Lords of Salem 2012 Dir. Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie is a brilliant director that has a keenly developed visual style. He has clearly been nursed on the filmic teat of director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Funhouse), and yet inspirations from the silent era still find their way into his compositions and set designs. His directorial debut was a nasty little piece called House of a Thousand Corpses. A throwback to 70s exploitation horror, Corpses saw a group of young people fall unwittingly into the clutches of a murderous family. With his second feature, the sequel The Devil’s Rejects Zombie had grown by leaps and bounds, turning in the day-glow music video influences, for a film drenched in dust and sweat. Rejects still holds up on its own, superior to its predecessor. Then we saw Zombie take on one of horror’s biggest icons, Michael Meyers in a remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween and its sequel. If I’m to be honest, Zombie was slumming it on these pictures and it looks like he knew it. Aside from brilliant performances from Malcom McDowell and Brad Dourif, Halloween 1 and 2 offer nothing new to the series, nor to the genre as a whole. Fortunately for horror fans, Zombie’s next project was the slow burn witch film, Lords of Salem.
I won’t lie to you, as much as I praise Zombie’s work, there is inevitably something in each of his films that I find difficult to watch. He has an eye for the repulsive, which is not in short supply in this genre. However, Zombie handles the grotesque or intensely uncomfortable with expertise, and in Lords of Salem, he earns these moments with long stretches of quiet foreboding. The film follows Heidi Hawthorne, a radio D.J. in Salem Massachusetts who is also a recovering alcoholic. Heidi receives a strange package at the radio station containing a record from a band calling themselves the “Lords of Salem”. When the D.J.s play the song, it seems to unleash something within Heidi. Early in the film, Heidi is plagued by a flashback of a black mass held by a trio of witches. This scene is very reminiscent of the Danish silent film Häxan, once again showcasing Zombie’s love for horror history. Heidi also becomes hyper aware of an empty apartment down the hall from her own. There are strange sounds emanating from behind the door, and Heidi clearly sees someone close the door from within, but she is assured by her landlady, that the space is unoccupied.
As Heidi navigates her troubled feelings, combined with fighting a relapse, she is guided by her landlady and two other women who take a great interest in the young woman. There is also a subplot featuring Bruce Davidson as Francis Mathias, a writer who is working on a book about the Salem Witch Trials. He seems to be the only character other than Heidi to recognize something amiss, and in any other film he might be our hero.
There are brilliantly filmed dream sequences and for the most part, the monsters are used sparingly or are left to our own imaginations. This feels like an intimate story with grand implications, which is a very difficult kind of tale to pull off. There are shades of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, but the film never feels like it’s stealing, simply calling back. Lords of Salem is Zombie’s best film to date. It is a slow building, disquieting horror tale that churns forward toward an inevitable and well earned conclusion.