The Lords of Salem (2012)
January 4, 2023 3:10 PM - Subscribe

Heidi, a radio DJ and recovering drug addict in Salem, Massachusetts, receives a wooden box containing a vinyl record and a note inscribed "a gift from the Lords". The music set in the grooves of the record proves to have both a link to Salem's violent history and an unsettling effect on Heidi and some of the other young women in Salem.

Background Information

The Lords of Salem is a 2012 supernatural horror film written, produced, and directed by Rob Zombie. It stars Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso, Judy Geeson, and Meg Foster. The plot focuses on a troubled female disc jockey in Salem, Massachusetts, whose life becomes entangled with a coven of ancient Satan-worshipping women.

The film started shooting on October 17, 2011, and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2012. Rob Zombie's novelization of The Lords of Salem was released on March 12, 2013, and the film was given a limited release on April 19, 2013.

Critical Reception

The film holds a 57% rating on Metacritic based on 21 professional critic reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". It has a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 65 reviews and an average rating of 5.2/10. The consensus is, "The Lords of Salem has lots of atmospheric portent, but it's unfortunately short on scares."

The initial response at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival was overall positive, with Fangoria and The Playlist giving the film positive reviews. compared it favorably to Dario Argento films like Suspiria but felt it would not appeal to mainstream audiences. Twitch Film expressed enthusiasm over the film and recommended it to horror fans. Charlotte Stear of HorrorTalk was slightly cooler, giving it three stars and saying "Within Rob Zombie I do believe is a brilliant, original horror movie just waiting to come out but sadly, The Lords of Salem isn't it." Fearnet also panned the film, criticizing the choice of Sheri Moon as the main character and focus. Bloody Disgusting posted two reviews, one panning it and the other praising it.

Nick Schager from Slant Magazine wrote: "Rob Zombie understands horror as an aural-visual experience that should gnaw at the nerves, seep into the subconscious, and beget unshakeable nightmares." New York Post's V.A. Mussetto praised the film: "Movies by Rob Zombie, the goth rocker turned cult filmmaker, aren't for everybody. But he couldn't care less. He makes movies exactly the way he wants to, with no thought of pleasing mainstream audiences. They can like it or lump it. His latest effort, The Lords of Salem, is true to form." Zombie's fifth feature film received approval from Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times), who admits The Lords of Salem "is like some queasy-making machine, a chamber piece of possession and madness that exerts a strange, disturbing power." Simon Abrams gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, feeling Rob Zombie "tested his considerable skills and tried something different" in his first film with full creative control and describing Sheri Moon Zombie's performance as her best yet.


There are no digital effects in the film, and it was filmed in the actual town of Salem.

According to Sid Haig the actors were only given the parts of the script that featured their own scenes to prevent any leaks.

Meg Foster described working with Rob Zombie as an experience like no other in her career, comparing it to "walking through a labyrinth".

Rob Zombie imagined the witches as Manson-esque hippies, and he has hinted at this film being a metaphorical and spiritual prequel to his Halloween films. Zombie has also described the film as, "If Ken Russell directed The Shining."

Rob Zombie wrote a novelization of the film along with writer Brian Evenson. According to Zombie, the novelization is based on his original screenplay, which differs significantly from the final script used in the film. The original script was bloodier and far more gruesome, with a faster pace.

In Heidi's room there is wall art depicting the moon from the 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon. It is immediately recognizable as it is the iconic image used in the movie's poster.

The screenplay had a subplot about a film named Frankenstein and the Witchhunter, a kind of Hammer films exploitation that the characters of Matthias and his wife attend thanks to free tickets from the radio station. Rob Zombie shot this "film-within-the-film" with Udo Kier, Camille Keaton and Clint Howard. But all the scenes related were deleted from the final cut.

One of the real life judges of the Salem witch trials was named John Hathorne, pronounced Hawthorne. His descendant, the famous historical novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was very ashamed of his connection to John Hathorne, changed the spelling of his name in order to distance himself from him.

The scene where they first try to play the record took awhile to film as they struggled with how to create the effect of the needle jumping across the LP. As the effects guys worked on a line of filament another crew member suggested simply removing the needle from the arm.

Footage was shot with Daniel Roebuck as a serial killer being interviewed on TV, but Rob Zombie decided to go with clips from old movies featuring characters in masks instead.

The scene inside the church was shot in ten minutes. The entire movie was shot in 22.5 days.

All the shots of women listening to the Lords of Salem music on the radio were filmed in a prop house.

The music done by the Lords of Salem was performed live in the studio.

The goat seen in this film was named Noodles.

Actors considered for some roles were Richard O'Brien (he was not available) and Hammer girl Caroline Munro, finally replaced by another genre favorite, Judy Geeson. Goldie Hawn was considered for the role of Margaret Morgan.

Bruce Dern had to leave the production due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Bruce Davison. Bruce Davison was also in another movie about the Salem Witch Trials when he played Reverend Parris in The Crucible in 1996.

Billy Drago is included in all cast listings for this movie despite his leaving the project before shooting began.

