“With Destiny, you can premeditate the outcome. But Fate? Fate leaves you no choice. It is predetermined by forces stronger than ourselves.”
— Patricia Quinn
The Lords of Salem
The Lords of Salem is the only Rob Zombie movie I’ve seen in the theater. My wife and I made it part of a date night. Some Mexican food, a few margaritas, a little cinematic devil worship; that’s a great night out, in my opinion. When it was over, she wasn’t sure that she liked it. Not that there were certain things she could pinpoint that niggled at her. She just had a vague sense of unease and dislike. As for me, I cried at the end. I probably looked like a fool. But sometimes, you see something you think is so beautiful, the only reaction is pure emotion.
The Lords of Salem did that to me.
My wife: “Are you writing that Lords of Salem piece?”
Me: “Yeah. I already said you didn’t like it so much.”
My wife: “You’re just gonna jizz all over it, aren’t you?”
I say nothing and smile.
It’s hard not to have preconceived notions about a director, especially when you have watched everything they’ve ever made. Ready for another drive-in psychobilly freakout, I didn’t expect a movie about Fate and Destiny to come from Rob Zombie. After all, Zombie is the dreadlocked geek who has seen far more movies than you, can quote them all, and managed to get pretty good behind a camera. Zombie uses film as a blender, shoving everything in his jam-packed brain into a script, and letting the pictures sort everything out. Fast cars and Hypno-Vision hallucinations? Sure. White trash family dynamics? Oh, yeah. They’re all over the place in the rest of his films. But The Lords of Salem is something different. It’s full of big ideas, concepts that are difficult to grapple with. And while the film still wears its influences on its sleeve, as Zombie films are wont to do, it’s hard for me to think of The Lords of Salem as anything but a masterpiece.
The movie draws you in with how much it eschews being a standard Rob Zombie film. Astute viewers will find echoes of Polanski’s subdued apartment horror films. There are nods to the L.Q. Jones/R.G. Armstrong movies about Satan in the 1970s. Music plays an integral part in the plot of the film. This makes sense, given Zombie’s background as a musician. The Lords of Salem is also a frightfully empowering film, featuring women as both antagonists and protagonists. Hell, maybe they’re all protagonists. Even the creepy coven in the main character’s apartment building can be construed as heroic, depending on how you interpret the ending.
Even though the movie is peppered with character actors, like Andrew Prine and Judy Geeson, it’s Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi LaRoc on whom the entire movie is centered. Her steady spiral from successful radio personality to drug-addled victim of Fate is fascinating to watch. She easily gives her best performance in The Lords of Salem. It is an understated, underrated piece of work. While similar to Christina Raines’ character in The Sentinel, Heidi is far more nuanced. Heidi operates from a hollow center. Her new dark place in the universe, whether she accepts it or not, gives her life meaning and purpose. Zombie makes Heidi’s sadness and helplessness palpable.
“I know Zombie loves his wife and enjoys putting her on screen, but Sheri Moon Zombie cannot carry a film.”
— Brad Miska
The Lords of Salem is a divisive movie in a genre whose fans love to bicker amongst themselves. Here it is, six years later, and we’re still talking about it. More tellingly, all that time has passed and I’m still thinking about it. The movie got in, you see. It affected me, made me think and gasp, thrilled me with its unexpected gorgeousness while tantalizing me with answers that were not forthcoming. And while the final few minutes of the film can be seen as mindlessly tragic, I view them as triumphant and almost unutterably beautiful. Fate calls for Heidi and she can do nothing but succumb to it. As a cosmic force, Fate undercuts Heidi’s agency. She cannot will her way out of her situation. There is no such thing as being the captain of her own Destiny. She is guided by tragic history and energies she cannot understand. We, as helpless observers, are compelled to watch.
It is fair to ask why I love The Lords of Salem as much as I do. Sure, I can be the film critic and pick out different stylistic elements. I can explain how there is just enough left unexplained to make the film excellent fodder for conversation. If you require it, I can give you the complete list of things that endear this film to me, but that won’t be the entire story. The truth is that The Lords of Salem is one of the rare films that feels like it was created specifically for me. My tastes, my sensibilities, and my warped sense of wonder and awe are all on display in this movie. You could say I was destined to love The Lords of Salem.
I would tell you otherwise. I would call it Fate.
Don’t miss Rob Zombie’s new film, 3 From Hell, screening exclusively in theatres for three nights only, September 16th, 17th and 18th through Fathom Events. Get the details here.