Lords of Salem (2013) – Movie review

lords pic 4
Lords of Salem (2013)

the-lords-of-salem-posterThis is quite a different film from Rob Zombie. In “Lords…” he offers some real characters, not the over-the-top, cartoon-ish maniacs, no foul-mouthed teenagers, maniacal renegades or white trash extremes. However, he still manages to show us the ugly. In this film it’s devil-worshipping witches of 1690’s Salem (note: not the mistakenly accused or the earthly spiritual Wiccans). If anyone could relay the ugly truth of devil worship, it is Rob Zombie. A bunch of naked old crones in the woods dancing around a fire is not a pretty sight.

The story goes like this; witches are burned in secrecy by the town leader, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne. The head of the Coven, Magaret Morgan, casts a curse upon the women of Salem for generations to come and vows that a Salem daughter will be the concubine for the birth of the anti-Christ. In the present day, a radio DJ, Heidi is given a record. The music is a repeated theme, 4 notes in perpetuity which is mesmerizing to say the least. When she plays this on-air it garners strange reactions in the women of Salem. Heidi begins to hallucinate; she sees strange figures Lords of salem pic 2following her, death and destruction of the flesh, the wages of sin, and evil at work in the modern world. The empty apartment (#5) in her building comes to life and it is there that she is offered as the mistress to Satan. She is a direct descendent of the Hawthornes.

In some ways, ‘Lords’ has aspects reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby and some of the 1970’s Satanic cult films. But I would say the biggest influence comes from Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. The ugly and nasty visions of witchcraft, ceremonies, and acts in league with the devil are certainly influenced by the 1920’s silent film. The influence is noticeable especially in the depiction of the devil himself which probably had quite a few people scratching their heads. How the witches are punished is also reminiscent of Bava’s Black Sunday.

Zombie’s visual direction also takes cues from Italian masters Argento and Bava, and admittedly Stanley Kubrick. The use of color, shadow and light bring forth some visually stunning scenes. The doorway at the end of the dull wallpapered hallway is often bathed in rich red. Most of Heidi’s days of trudging through the motions of modern life are shown with washed out color to portray the bleak existence of not living her destiny. In other scenes, when in the presence of evil, the colors become bright. In fact, the whole ending, when she is birthing the  devil’s offspring, explodes with rich and vibrant color, lush cathedral palace rooms, hot orange fires burning brightly against the faces of the coven, and neon visions of hell. This exemplifies that Lucifer is known as the Angel of Light (not the dark. strange, right?). Most of the film is drenched with symbolism. If you like that kind of stuff, you will probably appreciate this. If you don’t, you will probably think this film sucks. There’s nothing wrong with that, some people like horror that is psychological and abstract in nature, others like visceral horror – its just a preference. This is not scary in the sense of, I’m being chased and I’m about to die. However, that aspect doesn’t mean this is not a great horror story.
lords pic 2

OK, so Lords of Salem is not a perfect film. It makes you feel dread in the end and that’s not always a good last impression. Some people complain about what is going on at the ending but what Zombie is conveying is that Heidi becomes a demonic deity, the opposite to Mother Mary – like the anti-Mother Mary. He chose to depict that in neo-demonic imagery rather than having a lords pic 10character come out and just say it.

I did think that there could have been a better attempt during the 3rd act at saving Heidi from the clutches of evil. That would have made the loss on the side of goodness even more poignant. I think there always has to be hope in a good horror story, even if it inevitably fails. Also, the montage at the end slips into his music video directing style with a few of the flash images. I think it would have been better if they stayed more gritty rather than flashy. Complaints aside, I am for some reason compelled to watch the film again. That doesn’t happen often with modern horror films.

Symbolism in Lords of Salem:
(aside from the items already discussed in the article)

Door 5 most likely represents the 5 points of the pentagram

The symbol painted on the heads of the witch’s coven:
The symbol is most likely a mirrored variation of the astrological sign for Algol. Algol is called the unfortunate star and is often associated with violence. A second possibility is the symbol for Mercury, which is the God of War in mythology. Backing this thought is the quote from the movie, “you have to realize, there is a war going on in Heaven.”

The musical phrase sent by The Lords:
The short phrase is formed within the Phrygian Scale. It begins with a half-step from the root-note which gives it a ‘distinct’ dark feel. At one time, an 11th century Benedictine monk had forbidden using this scale (and similar scales with the flat-second note) to compose music claiming it brought forth evil.

Witches in 3’s:
You will often see witches in groups of three. From Greek mythology to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to modern witchcraft tales, there is power in threes. In Wicca they represent the 3 stages of a woman’s life, child, adult, old age, and they complete the circle of life. However, in Satanism, they represent, darkness, chaos and conflict.

The Goat everyone asks me about the goat (why me?). I have 5 reasons why the goat represents Satan.

1) “The Lord is my shepherd…,” Where as the sheep are tended and obedient, the goats roam the land freely.

2) All of the guilt of the people was symbolically placed on the head of the scapegoat (goat), who was then taken out into the wilderness and released (Leviticus 16:21-22).

3) The pagan deity Pan was symbolized as half man, half goat. He was mischievous and delighted in the pain and suffering of man. He lived in the wilderness where bad things happened to people, especially at night.

4) The half man, half goat image later showed up in Christianity as a more evil entity, the demon Baphomet.

5) Just look at the damn things eyes man! Drink goat milk? No way. You may as well be suckling on the teats of the devil >:)

The Black Metal band, Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent that is interviewed early in the film is a fictional band. John 5 and Zombie wrote the music and the music video features the band in full black metal make-up and regalia.
Check out the video: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/news-updates/94-april-news-updates/7980-black-metal-band-featured-in-rob-zombies-the-lords-of-salem-release-new-dark-new-video.html

related articles:

Scariest Witches in Film

16 thoughts on “Lords of Salem (2013) – Movie review

  1. Good review. Not a perfect film but I liked it. I’ve enjoyed all of Rob’s films thus far. My order of his films would go

    Devil’s Rejects
    Halloween II
    Halloween
    House of 1000 Corpses
    Lords of Salem
    Haunted World of El Superbeasto

    • Cool, I actually like House of 1000 Corpses best. I would also put Halloween II over Halloween, maybe because I didn’t feel the annoyance of remaking Carpenter’s classic as much with Part II. ‘El Super Beasto’ is a fun, dirty little cartoon 😀

  2. Watching this over the weekend (I hope, lol). I’m not a Zombie fan at all and I don’t think I’ve liked any of his films but LOS looks quite good visually like you pointed out. Nice review, Michael!

  3. I can tell that Zombie is continuing to grow as a filmmaker, but he still has yet to make a movie that’s compelling in every which way. I think he has it in him, I’ll just have to be waiting longer and longer I guess. Good review.

  4. Amazing review – possibly the best one I’ve yet to read on this film which I’m a big fan of. I really dug how you delved into all the symbolism. Top notch post!

  5. Pingback: The Scariest Classic Witches in film | parlor of horror

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