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The Lords of Salem (2012)
Written and Directed by Rob Zombie
The idea for this film came about after Rob had attended a wedding in Salem; having grown up there himself and buying a book on the towns past that he found intriguing. Writing a novel with help from B.K. Evenson as a stepping stone in understanding his latest project and having the film come out 5 weeks later with what is to be Zombie’s last horror film. The first part of the book takes place on September 16, 1692 as we witness a coven of six led by Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster) calling forth the one of which they’ve pledged themselves to (Satan). With Justice Samuel Mather watching nearby in the woods, having spent many nights waiting for this exact moment to initiate. Moving swiftly to inform John Hawthorne and brothers Virgil and Dean Magnus of it being time to go forth and destroy the towns evil once and for all. Not realizing that as they condemned these woman, Morgan was laying a curse on the daughters of their very descendants. Promising of Reverend Hawthorne’s lineage being the vessel of which their Master would complete his journey. Claiming that they would be the everlasting plague of Salem.
Flash forwarding to present day as we follow Heidi; full name Adelheid Elizabeth Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) who is a local DJ in Salem, Massachusetts. Combining with Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman (Ken Foree) to create the “Big H Radio Team;” who were surly worth tuning in to hear, though didn’t have much of a choice when compared to the other stations. Though clear they were a tight-knit group, what the audience is left to formulate on their own is that they have been through more than initially leading on. Heidi is a recovering drug addict and had would have lost her job at the station if not for Herman who had put his own job on the line vouching for her. While Whitey, unable to hide the obvious crush held for her, holds a slight charm that refuses to let up throughout the entirety of the script.
At the beginning of the week the team interviews a band by the name of Leviathan and the Fleeing Serpent of which Count Gorgann spoke for. And while the movie only shows this character, the book includes Dr. Butcher who sounded just as eerie and turns out are connected to the Lords; though not entirely implied in the film. But when the team heads out for the day Heidi finds that a record had been left for her from some band entitled The Lords. Herman later tacking on “of Salem” under the assumption that they were a local band and implying that is was more than likely complete crap. All the more reason Heidi decides to take it home and give a listen to, soon discovering the strange effect that took over whenever hearing the track. The next day at the station Dr. Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) arrives to discuss his latest book, “Satan’s Last Stand: The Truth about the Salem Witch Trials;” which the movie portrays as though any other interview. However in the book the lack of interest into the subject outright upsets the Doc and he finds himself almost yelling in response to what he felt were ridicules questions. Soon after, using the unidentified record for their “Smash or Trash” segment as the native female audience also feels the effect taking over their body. Once returning home that night Heidi is somewhat forced to co-hearse with her landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and two sisters, Megan (Patricia Quinn) and Sonny (Dee Wallace) over some wine and palm reading. Delving a bit too far into left field as Heidi feels shes over stayed her welcome and leaves abruptly.
Continued visions mixed with vivid nightmares keep messing with and distorting her reality, beckoning old habits to resurface as she cannot help but revisit those same places. The change in her mannerisms having convinced her co-workers of having started using again. Though offering their assistance, it seemed Lacy and her sisters had more control over the situation then anyone could even bother with. And as Francis finds himself intrigued by the record heard while in the studio, he dives back into the subject to further investigate his hunch on something being too familiar about the name. Finding the lost notes of John Hawthorne’s diary and convincing his wife Alice (Maria Conchita Alonso) to play the notes out on the piano, ensuring such was the case. Several days after he takes a trip out to visit/warn Heidi in which he encounters Lacy instead and is invited in for some tea while waiting for her return. The only issue being that Heidi had not left her apartment and had furthered her spiral down the rabbit hole, needing a fix just a bit too strongly. Francis soon paying for his curiosity while Whitey stopped by soon after to walk Heidi for what was to be the Lords concert later that night. Except the concert would be held at the abandoned Salem Palladium of which didn’t look any less deserted at this point. All the strange occurrences finally coming to an end as Heidi’s fate catches up with her and the sisters find themselves avenged.
There really is something hypnotizing about the way Zombie directs his films. He has an unexplained genius that is orchestrated by instinct rather than restriction. Especially being able to obtain a contract in which the studio would be forced to have no say in the matter with this film. Whether you can understand the twisted stories presented is another factor all together. Leaving no lead ins and rather, forcing the audience to think for themselves as opposed to having everything be blatantly obvious as to its meaning. But his method for capturing each tale being what makes his vision so unique. Using slow though definitive movements to capture these scenes, enticed me as to what would follow, having no way of actually knowing. Intermingling with specific zoom shots that added to the suspense without really even trying to. Because as extreme as his films can be interpreted for, he’s sure to give each an aspect of reality that makes his viewers cringe or unable to fathom what exactly they are being shown. But thats a rariety nowadays that I feel needs to be appreciated on its own terms for.
The film does have some amazing aesthetics though there was really only one visual that I could have done without (I’m sure most would agree). The scene where Sheri enters the cathedral rang heavy Kubrick tones and while may throw the typical audience member for a loop, is sure to leave just enough to wonder what could possibly be going on in Zombie’s mind. What surprised me was how much it didn’t actually feel like a typical film by him, which only means that he’s progressing as a Director. I’ve always favored his approach and how it wasn’t about how much money one could throw into a project but rather, what kind of world he could create with a familiar feel of older Horror classics. Now while understanding that Sheri was certainly not the best thing about the film, she wasn’t by far something that hindered it by any means. The fact of the matter is that her and her husband work well together and the appreciation held for her is obvious when seeing how he continues to portray her. I usually tend to expect no more than 85% from her though simply because of the lack of experience as well as the subject matter at hand. Foree and Phillips were a nice change of pace to pair alongside with as Davison was as well. But Sid Haig and Michael Berryman may be something you miss if blinking too long. Having cut a severe majority of scenes and in the end, missing out on several other promised Actors that were left on the cutting room floor. The three “sisters” each working well off of the other. Geeson and Quinn especially setting the eerie tones for what was to happen with Wallace being the pseudo perky blond that shes known all too well for. But one cannot overlook, despite their opinion on the film, the superb performance put on by Meg Foster. No less than complete perfection and her portrayal was certainly what most will remember the film for.
Though I’d strongly suggest reading the book if wanting any further insight on the matter. It is imperative in order to further understand the world according to The Lords. While the amount of detail, naturally, would be immensely significant in any case of comparison to an adaptation. I felt that perhaps too much was left out and thus was where it became hard for audiences to follow. However, if you have already seen the film and believe it to be gory or gross in any sense of the word, clearly this is a subject you shouldn’t delve into any further. Because the book doesn’t hold back and while I personally found it enthralling as the story continued, it tells a completely different tale. Rob made the story he wanted, he just left it in the book. Though perhaps I’ve seen too much portrayed on-screen to believe this, of all things, to be wildly inappropriate. Otherwise I would highly recommend the book, no matter which source you choose to go about in-taking first.