The Lords of Salem: Film Review

Lords of Salem Film Still - H 2013
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Lords of Salem Film Still - H 2013

Although it eventually descends into silliness, this creepily atmospheric effort delivers some effective scares along the way.

Horror specialist Rob Zombie delivers a nightmarish tale of modern-day witches.

It was only a matter of time before rocker-filmmaker Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, the Halloween remakes) turned his attention to witches. Representing a more subtle, stylized effort than usual for this slasher-film aficionado, The Lords of Salem is more creepily atmospheric than truly scary and eventually lapses into silliness. But it does provide some evocatively spooky moments along the way.

Beginning with a scene set in the 17th century featuring a coven of witches -- naked, naturally -- cursing the preacher who has sentenced them to being burned at the stake, the film flash-forwards to modern-day Salem, where Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s wife) works as a radio DJ. One day she receives a mysterious wooden box containing an LP record with music by the titular group, which she broadcasts. The otherworldly music turns out to have a disturbing effect on its female listeners, including Heidi, who begins showing signs of either her becoming one of Satan’s spawns or relapsing into her former drug use.

A local historian (Bruce Davison) who considers witchery merely a form of psychosis begins looking into the phenomenon, which eventually leads him to an unfortunate encounter with Heidi’s landlord and her female cohorts, who turn out to be modern-day descendants of the ill-fated witches.

As Heidi gradually falls under the witches’ spell -- it takes place over a week, signaled by title cards indicating the day accompanied by portentous sound effects -- the film piles on scenes in which she encounters such malevolent figures as a priest who drips blood from his mouth and a horde of rats that fill her hallway. Speaking of hallways, there are more ominous shots of them here than in all of The Shining.

That film and Rosemary’s Baby are but two of the obvious influences on this effort, with the director’s love for B movies evident in his enjoyable casting of such performers as Davison, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchito Alonso, Judy Geeson and Meg Foster as a crone-like witch.

Opens Friday, April 19 (Anchor Bay Films)

Production: Alliance Film, Automatik Entertainment, Blumhouse Productions, Haunted Movies, IM Global

Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Richard Fancy

Director-screenwriter: Rob Zombie

Producers: Rob Zombie, Jason Blum, Andy Gould, Oren Peli

Executive producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Steven Schneider

Director of photography: Brandon Trost

Editor: Glenn Garland

Production designer: Jennifer Spence

Costume designer: Leah Butler

Composers: John 5, Griffin Boice

Rated R, 101 minutes