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Review: The Lords of Salem

DVD Review

The Lords of Salem DVD 001Rob 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.

Rating 7.5/10

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review : The Omen (1976)

The Omen is Richard Donner‘s 1976 film that brought us the Antichrist. With a top drawer cast, international locations and really fantastic soundtrack it is just as much an action thriller as it is a straight horror film

Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck)  a US diplomat in Rome is being driven to hospital where his pregnant wife Kathy (Lee Remick) is giving birth.  Once there Father Spilletto tells Thorn their baby is dead. Thorn is worried about Kathy’s mental state. Spilletto mentions an alternative. A baby was born in hospital whose mother died in childbirth. The woman had no relatives. If they tell Kathy that the child is hers no-one would ever know

Soon after Robert is made US Ambassador to Great Britain and they move into a huge mansion outside of London somewhere and we get a montage of happy family times with Damien to fast forward us through to the time of action

There’s a big 5th birthday party of the spoilt little brat. There’s some kids and cake a fairground rides but is a big occasion for Thorn and not so much for Damien. It’s full of diplomats and press photographers including Keith Jennings (David Warner). There’s also a big black rottweiler prowling around on the grounds.

Damien’s nanny is on a ledge and calls out “It’s all for you Damien,” before jumping off with a noose around her neck. There are screams and panic and children’s faces being hidden from the horror while the paparazzi photograph the scene of the latest scandal.

At his office Thorn gets a visit from Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton). Brennan is a bit crazed and going on about a prophesy

When the Jews return to Zion
And a comet rips the sky
And the Holy Roman Empire rises,
Then You and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
Creating armies on either shore,
Turning man against his brother
‘Til man exists no more.

allegedly from the Book of Revelations except it really isn’t. This was written by the screenwriter and I think he’s going for a Nostradamus feel. Thorn calls security but tells them to wait when Brennan says he was at Damien’s birth. Brennan knows Damien is not really their child but when he says his mother was a jackal Thorn just thinks he’s crazy and brings in the guards to toss him out. Jennings sees Brennan leaving and snaps a few photographs. When he develops them he sees a smudge like a shadow of a straight line above Brennan.

Mrs Blaylock (Billie Whitelaw) appears to replace the dead nanny. Neither of Thorns had arranged for a replacement but she claims that the agency arranged it when they heard the news of their previous nanny. Katherine is not certain but she seems very good with Damien and he seems to like her.

The Thorns are attending a wedding. Blaylock doesn’t think it’s a good idea to take Damien but Kathy insists. Damien gets nervous as the car approaches the church and when they get there he has a violent panic attack, screaming, punching and kicking so the Thorns have to leave. Thorn wonders about getting Damien looked at by a doctor. Kathy asks why since he is perfectly healthy and Thorn thinks about that and comments that it is strange Damien has never been sick at all

Thorn sees Damien and Blaylock playing with the big black rottweiler. Blaylock is happy about and thinks it will be a good guard dog but Thorn insists it has to go.

Kathy takes Damien to a safari park. The animals freak in presence of Damien, especially the baboons, attacking their car as they drive through their enclosure. I am thinking now that we must have the  Antichrist in our family since always attacked our car when we went.

Thorn is watching rugby match so he can be freely accosted by nutcases. Jennings is there taking photographs. It must be such a fascinating newspaper he works for with all those pictures of Thorn and his family. Brennan is also there because he’s been stalking Thorn and he approaches him. He warns him that Katherine is in danger and asks Thorn to meet him in park later. Jennings snap of fmore pictures of Brennan

Jennings develops photos and yet again there’s a dark shadow hanging above Brennan, this time it is actually contacting his body. Jennings starts examining his other recent photographs

In the park Brennan is still going on about prophesies in the Book of Revelations. Thorn wants to know how Katherine is in danger. Brennan says that she is pregnant which is news to Thorn. He says Damien will kill the baby and his wife. Thorn thinks he is insane and leaves. Brennan calls after him tells him he has to see Bugenhagen in Meggido but neither name means anything to Thorn.

A storm comes out of nowhere. Brennan seems to sense danger and makes his way the church next to the park. Lightning strikes a lightning rod on the church tower. It breaks off and as it falls it spears Brennan to the ground killing him immediately but holding his body upright.

Thorn goes to see Kathy’s psychiatrist at his office. He tells Thorn that Kathy is pregnant but she seems to have the ‘irrational’ idea that Damien is not hers and she wants an abortion and the doctor agrees. Thorn  is shaken to hear that the priest was right and refuses permission for the abortion.

At home Kathy is watering the plants that are in baskets hanging above a large gallery. She uses a table to climb up and reach them instead of getting a stepladder or even a member of staff. There is rarely any sign of other staff in the house of this important diplomat. Blaylock unleashes Damien on his little tricycle and he hurtles around the hallways and smacks right into the table Kathy is on, knocking it over and sending Kathy flying over the balcony. She manages to grab on to the balcony and calls for help but no-one comes and she loses her grip and falls about 20 feet to the floor below.

