The Lords of Salem
Directed by Rob Zombie
After directing a series of splatterfests starting with 2003's House of 1,000 Corpses, Rob Zombie has after a decade traded in the buckets of blood for something classier. By the end of his latest, the lyrically off-the-wall Lords of Salem, the bodies literally pile up, but for the bulk of its running time no one dies; instead, Zombie draws on less gory influences—Rosemary's Baby, Jacob's Ladder, The Sentinel—to craft classically creepy horror, an atmospheric, slow-boil mystery about ancient curses and contemporary covens.
His wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, stars as a dreadlocked DJ, Heidi, part of a trio of late-night shock jocks in the titular town who interview Satanist rockers and authors of supernatural history in between puerile wisecracking and sound effects. When she plays a record she received from "The Lords," it triggers in her flashbacks to Massachusetts' witch-burning past, and when she plays it on the air, it affects other local women, too. (The idea of possessing souls for sinister purposes through music is a pretty funny joke coming from the former frontman of a heavy metal band.) Heidi begins to unravel, having sinister dreams (one of which involves fellating a priest) and trippy, seemingly real encounters with evil beings (like the ghoulish baby with two super-long phalluses that she masturbates); she's also a former addict who starts using again.
There seems to be some serious misogyny and Catholicism at the movie's core—even that most feminine of biological processes, childbirth, is here a tool of the devil—involving the return of the repressed, the shame of American history: not the zealous murder of innocent women in the 17th century, but the devil worship of early New England females! The supernatural evil is literal. But Zombie executes the story with such impressive artistry, an impressionism that borders on abstraction, that the subtext is easy to look past. Who ever would have thought the helmer of the artfully grindhouse Devil's Rejects would be genuinely scaring us with slow tracking shots through baroquely wallpapered hallways?
Opens April 19