Robert Bartleh Cummings, better known as Rob Zombie, heavy metal screamer and director of such trash as House of 1000 Corpses, is a goremeister who turns movies into the cinematic equivalent of sonic waterboarding. The new one is a tale from the crypt called The Lords of Salem. It would make a much better comic book.
It begins with a coven of witches dancing around a bonfire in 1696. A high-minded reverend named Hawthorne has doomed them to die, but before he can burn them at the stake, they strip naked, dance around the flames, declare themselves disciples of Satan, and lay a curse on the preacher and all of his descendants.
Cut to today. A goth deejay by the name of Heidi LaRoq (played by the director’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie—who could make this stuff up?), in eyeglasses and blonde cornrows and covered with tattoos, helms a ghastly radio show called “Salem Rocks,” playing the screeching records of—you guessed it—Rob Zombie! Somebody delivers a bizarre wooden box containing ancient historical information about Salem back in the day, including the diary of the Reverend Hawthorne, who destroyed the original coven of witches he labeled the Lords of Salem. Nestled between the artifacts is a musty phonograph record of witch music designed to possess the soul and drive the listener insane. Funny, I didn’t know they made LPs in the 17th century, but this is the kind of movie that can be vastly educational when you least expect it.
As soon as Heidi plays the chants on the air, female listeners all over Boston fall into a trance. One of Heidi’s guests on “Salem Rocks” (played by Bruce Davison, of all people), plugging his new book about the witch trials of yore, denounces the myth of witchcraft as nothing more than a psychotic belief brought on by a delusional state of mind. Later, he Googles the deejay’s family tree and discovers—big surprise—that Heidi’s real name is Hawthorne, and she’s a cursed descendant of the preacher who torched the witches in the forest near Salem. The rest of this brainless farrago of shrieks and freaks is pure trash, written with disappearing ink and directed from a phone booth, but good for a few highly successful goose bumps. The halls outside Heidi’s apartment fill with rats. A cross burns in No. 5, although it has been empty for years. Heidi visits a church for solace, and the priest rapes her violently and regurgitates blood. The rest of the movie follows poor Heidi as she freaks out, scene by scene, dreaming that a band of zombies in surgical masks is removing her intestines. When the suspicious author finally gets around to checking on Heidi, the three crones from Macbeth (played by veteran actors Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn) demonstrate new things to do with an iron frying pan right out of a two-reeler featuring the Three Stooges. Almost the entire movie takes place in darkness, so it’s hard to see what’s going on, but Heidi, it seems, is the vessel through which Satan will inherit the Earth. It is never clear why Heidi the deejay from hell doesn’t just pack a bag and move to Palm Springs.
But before you can say Beelzebub, Heidi must honor the seeds of the Devil in a spawn sequence heavily inspired by Rosemary’s Baby, which was a much better motion picture in about a thousand ways. This one is so bad it’s hilarious. Sheri Moon Zombie is no Mia Farrow, Rob Zombie is no Roman Polanski, and The Lords of Salem seems to have been made by people on the rubber bus headed for a rubber room with bars on the windows.
THE LORDS OF SALEM
Written by Rob Zombie
Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison and Jeff Daniel Phillips
Running time: 101 mins.