At hospital a surgeon tells Thorn Kathy will be okay but the baby is dead. Thorn goes home and is looking around Damien’s room. He gets a call from Jennings who wants to show him some photographs. He shows him the photographs of the shadow line that seem to foreshadow the priest’s death. Then he shows him a photo he took of Damien’s original nanny which has flaw that looks a nose around the woman’ neck, another prescient photograph. Thorn wonders why any of this is Jenning’s problem then Jennings shows him a photograph he took of himself in a mirror. He has a shadow around his neck. His death is coming too.

Thorn and Jennings go to Brennan’s quarters in a church. Thorn got permission from the police who also told him about a strange birthmark on the priest’s body in the shape of three sixes. This is the film that raised the profile of the idea of an Antichrist and especially the mark of the Beast. It is interesting to see how much these fictitious ideas have taken hold of the religious imagination all these years later. The room is completely papered with pages of the bible and crudely drawn crosses. In a journal he reads Brennan’s notes about Damien’s birth. There was a comet is the sky on the night of his birth on June 6th at 6 am, of course. Thorn says that is when his child died – he has no idea whose child he is raising.

Thorn and Jennings go to Italy to try and find who Damien’s parents are. Their taxi driver takes them to the hospital but it’s a new modern building.The original hospital was destroyed in a fire and all the records were destroyed too. They find out that Father Spilletto survived and is now in a remote monastery.

At the monastery the abbot tells him that Spilletto is badly injured and can’t talk. Thorn still wants to see him. Thorn asks him about Damien’s mother. Spilletto writes the name Gerrete on a slate. The abbot tells them it’s an old cemetery.

When Jennings and Thorn get there it is decrepit and most of the graves and tombs are very old. They find the grave of Damien’s mother who is supposedly buried with her child. Lifting the stone they see a dog skeleton next to a human baby. The baby has clearly not died of natural causes with a large hole in the side of its skull. Thorn realises his child didn’t just die at birth but was murdered. Then several vicious big black dogs appear and attack them and they just about manage to escape.

Thorn calls Kathy in the hospital and warns her that she has to get out of London. Kathy get herself dressed Blaylock comes in to help her. While she trying to get her jumper on Blaylock grabs her and throws her out of the window several floors to concrete below.

Thorn gets the news and it breaks him. Jennings comes in to tell him what he’s found out about Bugenhagen and Meggido. It is an archaeological site and Bugenhagen is in charge of the dig. He then sees how upset Thorn looks. Thorn tells him quietly that Kathy is dead and says he wants Damien to die too.

Meggido is a large sprawling dig siet with wooden walkways used for access. Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) greets them and takes them into a tent. He gets Jennings to leave so he can talk to Thorn alone. Then he unrolls a pack with seven knives and he shows Thorn how they must placed to kill Damien. This detail is putting doubts into Thorn’s head and he asks what proof there is that Damien is the Antichrist. Bugenhagen tells him about the mark of the Beast but Thorn knows Damien intimately and has never seen it. Bugenhagen says it must be there and might be above his hairline out of sight.

When Thorn leaves Bugenhagen he is disgusted by the idea of what he was planning to do and he throws the knives way. Jennings goes to retrieve them and a sheet of glass on the back of a truck breaks free and decapitates him. Thorn picks up the knives, his doubts silenced by Jenning’s death

Thorn returns to England. At the house he tricks the dog into the cellar and traps it there. He goes to Damien’s room and checks the sleeping boy, using scissors to cut away some of his hair. There he sees the birthmark three sixes just as Bugenhagen said.

He lifts Damien who starts to struggle. Then Blaylock leaps out of nowhere and attacks him. They struggle but Thorn kills her with a screwdriver into the neck. Thorn races away in his car with Damien beside him. The police start chasing after him when he speeds past them.

Thorn gets to a church. He lays Damien down on the floor and takes the knives out. He is just about to kill the boy when the police burst in and tell to drop the knife. Thorn doesn’t and he is shot several times.

The film finishes at funeral for Thorn and Kathy. Damien is there with the President of the US and he turns and give the camera a little smirk.

This is a pretty important film. It certainly wasn’t the first to deal with idea of a child of the Devil but this really fleshed out the idea. I don’t know if anyone was talking about the Antichrist and 666 before The Omen but this film for better or worse made these concepts well-known to popular culture.

This is a good film, but I get the feeling that film is bit rushed from halfway point after Brennan dies and Thorn and Jennings start racing around investigating things. Horror films tend to be isolated at a particular location but this has the characters zip around like in a Bond film. The cast is amazing. Gregory Peck really lends a lot gravitas to his role as a diplomat and Billie Whitelaw is believably evil as Blaylock literally the nanny from Hell.

Rating 7/10

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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