Let’s give Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie, the Sonny and Cher of sadomasochistic horror, the benefit of the doubt and assume they set out to make “The Lords of Salem” some sort of instant bad cult film about witches.
That still doesn’t excuse how dull this one is, how slowly those dull things happen, how the heavy metal rocker turned horror director Rob seems to have forgotten how to make even his simplest sand jolts pay off.
And it doesn’t explain how Sheri could have made as many of these movies with her husband (the high mileage shows in her tattoos) and not learned a damned thing about acting. Sleeping nude in the opening scene, yes. She’s got that down. And sleeping with her jammies all bunched up down her thighs.
But from the moment her character, Heidi the recovering addict late-night DJ, stands in front of a neon cross, holding her hands out with maybe the dumbest expression I’ve ever seen on a leading lady’s face, it’s no wonder nobody but Rob puts her in his movies.
A tale of a curse dating back to a not-really-vanquished coven of witches from the 17th century, “The Lords of Salem” sets that curse in motion by having an oddly atonal dirge LP boxed in a weathered wooden case dropped off at the radio station. Playing that song by “The Lords” puts a few people in town on warning that Our Lord Satan is on his way back.
Bruce Davison plays a local witch expert who wonders what is up. Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn play sisters with wildly different accents who live downstairs from Heidi and think of her in Rosemary terms. You know, the Rosemary who had that baby.
Zombie’s most playful touch is rounding up character players like Wallace — E.T.’s “mom — and Davison — Willard the Rat’s “Dad” — for supporting roles. Screen veteran Andrew Prine plays the Reverend who condemned the witches centuries ago, Maria Conchita Alonso turns up as Davison’s character’s wife.
But the script is dreadful. Take the late night radio show’s three jokers. Zombie can’t think of a single funny thing for them to say, just dated references to “Francis the Talking Mule” and assorted un-amusing blasphemies.
A judgmental, sex-obsessed priest turns up, the witch experts consult on what happened back then and what might happen again. Every ritual involves a lot of ugly nudity, and a lot of the more grotesque nudity is augmented by body suits. Jokes about “The Devil’s Music” might seem funny to the former leader of White Zombie. But seriously, Rob — if you can’t write a better incantation than “You are the dragon, Lord Satan!” maybe it’s time to go back to “Halloween” remakes.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Maria Conchita Alonso, Sid Haig
Credits: Written and directed by Rob Zombie. An Anchor Bay release.
Running time: 1:50