The Lords Of Salem (2012)
Did you ever hear that a movie was being made by a familiar director/writer/producer, watch as the news flashes talked about the making of the movie bit by bit, find out it's almost done and then finally in theaters so you go to see it and it's not at all what you were expecting? That's what happened to me when I watched the Lords Of Salem.
Seeing Rob Zombie movies before (and, as always, Sheri Moon Zombie) I had a certain expectation of what was going to be in this movie - hard core horror with no apologies, the kind of horror that not a lot of people can watch without flinching. This is so not that kind of movie. In fact, to be truthful, I had to watch it twice because the first time I was so disappointed and bored I thought okay, I didn't pay enough attention 'cause this can't possibly be by Rob Zombie.
To begin, if you haven't seen the movie and want to, this is a complete review with spoilers so you might want to skip it. Or read to know what to expect. Like I said the first time I was so disappointed, confused and just plain bored I knew I must either be really jaded or I didn't pay enough attention. In this movie, pay attention. I was reminded (the second time) of the movie Rosemary's Baby (which I didn't like) and the movies of the great Mario Bava (which I love) when I examined this movie in depth.
I had known that a great cast of horror icons had been assembled for this cast, which was to include Richard Lynch who, sadly, grew ill and died before he could appear in this film. But if you pay attention, you will see a whole lot of truly great actors and actresses (including Sig Haig, of course) making an appearance in this film about the Salem witch trials. And keep in mind this is heavy on story, short on 'jump out at you' scares, kind of like Rosemary's Baby. It's the atmosphere, the detail, and the incredible sets (like Mario Bava movies) that make this movie halfway decent, but also one which may not appeal to the blood and guts horror viewer.
Now before you dismiss this as just another Salem witch movie (like I almost did) this is actually an engaging story and before you cry nepotism, Sheri Moon Zombie is a good actress in her own right. She plays Heidi, a third of a team of DJ's at a local rock station (They still have those?). She is not portrayed as a great person or a bad one, but a flawed one which made her appear vulnerable and likable. One day she receives a box addressed to her real name instead of her stage name - it has a vinyl album by a band called The Lords.
One of the other DJ's says that since this is Salem it must be The Lords Of Salem. Not subtle, but okay. It's a discordant, disturbing piece of music that makes Heidi sick and see visions which stop once it is turned off. Expect a lot of that - visions and horrible things happening usually turn out to be Heidi either hallucinating or dreaming. THAT was annoying and an obvious horror movie device.
Enter Francis (Bruce Davison) who is plugging his book on the history of Salem. He hears the song and something about it bothers him. The camera cuts away to various women who seem to be in a trance while the record plays. Wow, there not only is a radio station that is popular, but women of all ages listen to it. How... convenient. Sorry, there are good parts to this but this was not one of them.
Back at her apartment she meets up with her landlady who wants her to join her and her sisters to have a drink.The three seriously creep her out so she leaves. She notices her dog is acting weird (Could it be the naked witches, symbols and other things that are in the air in corners that she never notices which was another movie duh?).
And again we get more 'hallucinations' - one of Heidi being sexually assaulted by a priest in a Catholic church (Really?), and faceless robed characters with absolutely zero menacing capabilities that tell her they have been 'waiting for her'. Francis, still bothered by the music and the name of the 'group' finds that the basic melody was written in a diary of the Reverend Hawthorne - the one who ordered the death of all the witches at the Salem trial.
And, of course, in less than five minutes, he discovers Heidi is... wait for it... a descendant of the Reverend. He then 'discovers' (He didn't know this when he wrote his book?) that the witches had 'cursed' all the female descendants of the original Salem founders, and Hawthorne's descendant would be the mother of a 'devil child'. I should have had my horror movie worksheet (patent pending) out because most of this I figured out after Heidi's first 'hallucination'. Sigh.
Then we get more visions, more gasping sitting up in bed and you could easily start to lose interest. But the details are very engaging. Sheri's appearance, with the striped sweater, shorts that don't quite stay up, long blonde dreads and many tattoos (and for some reason black framed glasses) was unique - during one of the 'hallucinations' she also gets a total face paint treatment and the whole image is surreal.
Francis tries to visit Heidi at home only to be murdered by the landlady and her 'sisters' with... wait for it... a frying pan. Yes ladies, you too can practice home defense with common kitchen items. As long as your cookware is cast iron, you have nothing to worry about. Sorry, this was just another reason I had such mixed feeling towards this film. It had so much potential but when it came to something that could have been really horror-worthy it just... wasn't.
The ending is truly big, lavish, and - not scary in the least. Heidi meets with her friends at the door of the hall where the concert is starting but locks the two men out and goes in herself. We see the three sisters and the apparitions of the original murdered witches on the stage, and in the audience, a smattering of women.
As the witches all start their chant, the women in the audience begin to shed their clothes and Heidi is now on stage on a table giving birth to... wait for it... some squid thing. You never clearly see what the hell it's supposed to be, just as you don't see details of the monsters and other things that might have been scary but aren't. You then see Heidi dressed in finery, on top of a mass pile of bodies.
The next day, the radio announcer (who sounds a lot like Rob himself) tells of the tragedy in the concert hall of all the female descendants of the original Salem founders who had apparently committed suicide. We are also told that Heidi has disappeared and no one has any idea where she has gone. On to the next Rob Zombie movie no doubt.
So my main complaint is that the movie feels incomplete, like an idea that was never finished. My compliment is in the details and the sets and the different acting jobs of the many seasoned actors in it. Sigh. Despite its good points I just can't recommend it.