The Lords of Salem Director: Rob Zombie Screenwriter: Rob Zombie Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Meg Foster
Synopsis:From the singular mind of horror maestro Rob Zombie comes a chilling new nightmare. The Lords of Salem tells the tale of Heidi, a radio station disc jockey living in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives a strange wooden box containing a vinyl record and a note: “A Gift from the Lords.” Heidi listens, and the bizarre sounds within the grooves immediately trigger flashbacks of the town’s violent past. — Anchor Bay Films
Rob Zombie‘s latest film, The Lords of Salem, is a surprisingly understated slow-burn in the vein of Ti West’s House of the Devil. Zombie attempts to build suspense and create unbearable tension before unleashing a truly bizarre, grotesque hex on the film’s main character, Heidi (played by Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie).
The film begins in 1696, in Salem, Massachusetts, with a coven of wrinkly, saggy witches desecrating their bodies and denying Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – you know, typical witch stuff. The head witch is a particularly wretched hag played by Brad Dourif, who might as well be reprising his role as Gríma Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings.
Cut to present day where we’re introduced to local DJ Heidi Hawthorne, who – together with not one, but two guys named Herman (Ken Foree, Jeff Daniel Phillips) – is part of the Big H Radio Team. Zombie takes his time in unveiling Heidi’s character by exposing us to her boring, uneventful daily routine of walking the dog, attending AA meetings, and hosting her metal radio program.
To break up the monotony, Heidi receives a mysterious wooden box containing a vinyl record labeled “A Gift from the Lords.” She assumes it’s a publicity stunt for some local band, but as soon as the needle touches the grooved vinyl, the music plays backwards, and Heidi is overcome by nightmarish flashbacks to Salem’s bloody past.
Herman and Herman play the record on the radio and the arcane melody seems to infect the town of Salem. Heidi then receives another delivery – this time containing details of an upcoming Lords concert in Salem. Obviously, this unknowable record is somehow connected to the witches – but the plot is so plodding and painstakingly slow, that the movie quickly falls off the rails. It’s here where the “slow-burn” turns into a bat-shit crazy, hallucinogenic ride into weirdness.
As a filmmaker, Rob Zombie’s strengths are in his ability to explore depravity and exploitation using an aesthetic rooted in grindhouse cinema and ’70s horror. Zombie isn’t a subtle, understated filmmaker – so it’s a bit perplexing as to why he would attempt to make The Lords of Salem a kind of Polanski-meets-Lynch thriller when the dialogue is too silly to be taken seriously and the film’s bizarre sequences illicit more laughs than scares.
The premise for The Lords of Salem sounds pretty awesome, right? I mean you’ve got a fucking vinyl record seemingly possessed by Satan and a coven of witches that, when played, triggers horrific acid trips – but unfortunately Zombie can’t take the promising premise and make a good movie out of it. It’s slow and meandering and fails to provide any memorable moments or notable scares.
There are some terrific images here and there – goats and witches and tumor creatures from the depths of Hell – but ultimately they’re just flat images on a screen with no meaning behind them. If you take a look at the film’s IMDB page, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff going on that isn’t in the film. Apparently Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Barbara Crampton, and Camille Keaton (I Spit on Your Grave) were in this movie, along with Daniel Roebuck as “Frankenstein’s Monster” – whatever THAT means. Of course, Roebuck did play Lou Martini as Frankenstein’s Monster in Zombie’s Halloween II – so maybe it was just a cameo to tie the two worlds together.
As slow as The Lords of Salem moves along, the running time is only 101 minutes, which leaves me wondering if there’s any content in these deleted scenes that could have made the story a little more coherent. Maybe we’ll get an unrated cut when the film reaches DVD and Blu-ray, but until then, it’s a mess masquerading as finished film.
Compared to other South by Southwest Film Festival horror entries like Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, and V/H/S 2, The Lords of Salem just can’t compete. Zombie’s latest film is certainly his weakest. It just isn’t scary or shocking in any way. I’d rather revisit his Halloween remakes before dropping the needle on this warped piece of scratched-up vinyl again.
UPDATE: Traci Smith on Facebook points out to me that Margaret Morgan, the head witch, is actually played by Meg Foster (They Live, Masters of the Universe), not Brad Dourif as previously stated. I am both stunned and terrified by this revelation.