The Lords of Salem (2012)
Rob Zombie returns with The Lords of Salem, a visual banquet which is guaranteed to create division and stimulate discussion.
Four years have passed since Halloween II, on which Rob Zombie did not have the best experience as a writer / director. Marred by studio interference, alongside restrictive shooting and editing schedules, the film was left somewhat disjointed. Fragments of intrigue became lost within a clouded narrative and it was clear that this would be the last time that he worked with Universal.
The Lords of Salem sees Rob Zombie align himself with Haunted Pictures, a creative and exciting production company who have used the success of their flagship movies Paranormal Activity (still an ongoing franchise), and Insidious (2010) to open the doors to a myriad of other productions. This move has allowed Zombie to attain complete creative and directorial freedom, allowing The Lords of Salem to become a trip directly into the mind of this creative and enticing force.
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi Hawthorne, a late night radio DJ in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, who works alongside two brotherly co-hosts played by Ken Foree (From Beyond, Dawn of the Dead) and Jeff Daniel Phillips (Halloween II). The image we get is of a carefree young woman, who has certainly enjoyed herself up until now, however, as we subsequently discover, her enjoyment of life may have been taken to excess at one point, as hints at previous addiction problems rear their ugly head.
Upon leaving the station with Herman Jackson (Foree), and Herman Whitey (Philips), she is handed a mysterious, antiquarian box by the receptionist. It contains an ambiguous note and a vinyl record. Taking it as an obscure, yet attention grabbing, promotional stunt, the trio play the 12” on their show. Unbeknownst to them, it is an ancient and powerful arrangement which brings forth an ancient evil, one which the townsfolk of Salem thought they had dispensed with years ago.
Heidi lives with a pleasant, but overbearing landlady, Sonny (Dee Wallace –The Howling, Critters), whose sisters Megan (Patricia Quinn – The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and Lacy (Judy Geeson) have come to stay. Heidi is invited to tea and offered a reading by Megan, a clairvoyant. This elicits dark and menacing visions, which upset and disorient Heidi. The ladies’ presence becomes more sinister and Heidi retreats to her room, and subsequently, back into the embrace of addiction.
As the popularity and interest in the mysterious ‘Lords of Salem’ increases, so does the intensity of Heidi’s nightmares, which spill over into her waking world, as reality becomes an abstract concept. A previous guest on Heidi’s show, Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison – Short Eyes, Apt Pupil) uncovers some vital information pertaining to the peculiar events which are taking place. It is now up to him, as well as her co-hosts to try and save the young girl from destruction, an occurrence which would allow a great evil to manifest itself within the world.
The Lords of Salem is a surrealist nightmare in the vision of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roman Polanski and, most significantly, Ken Russell. Traditional narrative is dispensed with approximately two thirds into the feature, creating a sense of confusion and fear, akin to what is being experienced by our protagonist. A sinister and bleak nightmare, this may well be Rob Zombie’s darkest work yet. There are no fluorescent, jokey set pieces in this movie, as Salem isn’t a place where there is much laughter.
It is the aforementioned reasons which make The Lords of Salem a brave, experimental and deeply worthwhile movie. They are also the reasons which will divide audiences greatly. We, unfortunately, live in a world where formula equates success. Franchises and endless reinterpretations permeate and almost control the genre film, allowing very little room for imagination or expansive creation. Rob Zombie has achieved both with The Lords of Salem.
A movie which does the very opposite of hold your hand and guide you through, it leaves you breathlessly alone and confused, the way that horror should. Stunning cinematography is utilised throughout, with Kubrickian master shots panning down over Gothic ballrooms, satanic rituals and gruesome executions.
A cast, so well versed in horror history that it will keep horror fans excited for years to come, includes Barbara Crampton (Re Animator), Torsten Voges (8mm) and Maria Conchita Alonso (The Running Man) in cameo roles, shows that nobody ends up in a Rob Zombie movie by accident.
So far, the complaints have been directed at perceived inconsistencies and a lack of familiar clarity. I would attest these attributes to some of the finest features of all time. There are elements of The Sentinel (1977), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Devil Rides Out (1968), all of which emphasise the director’s encyclopaedic knowledge of horror, combined with an undeniable artistic passion to experiment and develop his beloved genre.
An incredible score by longtime Zombie affiliate John 5, only serves to enhance and increase the drama which unfolds.
A terrifying, brilliant feature which creates full immersion into a nightmarish world of religious iconography and death, The Lords of Salem gets a general release on April 19th. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
N.B: Top image taken from the Irish Premiere of The Lords of Salem. Twisted Celluloid Festival, Cork.