Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem is incredibly unsettling. In my opinion, it is the crowning achievement of Rob Zombie’s cinematic career.
Zombie’s films have grown on me over the years. I first saw House of 1000 Corpses upon its initial release, and at the time, I didn’t think that it was anything particularly special – but I kept returning to it. I’m not exactly sure why. There was just something about the inherent, unapologetic campiness of it that kept me coming back for more. It was a mess of a film, and it appealed to me precisely for that reason.
The Devil’s Rejects was released shortly after that. I missed it in theatres, but rented it on DVD. I couldn’t make it through the entire film on my first attempt. Sure, Zombie was paying homage to some of the great grindhouse films of the seventies, but this film was relentless in its brutality. At the time, it was unwatchable for me. Years later, I sat through the film in it’s entirely and was surprised by how good it actually was, even though it still made me squirm.
Along came Zombie’s re-imagining of Halloween in 2007, and I loved it. While I missed the subtle, nearly gore-free nature of the John Carpenter original, I knew going in that we were dealing with an altogether different animal in Zombie’s version. It was shocking and visceral, providing a back-story of Michael Myer’s tortured childhood. As he did in both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie populates the film with willfully ignorant, aggressive rednecks, ramping up the discomfort level. All in all, Halloween was an absolutely terrifying thrill ride, featuring an unusually touching performance from Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie.
Halloween II was an unfortunate misfire, inspiring lots of unintentional laughter with none of the intensity of the first installment.
However, nothing could prepare audiences for what Zombie was going to do next.
The Lords of Salem opens in Salem, Massachusetts on a gloomy night in 1696, as a coven of six witches hold a satanic ritual in the woods, led by a woman named Margaret Morgan. They disrobe, dance around the fire, roll around in the dirt, and shout blasphemies. Meanwhile, the Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne plots their demise in his journal.
We then dissolve to present day in Salem, as a local DJ, recovering drug addict, and descendant of Jonathan Hawthorne named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, dreadlocks and all), receives a mysterious vinyl album from a band named The Lords.
Heidi and her boyfriend take the record home that night to listen to it. As the needle touches the vinyl, the music begins, flooding the room with an eerie jumble of ominous music and strange incantations. Almost immediately, Heidi begins to hallucinate. She experiences visions involving the murder of an infant, an evisceration, and sexual assault at the hands of a deranged priest – as well as strange apparitions which appear in her apartment.
Speaking of Heidi’s apartment, it is almost unbearably claustrophobic and eerie. Her landlord is an older woman with two strange sisters who seem all too interested in Heidi’s comings and goings. Heidi also notices a dark figure at the end of the hall in room number five, which, according to her landlord, is vacant. As the hallucinations become increasingly intense and sacrilegious, Heidi’s health begins to decline. The women of Salem are also overcome with a sort of hypnotic spell, after one of Heidi’s co-workers plays the Lords album over the radio.
Heidi gradually begins to realize that certain forces are plotting against her and using her as a vessel to bring about an unspeakable evil. It all leads to a horrifying and unforgettable finale that left me speechless.
The Lords of Salem is one of the best horror films of 2013. It is a no-holds-barred experience, and if you are sensitive to satanic material, then you should avoid this film like the plague. It was almost too much for me, and I like to think that I’ve seen it all. There is imagery contained within that will shake you to the core, especially if you are not prepared. Other films tread lightly around the subject of witchcraft and devil worship, providing only enough exposure to remove you from your comfort zone and advance the plot. Rob Zombie holds absolutely nothing back, making this one of the most effective horror films of its kind, featuring a totally committed performance from Sheri Moon Zombie, who shows some incredible range here.
Zombie has obviously been influenced by Kubrick, Polanski, and Lynch here, borrowing from some of the greatest minds in the history of cinema. At the same time, he has created something uncompromising and quite unique that hardcore horror fans should not miss.
The Lords of Salem is a major success for Zombie as an artist. He has set the bar pretty high with this film. If you think that you can handle it, see it.