Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Friday, February 27, 2015

[Satanophobia] Lords of Salem (2012)

Lords of Salem - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
In modern day Salem, recovering heroin addict and late night radio DJ Heidi LaRoc (one-third of WQIZ's The Big H team) receives an unusual package at the station—a wooden box containing a vinyl record album by a group calling themselves the Lords. When she and her co-host/would-be lover Whitey play the record at Heidi's apartment, the droning and repetitive tones are almost too much for her to bear. Whitey, though, has the bright idea of playing the album on the air the following night.

When they do, select female members of the listening audience seem to fall into a trance, a standing catatonic state that ends at the same time the record does.

Back at the studio, though, the current guest—Francis Mathias, author of Satan's Last Stand: The Truth About the Salem Witch Trials—is, in his words, "upset" by the music. Both it, and the name Lords of Salem, seem naggingly familiar to him, and quickly become something of an obsession.

A bit of research uncovers the musical notes from the song inscribed in the journal of Jonathan Hawthorne, a pious man who hundreds of years ago hunted local witch Margaret Morgan and her coven...a coven who, not so coincidentally, called themselves the Lords of Salem.

When Hawthorne and his band of merry men burned the coven at the stake, Margaret spat a curse upon the women of Salem ("the forever deaths of daughters' daughters") and Hawthorne's bloodline ("the vessel by which the devil's child will inherit the earth"). Heidi LaRoc's real name is Heidi Hawthorne, and now, all these years later, the chickens have come home to roost.

Every time Heidi hears the music, her mental state (already fragile) worsens and she slips deeper and deeper into psychosis. She suffers from visions that may be construed as hallucinations or nightmares, but as the viewers are privy to a few sights that Heidi doesn't see—the images of naked witches appearing in her apartment, for instance—that can mean only one thing: the Lords of Salem are coming.

Quite literally. The radio station announces that the band The Lords are going to be performing a free
Lords of Salem - The Record Box
The Record Box
concert for the citizens of Salem, and the Big H team will be there to report on the event. The first track on the set list, of course, is the one that has been droning across the airwaves for a few days now, and that doesn't prove good for anybody, as the centuries-old curses finally come to fruition.

The finale may prove a bit confusing for some viewers...but then again, the rest of the film might have confused them already. Like many of the movies that writer-director Rob Zombie is riffing on here, the plot is light, and the visuals are heavy—but they are also sumptuous. His influences are obvious, stemming not so much from individual titles but the subgenre's collective consciousness as a whole, and they are lovingly assembled together into something that can only be called a unique pastiche. Zombie is, in my opinion, the Quentin Tarantino of horror films, crafting his own voice by borrowing the syllables of others. If this had been made in the 1970s by some obscure European director, it would probably be heralded as a lost classic by horror fans today.

Like Tarantino, music always plays an important role in Zombie's films, and there is typically a scene therein that changes the way that I hear one particular centerpiece tune forever. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005) had “Free Bird”, HALLOWEEN II (2009) had “Knights in White Satin”, and LORDS OF SALEM has “All Tomorrow's Parties”. Though expertly inserted into the narrative (and it's always a treat to hear Lou Reed and his cohorts), I didn't initially believe that the film had affected my listening of this song in the same manner, primarily because the Velvet Underground had already been a major component of my own personal soundtrack for the better part of my life. And yet, after having now seen the flick a couple of times, I started up the track and was surprised to find that I couldn't help but picture the witches resplendently gazing upon their ascending Virgin Mary of Hell.

Lords of Salem - Virgin Mary of Hell
Virgin Mary of Hell
So, score one for Rob Zombie.

Also like Tarantino, the careful casting of occasionally-overlooked genre actors is a staple of Zombie's films. Here, he makes use of Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978), Meg Foster (THEY LIVE, 1988), Bruce Davison (WILLARD, 1971), Patricia Quinn (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975), Dee Wallace (CUJO, 1983), and many others.

Although this movie is not going to be to everyone's liking, I believe it is Zombie's most mature work to date, and shows his growth as a director (that being said, it isn't my favorite of his films—that goes to THE DEVIL'S REJECTS). His ever-present and always-beautiful wife Sheri Moon Zombie plays the lead role of Hedi, and this is by far her best role to date, hopefully landing her work outside of her husband's films sometime in the near future. And for the hormonally-driven male viewer, yes, Sheri does bare her bottom on a few occasions, and it is delightful as ever.

