Dawn of the Dead and Rosemary’s Baby are my two favorite horror movies of all time. The former’s Ken Foree appears in The Lords of Salem, while the latter was obviously a huge influence on director Rob Zombie. Intellectually, I can tell you this film is a pretentious mess. That didn’t stop me from loving every moment of it. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for movies about witchcraft and Satanism, so it’s hard to remain objective when my heartstrings are being pulled so thoroughly. This is one of the most glorious, straight-faced, stupid pieces of shit I have ever seen.
Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, who else?) is a kind of shock-jock radio personality who plays whatever the hell she wants over Salem’s airwaves. In another segment of the show, she and her co-hosts interview locals who coincidentally specialize in subjects relating to the film’s plot. Nifty, huh? During these needlessly chatty scenes, the actors seem so disconnected from each other you begin to wonder if their closeups were filmed in isolation tanks. It’s really weird.
What’s weirder is a naked witch (Meg Foster) frequently watches Heidi from the shadows of her curiously empty apartment building. These strange happenings begin around the time Heidi receives a mysterious record, the music of which makes her feel nauseous and sleepy. When she broadcasts the record from the radio station, several more women across Salem experience the same trance-like effects. Thankfully, a witchcraft historian (Bruce Davison, who gives us the best performance in the entire picture) realizes the music is much more than a droning tune and investigates the matter further. All the while, Heidi is falling deeper and deeper under the witch’s spell.
I’m not sure why I feel the need to tread lightly in regards to spoilers. Not much of it makes sense by the end anyway, so what’s the point in trying to protect that which only exists to boggle the mind? I will say I loved Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace Stone in this movie. The veteran actresses deliver the kind of stuff you rarely see in horror movies, but always want to see more of.
To be sure, we’ve all seen this movie several times before, but not quite like this. The usual pop cultural references to Rob Zombie’s childhood are in full effect, while the list of cameos (from Barbara Crampton to Clint Howard) reads like the guest list at a star-studded horror convention. If you’re a fan of modern horror, you’re probably not going to like this movie very much. Scratch that—if you’re a human being, you’re probably not going to like this movie, period. I imagine there’s a very small demographic of moviegoers who’re going to appreciate it. And you know what? That makes it all the more special.
Whether you like Zombie or not, you’ve got to admit he’s not making movies for anyone but himself. This isn’t just the latest inoffensive horror offering, which exists only to sell tickets to teenagers. If anything, it’s going to make the teenagers roll their eyes. I think that’s what Zombie, now in his 50s, had in mind.