Lords of Salem (2013) – Movie review

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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.
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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

Horror Art and Music – part I

Horror Art and Music – part I

Horror art on album/CD covers can be found mostly in the world of metal music, with a few exceptions. I am not talking about the ‘hair metal’ bands of the 1980’s. I am talking about bands that lyrically, are not pop music and don‘t write for the expressed purpose of being on the radio – bands with a dark side and a more gritty commentary on the world.

I decided to break this into three posts. This post displays the more mainstream bands and their album cover art. The next post will have extreme metal bands (death metal/ black metal/ thrash). The last will feature several works each from particular artists and the album covers they’ve created.

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
This album cover used to give me the creeps… (Okay, it still does). I’d say that Black Sabbath started the trend of horror art (and photography) on album covers, along with telling horror tales as subject matter for lyrics. I found the full panoramic photo that wrapped around the vinyl album cover encompassing both front and back. It is posted above. (click on pics for larger images)

Iron Maiden – self titled
‘Eddie‘, the half-rotted corpse, is probably the most recognized mascot in music. The day I saw the cover of the first Iron Maiden album at a record store in my hometown, with Eddie’s twisted, tendon-exposed face gazing at me from a back alley, I purchased the album immediately without even hearing it. Song titles like, Phantom of the Opera, Prowler, and Transylvania helped my decision, I’m sure. Derek Riggs had a successful career, painting dozens of Iron Maiden album covers, T-shirt designs, posters, and tour book covers for the next 30 years.

Megadeth – Peace Sells
The Megadeth mascot, Vic Rattlehead, is the personification of the phrase, ‘See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil‘. The concept and look was originally conceived and sketched by guitarist/frontman Dave Mustaine himself. However, the fan favorite designs were the paintings done by artist Ed Repka, for Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and  Countdown to Extinction.

Judas Priest – Jugulator
From the late 1980’s until this day, Judas Priest has had a series of robotic killer giants for their album cover art. Jugulator, by artist, Mark Wilkinson is my favorite killer robot of the series, a monstrous mechanism hell-bent on destruction. I’ve included the full artwork at the end of the article, which could be found in the CD sleeve.

Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe
Not only for the cover, but the whole in-sleeve/ booklet of this CD is amazing. The first time I looked at the CD insert, It felt like I was reading an old issue of Famous Monsters magazine, complete with mock advertisements for creepy masks, monster posters, and some wonderful artwork by Zombie himself. Included in pics is the robot from the film, Phantom Creeps.

Dio – Holy Diver
The giant demon creature from the cover of Holy Diver became a staple in the band’s album covers, videos and live shows. Ronnie is also credited for making the devil-horns hand-symbol a widely used gesture in the world of heavy metal music. The symbol is actually an old italian hand gesture used to ward off the evil eye.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know
When the members of Sabbath enlisted Ronnie James Dio as vocalist in 2009, they released a CD under the band name, Heaven and Hell. I thought the cover art was amazing. Then I found the full painting by Per Haagensen entitled Satan, which really blew me away. Full Artwork at the end of this article.

Ozzy – The Ultimate Sin
After leaving Sabbath, the Ozz-man continued the tradition of using dark imagery in CD covers, even though his lyrical content had moved away from the horror imagery. I would consider this his best cover art, painted by the impeccable Boris Vallejo.


Non-metal bands:

Emerson Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery
Even before Alien, it was this ELP album cover that introduced me to the work of H.R. Giger. His distinctive style and nightmare visions would go on to grace the album covers of many bands.  Of course he was also famous for the design of Riddley Scott’s Alien.

The Misfits – American Psycho
The hooded skull creature called ’the fiend’ that became synonymous with The Misfits CD covers, T-shirts, and merchandise is based upon the movie, The Crimson Ghost. This could be the second most recognizable mascot in rock music. I also included the cover art for Die, Die, My Darling, one of my faves.


Steppenwolf – Monster
Going way back here to 1969, I’ve included the back cover art to Steppenwolf’s politically charged concept album, Monster. The art spills over onto the front cover. You can really spend some time looking at each section in detail. Click on the pics to see a larger image. I have searched for the artist’s name but have come up empty handed. If anyone knows who did the work, please let me know so I can include it here.


Looking for more suggestions on great horror art from CD covers (I’m not including movie soundtracks). Let me know your suggestions to include here or for my next article(s).