Film discussion

The Road to 3 From Hell – The Lords of Salem

“Welcome… whores of Satan.”

Rob Zombie had a quiet couple of years after Halloween II and El Superbeasto, in film terms at least. Always busy, the director was off making his, frankly not brilliant, Hillbilly Deluxe 2 album. But once he was ready to return to the director’s chair, he made noises that he wanted to make something original and a little bit different to what he was known for. 

The Lords of Salem was definitely different. The tale of Heidi La Rock (Sheri Moon Zombie) a local radio DJ who is haunted by visions of burned witches and the violence of Salem’s past. Triggered by music that has been sent to her by a group known only as “The Lords”, Heidi doesn’t know if what she’s seeing is real, if it’s the demons of her own past coming to haunt her or if she is just flat out going mad. On the page, at least, it’s a far more muted affair than the films we are used to from the heavy metal making director.

Zombie was approached by Jason Blum, known at the time for producing Paranormal Activity, to make a film for Haunted Pictures, a supernatural offshoot to Blumhouse Pictures. Offered full creative control and a budget, the filmmaker couldn’t say no to the producer’s tempting deal.

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The Lords of Salem started life as an idea bubbling in the back of Rob Zombie’s mind. Like El Superbeasto before it, the film had to sit on the back burner while other things happened. But unlike the animated film, it wasn’t until Blum mentioned wanting something supernatural that the idea resurfaced and made its way into a script. Zombie himself said that the idea basically sat around not doing anything, a bare bones thought or two about a radio DJ in Salem was about as far as it went before a deal was penned with Haunted Pictures.

Jason Blum is well known now for the way he makes films. Low budgets and fast turnaround are the name of his game and this meant that even once Zombie and his crew got on site to start shooting in Salem, Massachusetts, the script still had to take a bit of a beating to allow for the speedy filming schedule. Filming started in mid-October 2011 and took just 22 days to complete. This kind of timeline makes life complicated for most directors, but when Zombie likes to cram so much into his films, the slightest issue can cause chaos.

That chaos continued with the ill-health of the now deceased horror veteran Richard Lynch. A sad situation at the best of times, but an inability to remember lines and having really serious problems with his sight, the long-time horror legend had to be recast. But with no extra budget and no extra days to film in Salem, Zombie was forced to cut large amounts from his film to make it work. For reasons never really made clear, Zombie also cut sections of the film featuring Sid Haig from the final edit. Although still credited as Dean Magnus, it is (as least from what the IMDB trivia section says) the first time Haig had ever been cut from a film is his fifty years in the business.

But, Zombie did himself no favours by scheduling a world tour between filming and editing Lords. More so because the man making the music for the film with Zombie, guitarist John 5, was sharing the stage with the rocker every night, so post production ground almost to a halt. Knowing his audience better than most, the director also used his tour as the place to debut the film’s trailer in May 2012 – placing the trailer into his set for the remainder of his tour just before the final song of the night, the trailer played gangbusters with the crowds.

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Not quite as positive, although reasonably well received, was the film’s debut in September that year at the Toronto International Film Festival. Lords got decent reviews out of the festival but critics were aware that this was a Rob Zombie film. At this point in the filmmaker’s career, fans know what they like and they know what they are going to get, but people unaware of his body of work or not fans of his style are not likely to get anything out of The Lords of Salem. 

The following March, Zombie and Dead Space tie-in writer B. K. Evenson released a novelisation of The Lords of Salem which was received with about the same amount of general lukewarm sentiment as the film was once it hit the mainstream. Differing quite some way from the film in places, its a fun read that gives lots of backstory, detail and exposition the movie just couldn’t give. Naff critical reception be damned, the book saw Zombie take pride of place up on the New York Times bestseller list upon its release.

“In the name of Satan, Ruler of the Earth, the King of the World; open wide the gates of Hell and come forth from your blessed abyss.”

Overall, The Lords of Salem was something a little different from Rob Zombie, but that something different meant that it wasn’t as well received as it could have been and it meant the filmmaker would struggle to find financing for projects after it. It would be three years before his next film went into production…

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