Witchcraft is something of a recurring topic around these parts. We discussed the possible psychotropic aspects of witchcraft in our 2011 episode “What’s in a witches brew?” More recently, we tackled the gender issues of witchcraft persecution in “Hammer of the Witches.” It’s a subject where paranormal experience, religious thinking and patriarchal tyranny all converge in a topic as darkly imaginative as it is deeply tragic.
I’ve enjoyed parts of Rob Zombie’s previous films, but I can’t say I had high expectations for his 2013 outing “The Lords of Salem.” As with “The Devil’s Rejects” and “House of 1000 Corpses,” I expected a cool monster or two, numerous nods to cult films and an overall visual manifestation of Zombie’s music. And certainly, the monsters are cool (quite amazing, really), the various film inspirations are apparent (though more Kubrick and Polanski than Tobe Hooper this time around) and there’s no denying the film’s kinship with Zombie’s music (though not nearly as overt as in previous films).
I’m happy to say “The Lords of Salem” is quite a thought-provoking, phantasmagorical horror movie, especially if you enter into it with an understanding of the actual issues surrounding witchcraft persecution. The film’s quite loaded with imagery relating witches to feminine power and Christianity to masculine lust and violence — and then the manifestation of Satan as both bestial horror and death metal rocker complicates matters.
As we follow the film’s central female character through a strained relationship, recovering substance abuse and the grasping arms of both female witches and lascivious male demons, there’s an overall sense that the spiritual worldviews that command our world are inherently and crushingly misogynistic.
The film intentionally wears the trappings of mystery, so there’s no boiling the film’s ending down to a fine message or point. But amid all the stunning and horrific visuals in the film’s climax there’s the sense that some escape is possible from patriarchal oppression.
Am I reading too much into all of this? If so, I still highly recommend the film (to appropriate audiences) on the basis of Meg Foster’s fearless performance, the film’s rich visual style and the brooding sense of Hellish, alien forces just on the other side of our reality.
About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.