bizarro-land of the witches. There’s a feeling of dirt and grit to the witch scenes, as well as a disgust at what they’re doing. These are not the green, warty faced witches of Oz or even the modern Wiccans of today, they are whores of Satan, barely human and steeped in evil. In other words, a perfect subject for Rob Zombie.
The deeper Heidi sinks under the curse of the witches, the weirder things get. The film manages to echo The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Green Man, a lot of the old low-budget Devil worship scare films, and even The Last Exorcism while still maintaining a twisted identity of its own. That right there is an accomplishment many filmmakers couldn’t ever pull off.
There’s a particular moment in Lacy’s apartment that discusses the difference between Fate and Destiny which fairly sums up the end of film, but I’m not going to give you the details of it. That being said, if you’re expecting things to tie up cleanly, well then you’ll be really sad.
This film isn’t for everyone, even fans of Rob Zombie’s other movies may find this film too out there for them.
I think if you go in with no expectations beyond seeing Sheri Moon Zombies’ butt a few times (how can that be a bad thing?) and a story that involves witches and Salem in a weird and sometimes repulsive movie, then you’ll have the right frame of mind. Whether you’ll actually enjoy the film is another matter.
For myself, while there were a few problems with pacing and moments where I thought characters should have done things differently based on their prior character traits, I enjoyed the movie as the next step in the evolution of Rob Zombie’s movie making career. In a time where “horror” movies consist of recycling the same plots over and over again it’s nice to see someone make something completely off the wall and original, even if it leaves the audience scratching our heads and wondering what the hell we just watched.