Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a DJ at a Salem radio station, along with two co-hosts, both called Herman - Jackson (Ken Foree) and "Whitey" (Jeff Daniel Phillips), the latter of whom she is very close to, even if they haven't quite admitted their feelings to one another yet. They play all sorts of music on their show, and sometimes bands will leave them records to listen to as publicity for their tunes, but soon Heidi will receive a near-anonymous disc which may have some connection to the witch trials that took place in the region about four hundred years before...
Well, there's no "may" about it, and that was a problem with writer and director Rob Zombie's work here, a conscious attempt to change tack from his over the top works previous to this with a more creepy and insidious effort designed to unnerve rather than shock. Except you could tell what was going to happen from practically the first scene, especially if you'd ever watched Rosemary's Baby, so for all the bizarre imagery the movie built up to there was very little surprising about it, predictability being an enemy of suspense in this case rather than making you sweat with anticipation as presumably was the intention.
When Judy Geeson appeared as Heidi's landlady Lacey, alarm bells would be ringing immediately, and when two of her friends appeared, played by Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn, you noted with appreciation that Zombie was continuing his habit of bringing back cult names from movies past, but also that they weren't being hired for nothing scenes, and would have an important part to play in the rest of the story. That this began with a bunch of aged nudists from centuries before partaking in a black mass was another strong hint that some kind of devil worship was going on, and someone or something was trying to bring about the birth of the Antichrist and all that overfamiliar stuff.
So while it was always nice to see these cast members, there was a point where this started to get a bit silly. Zombie was presenting some arresting visuals to create an off kilter atmosphere, so among other things you had a Bigfoot making an appearance for no reason explained, or a midget dressed in a baby suit which didn't look so much disturbing as what it was, pretty daft. Heidi was a character who couldn't catch a break, an ex-heroin addict who obviously has to go back to her habit haflway through when she starts lolling around her apartment under the influence of the three witches, and earmarked to be the conduit through which Satan would return thanks to her ancestor being cursed for his religious attempt to destroy the orignal witches.
And there was another problem, rather more serious than the crawling pace and it being really blatant what was next: the witches of Salem weren't witches at all, they were entirely innocent victims of a hate campaign fuelled by social paranoia, so to offer a scenario when the evildoers were thoroughly vindicated was a misjudgement at best and a serious misstep at worst. Whose side was Zombie on, anyway, did he think it was perfectly all right for women to be executed because some religious nutters wanted a scapegoat? Because that's the way The Lords of Salem came across, though to be fair this wasn't exclusive to his film, as previous efforts such as City of the Dead played the same dubious card, though that was more enjoyable than the plod through various cinematic manifestations of Beelzebub unfolding here. Also, and this may be a minor quibble, but the swearing was some of the most awkward around, as if the cast were embarrassed by what their director asked them to say. Music by John 5 (from Short Circuit?) and Griffin Boice.
American musician turned horror director. Born Robert Cummings, Zombie fronted cult metal band White Zombie for a decade, before making his first movie in 2003, the gaudy shocker House of 1000 Corpses. A sequel, The Devil's Rejects, was released in 2005 after which he contented himself with two reimaginings of the Halloween franchise. His Satanism-themed next film was The Lords of Salem.