Mood Lighting: Five films to prime you for “THE LORDS OF SALEM”
THE LORDS OF SALEM is both undoubtedly a Rob Zombie film and yet something of a departure. Aesthetically more mannered and surreal, the director brings his assuredness to what amounts to a less gritty, more heightened and composed peer into evil and a groundswell of negative energy. It’s lush and stylish and all of the similar sounding words that describe a trippy lightheadedness best experienced on as big a screen as possible.
LORDS OF SALEM is also, as is characteristic of Zombie’s work, informed and conscious of film history. Either through visual cues and parallel, or simply the massive catalog of cinema and culture that the filmmaker is sure to have consumed and amassed in his head—and given his genuine chops, and history as a stylist—it’s unsurprising he’s been able to reach an all-consuming, slightly psychedelic headspace here.
What’s often intriguing is the way Zombie’s interest in iconography eschews more traditional, or easily pegged, homage. Here that lean on larger symbols falls to the occult and is instrumental in the film’s atmosphere. What follows is five films that leaves one—myself, at least—in a similar mindset. I’m unsure if Zombie looked to any of these in production or development, but that’s irrelevant. What’s more important is the idea that either walking out or walking in to the theater this weekend, these can be integral to keeping afloat that buzz you’ll feel.
INFERNO, Dir. Dario Argento (1980)
From the maestro of stylish, lyrical terror, INFERNO could be Argento’s strangest film. It’s certainly his dreamiest and most mannered (but not restrained!). It finds the second, and cruelest, mother (of three), a witch known as Mater Tenebrarum residing in a true house of horrors in New York City. Young Rose and eventually her brother Mark (studying in Rome, where he first meats the Mater Lachrymarum) fall into the brick and stone rabbit hole that includes entire underwater sections, hidden passages, a murderous black-gloved killer and eccentric residents and employees. Steeping his casts in personality, Zombie loves real color and spice in everyone from characters at the height of villainy to low tier scum to sidelined weirdos. Somewhere in that spectrum lives two strange and gleeful elderly women that inhabit the Mother of Darkness’ home, alongside a scheming footman. Together they bear a faint resemblance to a trio of women that absolutely steal THE LORDS OF SALEM (played by Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson) and, in part, recall the next film/classic story…
MACBETH, Dir. Roman Polanski (1971)
Polanski’s first film following the Charles Manson-led murder of his wife Sharon Tate, MACBETH is a wildly grim period retelling of a truly tragic, bloody classic. Probably my favorite rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, the REPULSION director amplifies the tragic, haunting nature of it all with a sinister, bleak outlook. The titular character is less tragic than middling, acting in a cycle of sorts as the downbeat, cynical final scene suggests. Some of what’s most stimulating, though, is this film’s frightening, overwhelming characterization of the weird sisters that later spills over into full psychedelic, frenzied madness.
ALUCARDA, Dir. Juan López Moctezuma (1977)
Frenzied, you say? There’s little that exemplify the word as much as Moctezuma’s purely hysterical ALUCARDA. Inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella CARMILLA (which also served as the basis for Carl Dreyer’s 1932 VAMPYR), ALUCARDA is true revelry in sheer blasphemy. It is frightfully loud in the blood soaked, satanic rites that allow Alucarda and the evil that follows to entrance new student Justine in a nun-run orphanage. And while the carnage and screaming are truly something to behold, the film also features one of the great verbal devotions to the prince of darkness; something certainly echoed in LORDS OF SALEM by the aforementioned three sisters.
HOUR OF THE WOLF, Dir. Ingmar Bergman (1968)
Bergman, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and one of the States’ first introductions to European and arthouse cinema, made his closest foray into horror with HOUR OF THE WOLF. What surely influenced ERASERHEAD and much, much more, HOUR OF THE WOLF’s stark black-and-white photography (from incredible DP and frequent Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist) is an eerie, surreal tale of madness, insomnia and isolation. Celebrated painter Johan Borg’s (Max Von Sydow) demons are physically manifesting in his line of sight, conspiring alongside the cruel and puppeteer-like patrons of his art: the neighbors who are driving him to ruin as he drags pregnant, devoted wife Alma with him. For much of the film, Johan is tortured, revealing his visions in frightened, confrontational close up, but it’s the final act that gives us weird, intense visual insight into the nature of his problems.
HALLOWEEN II, Dir. Rob Zombie (2009)
The nature of Zombie’s progression can be found in truly stark moments of his often-maligned HALLOWEEN II. Born out of the strange combination of box office success and intense critical detraction, the sequel to his also often-maligned remake sees the director truly let loose. Like many of his films, the very openings key the audience into a proper lens with which to view. A definition of “White Horse” for dream interpretation, the aftermath of a Haddonfield murder spree where key details have oddly changed and eventually an extended dream sequence just to settle you in, Zombie was bringing his brutal reinterpretation of Michael Myers into a wholly off-kilter realm. Almost everyone in this movie is at wit’s end, and where HALLOWEEN ’07 purported to bring you into the mind of this killer (i.e. backstory), HALLOWEEN II ’09 brings you into the mind of this killer. His murders and travels are peppered with ghosts that follow, as Laurie’s own dreams and hallucinations appear, all caught beautifully by cinematographer Brandon Trost, who carries over in an even more accomplished manner to THE LORDS OF SALEM. HALLOWEEN II is absolutely acquired taste. It is rough-around-the-edges, but thrilling in being aesthetically psychotic, and certainly paved the way for where Zombie has gone next.