Local Salem radio d.j. Heidi Hawthorne unexpectedly receives a LP from an unknown band called “The Lords” one night after wrapping up a show with her two co-hosts Herman and Whitey. Upon first listen, Heidi has visions related to the town’s violent history with witches. The next night she plays a track from the record on air, which sends the women of Salem into a bizarre trance. Heidi, a recovering drug addict, begins a swift downward spiral as the bizarre dreams and hallucinations become more frequent and violent. She withdraws from everyone around her as her co-workers worry she’s broken her sobriety. While Heidi descends into madness, the Lords of Salem begin their revenge on Salem.
So many people and reviews warned me against this movie. Poor word of mouth and Zombie’s terrible take on the Halloween franchise set my expectations for the Lords of Salem very low. Maybe it was because of this that I ended up not hating the film. The reviews weren’t entirely wrong; Sheri Moon Zombie is unable to carry a movie on her own, so casting her in the lead was a poor choice. I also had issues with the music video style imagery during the climax.
But what people didn’t tell me is Lords of Salem has a unique visual and atmospheric style that manages to feel new and old school at the same time. Heidi’s apartment building made for an effectively creepy setting. The flashback scenes with coven leader Margaret, played by the almost unrecognizable Meg Foster, were twisted and grotesque. It’s a slow build kind of horror with quiet moments contributing to the feeling of overall dread.
They also didn’t share that the supporting cast is delightful. While Mrs. Zombie’s performance is dull and detached, the role of lovelorn co-host Whitey, played by Jeff Daniel Phillips, almost made up for it. Almost. He conveyed so much depth of emotion with what little he had to work with, that I couldn’t help but feel invested in his desire to save Heidi. Mrs. Zombie, on the other hand, wasn’t able to convey at all that her character actually reciprocated Whitey’s feelings, let alone drum up any sympathy for her plight. The rest of the supporting cast easily outshines Sheri Moon Zombie’s performance, but unfortunately these roles are too small to hold weight.
I enjoyed the story, supporting cast, and atmosphere that permeated throughout; the lead’s lack of emotional depth and bizarrely styled climax drag the movie down.
This movie definitely isn’t for main stream audiences. There are no jump scares, just atmosphere and story. Rob Zombie makes movies for himself, in unapologetic style. You’re on board or you’re not; he doesn’t care. I respect that.