Review: The Lords of Salem (TIFF 12)
PLOT: Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie)- a radio DJ, receives a strange package with an LP recording by a band called The Lords. After playing it on the air, she begins to sink into a pit of despair, drugs and degradation, all the while being watched over by her enigmatic landlord (Judy Geeson).
REVIEW: Appearances can be deceiving, and thus I was deceived when I heard Rod Zombie, master of the hardcore- was debuting his new film about witches and Salem at TIFF's Midnight Madness. I walked in expecting Grindhouse exploitation, but rather- I got Zombie's most ambitious film to date.
Gorgeously photographed by Brandon Trost, Zombie's movie takes it's time setting up the sinister tale. We spend a lot of time getting to know (and like) our main character, Heidi, as played by Zombie's wife Sheri. She does strong work as the vulnerable Heidi, who juggles her work as a radio DJ with the two Hermans (Ken Foree and Jeff Daniel Phillips) while trying to maintain her sobriety through weekly trips to AA.
The horror of LORDS doesn't really start to kick in until about a third of the way in, after the track by The Lords is played, to the distress of a local historian (Bruce Davidson) who's convinced there's something amiss. Meanwhile, Heidi's world is being taken over by her deceptively kind landlord, played by seventies Brit icon Judy Geeson, and her two cousins, played by Pat Quinn and Dee Wallace. These three, who form a modern coven of sorts are really what LORDS OF SALEM is all about, and their performances, including graphic nudity (possibly of the prosthetic variety), and surreal flashbacks to the Salem trials, are fearless.
The last part of LORDS is likely what's going to divide audiences, as Zombie goes right down the rabbit hole, with the film taking on the vibe of an early Roman Polanski film gone mad, or Kenneth Anger at his most Satanic. To me though, this is when the film really kicked into high gear. It's bold and experimental (not to mention gross) but damn if it's not unlike anything I've seen in a horror film for years. THE LORDS OF SALEM feels like one of the most authentically evil films since Anger's INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER, and the Catholic in me was totally freaked out. But- at the same time, I was utterly absorbed by Zombie's nightmarish psychedelia.
While I doubt this could ever be embraced by the mainstream to the relative degree his other films have been- a cult following seems a given. If you're into some weird shit- LORDS OF SALEM is not one you can afford to miss.