Heidi's apartment offers a few other glories to behold, as well, with a blown-up still from Georges Melies' 1902 film A TRIP TO THE MOON adorning the wall above her bed (meaning that, while she's sleeping nude, Moon is mooning the camera beneath a moon), and a decidedly Warhol-esque print of the titular character in KING OF THE ROCKET MEN (1949) hangs in the bathroom. One's home is the physical manifestation of their mind—it is filled with things that we like, and the photographs, books, movies, etc. that we keep can offer an amazing insight into who we are—so Heidi's apartment, which starts off as neat and organized, becomes more and more disheveled as she becomes unbalanced.

The hallucinatory sequences are truly something to behold, all the more impressive in light of the fact that they were all done practically with no digital effects. There are Halloween masks and neon crosses that offer a low-rent, Vegas glimpse of Heidi's descent, but there are also enormous, gorgeous cathedrals that bring things to a fantastic visual crescendo.

One of the final sequences offers up a manic montage of bizarre imagery, coming across more like a music
Lords of Salem - Neon Crosses
Neon Crosses
video with its quick cuts and MTV edits than anything else. While it's true that this goes against the more subdued pacing of the rest of the film, I believe it's fitting for Heidi's character. She's a rocker girl, and as these are her warped perceptions of a freshly-warped reality, why wouldn't they be attuned specifically to her? Hell, and the devil, are very personal matters.

Zombie's interpretation of Satan is not your typical cloven-hoofed beast. Here, the devil is seen as a short, pudgy, deformed little dwarf that impregnates Heidi not through the normal means, but, unbelievably, via intestine-like appendages that he releases from his distended belly. And when she gives birth, it is not to a humanoid of any sort, but rather some obscured crustacean-type creature that is, presumably, a Lovecraftian vision of the newborn anti-Christ. Bizarre does not even begin to describe it.

There have been complaints online about the sacrilegious themes that are prevalent in the film, and specifically some of the anti-Christian sentiments expressed by the witches. Suffice it to say, if you're offended by Satanic cinema, and yet you willingly watch a movie that is quite openly about a coven of evil Satan worshipping witches, then your delicate sensibilities deserve the vicious thrashing that they receive.

In March 2013, one month before the film began its limited release to theaters, a novelization by Zombie and co-author B.K. Evenson hit the shelves. As it was based on the original script, and much of the script was altered on the fly while shooting, there are a number of differences between the two. Among them, there is a minor subplot involving demonic possession and murder, and a pair of unholy nuns that lurk around the edges but don't really add anything to the story. Also, there is an interesting aspect in that the record by the Lords plays backwards (tying cleverly into the now-faded backmasking controversy), which would have been a fun gimmick to see on film.

Lords of Salem: The Novel - Cover Image
Lords of Salem: The Novel
Unfortunately, the writing here is serviceable at its best, and painfully generic at its worst. It comes across more like fan fiction than actual fiction as Zombie fills page after page with repetitive, over-the-top scenes of weird creatures and strange occurrences that serve mostly as filler. It's a blessing that time and money constraints required the production to be scaled down to what it would later become.

Overall, the movie is a far more interesting take on the same story, and the novelization was a disservice to the tale. Those who were confused by the film, but still interested, may want to read the book regardless, as together they will offer up a more complete version of Zombie's original vision.

Strange as it may sound, one of the things that I've learned over the course of working on Satanophobia is how to watch these sorts of films. You have to view them with a mind that is untethered to the strictures of reality, and simply accept the things that happen, no matter how unlikely they seem, without ever asking "Why?" or "How?" When Jason Voorhees returns to life for the eighth time, we don't question how it happened; we just accept that it has happened. We've seen it happen so many times before, it no longer seems strange to us. So why should Satanic films be any different? Why should we spend so much time and effort questioning why Andy doesn't remember wearing the uniform in SATAN'S BLOOD, or how it could be possible for Carol to dream the whole film before it happens in BLACK CANDLES? Especially when we have the greatest scapegoat ever to blame it on.

To quote Flip Wilson, "The devil made me do it."


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