Rob Zombie is a horror director who has impressed me and disappointed me in the past but going by this film he seems to create better work when he has more creative control of the project and a limited budget. This film is strongly influenced by Satanic horror like Rosemary’s Baby but it has a strong visual style that reminded me of Suspiria and like that film the visuals are matched by use of really creepy sound.
Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a rock DJ at a radio station in Salem, part of a trio of DJs that also includes Herman “Whitey” Salavador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree) who have radio show full of jokey chat and music and features such as interviewing musicians from unknown bands. Heidi finds a wooden box has been left for her at reception after the show one night. She finds it really strange since is addressed to her by her real name of Adelaide not Heidi and all she knows about who sent it is that they are called The Lords. Inside is a vinyl record and she decides to take it home to listen to it and Jackson jokes that they should put it on their “Smash or Trash” feature. When she listens to the record it makes her feel funny and she has visions of witches.
These witches are part of a coven that were executed in the 17th century but the leader of the coven Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster) put a curse on those who killed them that the blood of the whores of Salem will be spilled to bring the Anti-Christ into the world and his vessel shall be the descendant of Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne, the man who sentenced them. We learn their story through visions that come to Heidi in her sleep and through the research of Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), an author of books about witchcraft who is a guest on Heidi’s show the night they play The Lords record. It is Matthias who figures out that Heidi is a descendant of Hawthorne.
All across Salem different women hear the music and are suddenly frozen, mesmerised by the discordant infernal sound. I spotted Barbara Crampton in a small cameo as horticulturalist who is spellbound by the music. It doesn’t affect all the women who hear it since Matthias’s wife Alice () listened to it and just thought it sounded horrible
Heidi goes home and her landlady Lacy Doyle (Judy Geeson) invites her for a drink with her two sisters Megan (Patricia Quinn) and Sonny (Dee Wallace). Heidi asks what the sisters do and Sonny gives a vague description of being some sort of alternative therapist. Sonny tells Heidi that Megan is a very skilled palm reader and prompts her to let Megan do a reading for her. Heidi is sceptical but goes along with it. Megan is a bit more intense than she expects giving her a talk about fate and destiny. It leaves Heidi feeling a bit uncomfortable and she makes her apologies and goes to her room.
From this point Heidi gets drawn into a world that is increasingly unreal. The three sisters are part of Margaret Morgan’s Satanic cult and they take charge of getting Heidi prepared to give birth to their Anti-Christ. Everything comes together in a climax of atrocity and blasphemy at an exclusive one-night invitation only concert of The Lords of Salem.
I remember when the Anti-Christ was all over horror films back in the 70s and this film really shows a strong influence from those films so anyone expecting serious look at the Salem witchcraft trials would be better looking off elsewhere. Meg Foster exudes total evil in the part of Margaret Morgan and there a great performances from Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn as the three sisters. Many reviews have commented on the way that Zombie has not gone for the pretty plastic Hollywood cast, especially with quite a lot of nudity on display but they are usually aiming this at Sheri Moon Zombie who I thought is really well-cast in this role. The number of familiar actor in the cast list with vanishingly small parts seems to hint at an original script that was much more ambitious but the tight budget meant it needed to be ruthlessly trimmed
The film uses some very strong visuals especially in the climax and while some are disturbing others are more comedic and ridiculous. I’m not sure if Satan was the giant Sasquatch or the red dwarf with the flippers and the huge tentacles or both.
The use of sound is very well done, not just with that creepy Lords of Salem music but also some good use of other music, especially All Tomorrow’s Parties by the Velvet Underground. I like the crazy voices ranting over the visuals that add to the sensory overload feeling at the end. This film is a lot less gory than the other films he’s made but then blood isn’t everything.
- Rotten Tomatoes
- The Lords of Salem (2012): Subtle Zombie (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Review~ Strange Rob Zombie Film, Witches Abound Around Sheri Moon; The Lords of Salem (marcwinger.com)