Back before Harry Potter and paranormal teen romance was all the rage, horror characters were actually terrifying – especially witches. They weren’t beautiful or sexy, and they certainly didn’t care about finding love with a mere boy; witches were ruthless, mean, ugly, and absolutely terrifying. Thanks to Rob Zombie and his latest film The Lords of Salem, witches are being represented in the way that they once were, as the powerful and evil individuals who should be feared.
The Lords of Salem follows Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie); a local DJ a part of a three-person radio show in Salem, Massachusetts called Big H Radio Team. One night after a shift at the station Heidi receives a wooden box personally addressed to her, and inside is a mysterious vinyl record from an unknown group known as The Lords. Once Heidi plays the record and listens to the disheartening melody she begins to see horrific things, and mentally spiral out of control.
When a local author and witch museum curator hears the odd music and delves deeper into the history behind The Lords, he discovers that the story behind the record revolves around a group of witches who were executed for their satanic beliefs and devil’s music. However, before the witches were burned at the stake, they cursed the town of Salem and its women.
Zombie succeeded in creating an eerie and gritty atmosphere, which perfectly fits the subject matter of Salem and its history of witches and witchcraft. As in his other films, the director presents realistic characters performed by actors who have the ability to draw the viewer in and seduce them with their presence.
Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Patricia Quinn, who play a coven of witches, are hypnotic and frightening to watch. It was fun to see the three women start off as timid and welcoming individuals, and completely turn into confident and unwavering women with a mission.
Along with Geeson, Wallace, and Quinn, another laudable performance was given by Meg Foster as Margaret Morgan, the true evil of the film. Despite the character’s malevolent nature and wicked ways, Foster almost made you sympathize with her character when she is punished for her beliefs.
While Zombie perfectly cast the witches of the film, he failed in his choice of casting his wife as the lead. The character of Heidi is a fractured soul and she deals with a lot of mental and drug issues, which requires an emotional range that Sheri Moon lacks. In fact, she has no range at all and her performance was the same level throughout, which made the viewing experience frustrating. The only positive thing Sheri Moon had to offer in this film, as well as in all of her other films, is her ass, which Zombie finds any excuse to show off. We get it, Rob. Your wife is hot.
Despite Sheri Moon’s cringe-worthy and boring performance, I did enjoy the film for its darkness and its ability to make me feel extremely uncomfortable. The film had very strange moments that caused me to question what was going on, and it gave me an uneasy feeling that I couldn’t shake until the movie’s end.
Although the film does deal with violence and it does have its graphic nature, for a Rob Zombie film the movie seemed pretty tame. In other Zombie films, the director shows the brutal and gruesome scenes in all their glory in effort to create a response; however, in The Lords of Salem, he doesn’t seem to focus as much time on the violent acts themselves, rather he lets you wonder and listen to what’s happening.
As well as a lack of on-screen brutality, Zombie’s dialogue has improved too. Normally his characters spout profanity-laced rants and sometimes unnatural conversation, but in this film the profanity was at a minimum, only being expressed at the right moments. Excluding the witches, the characters in this film seemed tamer and not so over-the-top, allowing you to stomach them for longer periods.
I’ve never understood all of the hate that Rob Zombie receives as a director because he is talented. It’s obvious that his direction has vastly improved and he is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The Lords of Salem felt like an old-school horror movie and it had its moments where I felt like I was watching something from Roman Polanski circa Rosemary’s Baby.
Despite the positives and Zombie’s improvement as a writer and director, the film lacked something that pulled everything all together for me. I’m not sure if it was Sheri Moon’s wooden performance which failed to create empathy or care for her character, or the weird mash-up of images and acts that the director throws at the viewer in the movie’s final scenes, but the movie didn’t feel flawless to me.
Regardless of my minor hesitations, The Lords of Salem is still an interesting viewing experience throughout, and I definitely recommend it to audiences; however, it is the type of film that viewers need to have patience for, which is something a lot of people don’t have. The movie is weird, creepy, and it’s filled with old boobs. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I urge viewers to go into the film with an open mind because they may be pleasantly surprised.