I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie’s music, specially his work as a founding member of White Zombie. As White Zombie is one of the bands that first got me into metal and noise rock in the mid to late 90’s. I’ve also enjoyed a good amount of his solo work in the years since. I can’t say the same for his work as a writer director. I will admit he has a directorial style all his own, and his work is visually memorable. But, I’m repeatedly underwhelmed by his films, even though I keep watching them. I just always expect more the surface level shock visuals that he just keeps delivering.
Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a Radio DJ and is part of a popular trio that also includes Herman “Whitey” Salvador (Jeff Daniel Philllips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree). While leaving her apartment one afternoon, Heidi see’s a the figure of a woman standing in a doorway at the end of the hall. After addressing the woman, the door gets violently slammed in her face. She brings up the incident with her landlady Lacy Doyle (Judy Geeson). But, Lacy states that, that apartment is vacant and has been unable to find a renter. That night at work, Heidi receives a record from The Lords addressed to specifically for her in a wooden box. So of course that night while drinking with Whitey, they listen to it. While the eerie music plays, Heidi has a vision of witch’s birthing a child only to instantly scorn it. The vision ends abruptly when Whitey stops the record. The next day the trio decided to play the record over the radio, this time multiple women across Salem fall into a trance. Over the next days more and more unexplained visions and hallucinations haunt Heidi, along with the questions who are The Lords of Salem, what is the power they hold, and what do they want.
The visuals and atmosphere are pretty great for most the film. With a number of shots easily standing out in my memory. Heidi’s hallway with one swinging light over the door of the apartment at the end of the hall. The dream sequence Heidi has in the church with the priest, and the films ending. Just to name a few. But visuals is about all this film has going for it.
My main issue’s that Heidi does very little herself, and doesn’t feel involved in the story. She’s a character that things happen to and that’s about the extent of her characters value. Sheri Moon could be replaced by any actress and nothing would be lost or gained as the character does so little on her own accord. Which makes it hard to care when things happen as even after they do she seems to barely react to them.
The only character that seems proactive in the film is Francis Matthias played by Bruce Davison. He’s able to uncover the origins of the song, and why it was addressed to Heidi. He even gets a moment of realization to figure out what’s at stake. But then he’s killed off because he’s unwilling or unable to believe the things he discovered, falling into a trap set by the witches.
Another thing is the witches, who actresses Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace I all adore. Mostly Patricia Quinn as I will always remember her as Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love the casting here as all three women are well-known for the previous outstanding work in the genre. I’m upset with how little they were given to work with, which mostly amounts to half-hearted attempts at blasphemy. That said, all three women do amazing work with just how little they’re given.
Final thoughts, underwhelmed is perhaps the biggest understatement I can bring. But it’s the only word that I can use that feels accurate. This a recurring thing with me for all Rob Zombies films, from House of 1000 corpses to the Halloween remakes, they all come off as a bit dull and lackluster. That sai,d he does have a great eye for color, contrast and shadow, with many shots being visually haunting. It’s always the writing that kills the films for me. 3/10