Review: The Lords of Salem
PLOT: A radio DJ living in Salem unwittingly becomes part of a plot to resurrect a coven of witches killed centuries ago.
REVIEW: Rob Zombie gets his ROSEMARYíS BABY on in THE LORDS OF SALEM, which ditches the rocker-directorís trademark hillbilly-horror aesthetic for something a little more restrained - well, restrained for Zombie. And while LORDS seems like the movie Zombie was attempting to make with HALLOWEEN 2, and shows that heís leaning in a more assured direction behind the camera, it wobbles on the thin line between surreality and hokeyness. Plainly put, itís more interesting than good.
Much like Roman Polanskiís aforementioned 60s classic, LORDS focuses on a woman haunted by demonic forces close to home. Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a recovering addict and DJ, working a small rock station in Salem, Mass. alongside two good-natured co-hosts (Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree). When her station mysteriously receives a record from ďthe LordsĒ, its ominous, tribal tunes get inside her head (as well as, evidently, the heads of many Salem females). Soon after, Heidi begins to experience disorienting visions and the persistent feeling that something unnatural lives down the hall from her in the boarding house she occupies; said boarding house owned by a trio of too-friendly sisters (Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn) who are none-too-conspicuously plotting a devious fate for the unraveling woman. Could the fact that Heidi is a descendant of a Salem Witch Trials-era pastor have anything to do with it?
Zombie paces his movie fairly methodically, eschewing the brutal violence typically found in his work in favor of an atmosphere of spooky weirdness. He sometimes falls back on standard horror flick devices, like sudden loud noises and ghostly figures looming in the background, but overall LORDS advances the gloomy/trippy style he utilized in H2ís (admittedly out-of-place) dream/hallucination sequences. In the best of these, the mood is appropriately unnerving; in the worst, itís like weíre watching outtakes from a particularly hellish music video. Unfortunately, the filmís climax contains more of the latter, resulting in visuals that are straight-up goofy as opposed to frightening.
Zombieís most crucial mistake, however, is the casting of his wife in the lead role. Yes, itís easy to nag the man for forever finding ways to shoehorn Sheri Moon into his films (her appearances in H2 were especially gratuitous), but it remains true that she simply doesnít have the acting chops to pull off a role that demands a more seasoned performer. Give Zombie credit: he turns a blind eye to her limitations and gives the finger to his detractors. Unfortunately, Heidiís complexity is restricted because Sheri Moon canít muster up any true range. (Want to see a great performance in a somewhat similar role? Check out Gretchen Lodge in LOVELY MOLLY.)
As heís had in the past, Zombie has far greater success filling out the supporting roles, once again reaching back into the past to bring to the forefront a creative assemblage of has-beens. Wallace, Geeson and Quinn ham it up delightfully as the three sinister sisters, who purr and cackle quite witchily, while Bruce Davison is very likable as an author who does some digging into Heidiís past in an effort to help her. And some kind of Special Achievement Award must be handed over to Meg Foster, whom we all remember from her steely-eyed turns in THEY LIVE and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, but here is transformed into something unrecognizable and hideous. As the leader of a centuries-old coven, Foster is predominantly nude, frequently hissing, and an overall ghastly sight (I mean that in the best possible way).
Zombie also uses his considerable musical expertise to craft another killer soundtrack, with original themes by John 5 complemented by tracks by Velvet Underground and Rush. Itís a very effective score, supplementing the appropriately melancholy cinematography by Brandon Trost and Zombieís multiple references (direct or otherwise) to THE SHINING, THE EXORCIST and yes, ROSEMARYíS BABY, not to mention numerous satanic-themed British horror flicks from the 60s and 70s.