Richard Lynch didn't have to audition for the role as Reverend John Hawthorne, but Rob Zombie cast him based on their previous collaboration on Halloween (2007). This ended up being a mistake, as per the account of Michael Berryman, Lynch showed up on set nearly blind and unprepared (having not memorized his lines). Reverend Hawthorne was supposed to appear in an opening pre-title sequence that featured Andrew Prine as Judge Mather and Berryman and Sid Haig a pair of Witch-Hunting brothers. Zombie tried in vain to shot around Lynch, but he simply was not able to perform. With the budget stretched as it was, another day of shooting the scene was not possible. Zombie originally planned to add an additional scene with Hawthorne in a studio setting to be shot to salvage the scenes but unfortunately Lynch passed away before that could be done. With no options left, the scene was shot with Prine as the reverend and existing footage was edited to make it appear as Prine played the character, deleting Lynch from the movie. These problems also lead to the deletion of several subplots involving characters meant to be the descendants of Haig's and Berryman's characters, as well as the descendant Prine's original character, Masie played by Dustin Quick.

Joey Gentile originally auditioned for the role of Jarret Perkins, only then to be asked to read for a completely different role that ended up being cut out of the theatrical release.


Herman Jackson: Can you explain the philosophy behind your music?
Count Gorgann: Our philosophy is to expose the lies of the Christian whores and Jesus, the true bringer of death. We are not the crying sheep of God, we are the mighty goat.
Heidi: Why the goat? Why not the pig?
Herman 'Whitey' Salvador: According to Mr. Chow's menu I was born in the Year of the Pig.
Heidi: Ah, good lo mein.
Herman 'Whitey' Salvador: Ni hao ma.
Count Gorgann: The goat has free will and for that reason he will always be punished by the oppressor, God. God must die. God is the unholy pig. We serve the butcher.
Herman Jackson: Okay...

Megan: [reading Heidi's palm] You must make peace with your subconscious desires.
Heidi: Really? What desires?
Megan: The wicked thoughts burning inside your head and exploding in the juices between your legs. The darkness within your very soul. The only reason you exist.
Heidi: ...uh, I think I'll make peace with those desires later. I really should be getting upstairs now.

Sonny: [ruefully observing the dead body of Francis Matthias, whom she has just murdered with a frying pan] What a waste of a good man.
Lacy: Yes, such a pity. And he was never gonna be able stop anything.
Megan: [sighs] Anyone care for a fresh pot of tea?
Lacy: Lovely, darling!

Margaret Morgan: Welcome... whores of Salem! I can taste the foul stench of your ancestors rotting in the folds of filth between your legs.
posted by orange swan (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The goat seen in this film was named Noodles.

Isn't this really the only detail we needed?
posted by praemunire at 3:41 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]

I will say this... when I copied the IMDB trivia for this movie over into the text box, and was editing them to take out the things I didn't consider interesting enough to include and otherwise rearrange and polish to make them more readable, "the goat was named Noodles" was an automatic "yeah, this stays in" for me.

I was rather hoping this movie would warrant some discussion from other MeFites as I was interested in seeing what other people thought of it, but it seems not. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as I don't consider it a good movie and it's ten years old, but somehow it has stayed with me since I first saw it some years back.

I initially saw this movie because witches are my favourite fantasy/horror archetype, and it was about witches. However, I can almost never find the kind of witch movie/tv show I want to see, in which they're complex beings living interesting lives in a world that's much like our own, only spooky, because the usual witch movie envisions witches as filthy and vicious, as this one did.

I probably remember The Lords of Salem mostly for Heidi. Sheri Moon Zombie did extremely well in the lead role considering how little she was given to work with. We're not given any background information on Heidi, and she hardly even talks. But SMZ somehow manages to come across as a fully realized character: a self-contained, gentle, mild-mannered, fun-loving woman who has built a good if fragile life for herself on the ashes of a difficult past, with a job she enjoys, a cute dog she adores, a funky apartment, a kindly landlady, a local support group of other recovering addicts, and a loving if low-key romantic relationship with one of her co-workers. Then a mysterious and freaky recording causes her to be tormented by horrific visions and nightmares, which throws her off her hard-won balance, and her life goes all to hell... um, literally. When she was sitting in a bathroom stall sobbing I felt distressed by her pain.

I don't quite get what was with all the female nudity in this movie. It felt a little gratuitous to have our first shot of Heidi be one of her sleeping naked with only a pair of black stockings on, no covers. Given that this movie appears to have been shot in late fall, wouldn't she have been chilly? Is it that warm in her apartment? And why are all the witches that into getting naked?

I still kind of want a sequel, if only to make more sense of Lacy, Sonny, and Megan's end game.
posted by orange swan at 3:08 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Well, I haven't seen it, and I probably won't, but if it makes you feel any better, your description made me curious enough to read your whole post? Sometimes, with the cult classics...
posted by praemunire at 3:33 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I think this is my favorite of Rob Zombie's movies (aside maybe from the video for Dragula)! Contrary to what I assumed going in, it neatly avoids my most hated horror trope, where the Salem Witch Trials are shoehorned into any and all stories involving old-timey American witches with no regard for the human suffering/lack of "actual" witchcraft/basic historical facts of the whole affair. It also gives a great sense of place for actual Salem, and now that I think about it, it would make a really fun double feature with Mass Hysteria!
posted by quatsch at 8:13 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

I admire Rob Zombie. He's passionate and very knowledgeable about horror. But most of his movies are terrible (except for this one).
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 1:04 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

While I like a few of his films, I find Zombie's work largely monotonous because of his reliance on a small pool of actors and tropes. Having said that, this is one of his films that I think is pretty ok. Not fantastic, but definitely stands out as one of his more original works. I do wish he would push himself more in this direction.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:10 PM on January 7

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