With The Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie has managed to surpass his devotion to late-’70s/early-’80s slasher-film worship to make a film that is stylish and provocative, yet still being genuinely freaky. The Lords of Salem takes the better parts of the last 4 decades of horror and throws them in a blender, then cooks them down in a spoon; a kind of HYPERHORROR that could only have been made now.
The story revolves around radio personality Heidi LaRoc (played by supervixen Sheri Moon Zombie) part of Salem, Ma.’s Wild 3, with co-hosts Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman (Ken Foree). She receives a record in a rugged wooden box, from a band identified only as The Lords, whom Whitey refers to as The Lords Of Salem. The record is a chanting hypnotic sawing pagan drone (courtesy of film scorer John 5) that causes Heidi to have flashbacks to a bunch of sinister women gathered around a campfire, performing unspeakable rites.
An occult expert gets drawn into the fray, with Francis Matthias (played by Bruce Davison from TV’s Harry & The Hendersons), a local witch historian who is a guest on their radio program. He is disconcerted by the eerie music of The Lords Of Salem record; there is something that strikes him about that name, causing him to investigate.
Things quickly degenerate for all parties.
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers (although there may be some later on) and I highly recommend that any horror fans interested JUST SEE THIS FILM. I will spend my time looking at a couple of themes present in this movie, and the way it is particular to Modern Horror.
If you JUST NEED TO KNOW MORE: follow this wiki lead. It will tell you everything.
From here on out, reader beware! I’ll avoid any graphic content, but this film possesses some pretty extreme imagery and concepts. Those easily offended or with strong religious affiliations would be advised to STOP READING NOW. Those not afraid of a little darkness, read on.
Against The Status Quo
…horror fiction is really as Republican as a banker in a three-piece suit.
The story is always the same in terms of its development. There’s an
incursion into taboo lands, there’s a place where you shouldn’t go, but
you do, the same way that your mother would tell you that the freak tent
is a place you shouldn’t go, but you do. And the same thing happens
inside: you look at the guy with three eyes, or you look at the fat lady or
you look at the skeleton man or Mr. Electrical or whoever it happens to
be. And when you come out, well, you say, “Hey, I’m not so bad. I’m all
right. A lot better than I thought.” It has that effect of reconfirming
values, of reconfirming self-image and our good feelings about
– Stephen King
We Are Not The Crying Sheep Of God.
We worship the goat.
– Count Gorgann, Leviathan The Fleeing Serpent
The Lords Of Salem is a particularly diabolical film. I don’t think it could have been made before 2011, or if it had been, it would have been farther underground than the French Catacombs. It deals with the subject of the Salem Witch Trials, and resurrected witches taking their revenge on their Christian persecutors. The witches themselves are vile, you can understand why medieval peasants feared them; they mocked innocence and cherish the unclean. They do not want to fit in; they HATE the opposition. Pure, unadulterated evil. The Witches were burned in 1693 for making unholy music in the woods surrounding Salem, and the Men feared the music would corrupt Salem’s women, possess them and drive them to madness. You can see the original backlash against Rock ‘n Roll, (which was called The Devil’s Music), echoed historically. But r ‘n r has been effectively neutralized, it is the safest, blandest, most understood commodity in the universe. The wolf has had its fangs yanked, but along comes Mr. Zombie and his slasher flicks.
The Lords Of Salem does not revert you back to consensual reality. It does not end well for the good guys, and you leave with the unsettling sensation that we’re DOOMED, (which places it firmly in the bummer horror camp, which is another relatively recent development). It confronts the viewer with blatant sacrireligious imagery, bordering on pornographic, and openly makes fun of Christianity. This is all delivered in a smooth slick psychotropic surreal Modern Style that is equal parts Ti West, Immortal Music Video, and The Holy Mountain. It is a visual triumph – Rob Zombie truly understands what people like nowadays – and he wraps up a number of subversive subcultural sentiments that have been going on for over 50 years. It looks so good, it could be considered a Modern Classic and stands to cross-over to the mainstream public, which says a lot about where people’s heads are at, and also makes it dangerous.
The Lords Of Salem also attacks the typical role of the feminine in the horror film. Women’s roles in Horror are nearly always as victim, frequently just a pretty prop to prop some butts in the aisles. This tends to reinforce the societal norm, of society as WATCH DOG. Bad things happen when you get out of line, and we need society to protect us from the bogies of the night.
The women in The Lords Of Salem are wild women, however: getting naked in the woods, playing unhinged music, laughing, cackling, dancing. They are not afraid of the dark, they live and thrive in the dark. A number of the women in the film fulfill powerful archetypal feminine rolls; the whole thing reeks of Moon Magick. Of course, this is probably not going to win it any favors in the feminist or Pagan communities, as it depicts women becoming blood-thirsty evil hags when left to their own devices. This is, of course, not true for all Ladies, only those that are evil and blood-thirsty.
This blurring of lines, transgression of boundaries are part of what makes this movie so great, and what’s going to make it hard for it to find its audience. A common criticism is that its too Arty for Zombie’s gorefiend rabble, The House Of 1000 Corpses committee. It’s kind of slow moving and atmospheric, and doesn’t have a lot of blood. It DOES, however, have some of the sweetest minions this side of Cerebus, pig-headed demons worthy of Jodorowsky. It deserves to be championed.
The Lords Of Salem speaks for, and too, 1000000 hipster tumblr blogs sporting inverted crosses and black metal videos. The unholy sawing is no longer delegated to the desolate wilderness, and we are forced to look at some difficult questions. Which is what horror, and other marginal genres, are best at. It casts a mesmerizing spell, and you WILL NOT be the same, after viewing.
To quickly recap, if you’re not afraid of Satanism or Witchcraft, this movie is excellent. Its a stylish descendant of Dario Argento‘s Three Witches trilogy, although not as bloody or sadistic. All of the acting was fine, (and I think some critics have been unduly harsh with Ms. Moon, who was, after all, being infiltrated by the devil while having a relapse, so she IS rather zapped for the latter part of the film). Two thumb bones up for Meg Foster, who is bewitching as head fiend “The Witch Margaret Morgan” – a truly powerful, malevolent woman still captivating despite being wretched, filthy and homicidal. This movie has some of all of the best things horror movies to offer – history, mystery, sexiness, real Magick, a killer score (feat. two Velvet Underground songs you’ll never hear the same way again), beautiful atmospheric sets (that frequently give a sly nod to vintage classic genre films), and an unforgettable ending.
Its not perfect, but its damn DAMN good.
Stay tuned as we continue to dig up examples of Modern Masterpieces; we’re not yet dry! We’re finally excited and enthralled, so we’ll be looking at the new for a while, before returning to the classics.
Did you like the film? What were some of your experiences? Know of some other gems that people should know about? Post ’em up! We do our best TO SEE/READ IT ALL, and return with our field notes.
The Lords Of Salem will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Sept. 3, 2013