A horror movie about witches and the town of Salem sounds awesome, right? Especially with an amazing cast like Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn of Rocky Horror, Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead, Maria Conchita Alonso, Meg Foster of They Live, and Judy Geeson—who many children of the 90s will recognize as the bitchy British neighbor across the hall on the show Mad About You.
In The Lords of Salem, Sheri Moon Zombie truly shines in a very subdued role. She’s a radio personality living in an apartment building with her dog. Some satanic dude appears on her radio show and gives her a record. A vinyl record. OLD SCHOOL! When she plays it, weird, evil shit starts to happen. I wonder if good stuff would have happened if she had played the record backwards?
There’s so much potential here, with the isolation in this creepy building that seems to be inhabited by only Sheri and her sweet landlord, played by Judy Geeson. Yet Sheri sees a mysterious figure in the apartment down the hall…even though the place is vacant. Soon, a horrific figure begins appearing in the shadows in Sheri’s apartment. This is the creepiest part of the whole film.
The Lords of Salem quickly begins to meander. Zombie overloads us with “artistic” and trippy segments that are not particularly gripping; there’s nothing all that horrific about any of it. It’s essentially a string of moments and still shots instead of an immersive narrative. It looks cool, but it’s just not scary.
It eventually leads to an overblown, overly dramatic piece of performance art. Like literally. On a stage in a theater. It’s hard to take it serious. And in an effort to shock and offend, there’s heinous anti-Catholic imagery and some gnarly decrepit witch coven boobs and bush.
There are moments I loved. After being wasted for a majority of the film, landlord Judy Geeson and her two friends, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace, have one particular scene in which they show their true colors as a strong, devilish trio of witches. Their one evil scene together is just brilliantly performed. And then there’s Meg Foster, who you’ll never even recognize, as a witch from back in the 1600s. This is probably the performance of her lifetime.
On top of that, the film closes with a piece of music called “Three Sisters” that should have been used during the film, particularly in scenes of Sheri walking down the streets of Salem in the fall. It could have added so much atmosphere to a film about the Salem witches that has little atmosphere.
Other highlights include Ken Foree having fun grooving to Rick James’s “Give it To Me Baby” (he seems to serve absolutely no other purpose in the film other than horror icon cameo status), a freaky fiery dream sequence with a creepy beast silhouette, one truly bizarre meeting between Sheri and the devil, another freako sequence involving Sheri and a priest, and a cool soundtrack featuring songs by Rush, Manfred Mann, and The Velvet Underground.
I really wish Zombie would have made a film just about the three witches. It would have been the best diva witch flick since Hocus Pocus.