Until he blows it in the 3rd act, I really believed that Rob Zombie had something going here. It wasn’t until then, that “The Lords of Salem” became little more than a silly “Rosemary’s Baby” knock-off. And it’s especially disheartening, because he had built a sizable amount of tension and good will up until that point. I don’t know if we’ll ever get a “great” Rob Zombie film(some would argue that “The Devil’s Rejects” from 2005 occupies that slot…that one does have an incredible finale), but I admire his work ethic. Zombie obviously adores the old Universal horror classics. And even his updated “Halloween” twofer from last decade have enough to recommend them. Zombie always just misses in my eyes, but I want to be on record as recognizing that Rob actually does possess some real talent as a director(he’s primarily known as a rocker, of course). And I even kind of like his frequent leading lady(aka, his smoking hot wife)Sheri Moon Zombie. So sue me.
Massachusetts-based hard rock DJ, and recovering drug addict, Heidi(Ms. Moon Zombie)receives a record from a band touting themselves as the Lords of Salem. When the album(on good, old-fashioned vinyl, btw)is played, Heidi begins to have disturbing visions. When she interviews an author of a book about the Salem witch trials, she plays the disturbing music on-air for him. The author(yes that’s “Willard” alumni, Bruce Davison!)believes there is something sinister about the songs—something confirmed for us viewers when several female listeners appear to go into some sort of trance during the broadcast. Back at her apartment later, Heidi shares some wine with her spooky landlord(English horror film fixture, Judy Geeson)and her two sisters(“Rocky Horror” royalty Patricia Quinn and 70’s/80’s fright flick perennial, Dee Wallace). One of the women is a palm reader that informs Heidi that she’ll eventually succumb to “dark sexual desires”. As Heidi’s nightmares get more vivid, and her reaction to them more intense, she eventually finds herself turning to drugs once again for solace. It all soon leads to a Lords of Salem special concert presentation at a local Salem, Mass performance space.
I greatly admire how Zombie chooses to stock his horror homages with recognizable stars from past chillers. Besides those already mentioned, there’s Ken Foree(George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, “From Beyond”)as a fellow DJ, and Andrew Prine(“Grizzly”, “The Evil”)as a 17th century Reverend. Mr. Zombie loves and respects the genre and his enthusiasm is contagious. If only everything he brings to “The Lords of Salem” coalesced into a stronger film. It has a good amount of frightening moments and some scary imagery. However, that late-film “devil”-thing has to go, and Zombie wraps up by blowing the denouement. It aches to be a bit less on spectacle, and a bit more disquieting. I do however feel that some of this probably worked much better on a big screen at an actual theater—preferably at a midnight showing. And it would be nice to see Mr. Zombie get more popular appreciation for what he brings to the table, instead of simply his core, cult following. He was almost there with the “Halloween” remakes. For now, though—it’s back to the drawing board. Grade: C+