The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil
In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…
In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.
When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…
Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.
Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.
From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.
For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.
Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).
The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.
When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE
The international title of this underrated 1970s Euro horror, A Candle for the Devil (aka Una vela para el diablo) from Horror Express director Eugenio Martín is a bit of a misnomer as there’s nothing satanic nor supernatural going on here, and belongs instead to the psycho-biddy genre, but with a dash of Sweeney Todd and some 1970s-style sex and violence.
Now, I’m a real sucker for hag horror and this certainly belongs in the same sinister sisterhood as Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice (1969) and Die! Die! My Darling (1965). In the US, it was released as It Happened at Nightmare Inn, which actually makes for a better fit.
Fresh from Jimmy Sangster’s Hammer thriller Fear in the Night, Judy Geeson plays nice girl Laura, who arrives at the Spanish pension of sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Veronica (Esperanza Roy), only discover that the sister she has intended on meeting has left town. Deciding to wait her sister’s return, Laura settles into the inn where she is disturbed by the sudden disappearance of another lodger. And she’s right to worry, because Marta and Veronica can’t abide the lax morals of the foreign tourists coming into their town and are killing them off as punishment for their ‘sins’ in the eyes of God…
Recently restored by Pinewood for its HD restoration release, Martín’s Gran Dama Guignol is more of a social comment on Catholic guilt and bigotry than a straight out exploitation slasher. Marta and Veronica might consider themselves God’s moral lieutenants, but they harbour their own illicit desires: Marta gets aroused watching naked underage boys swimming, while Veronica is shagging a much younger handyman. Bautista and Roy, two respected Spanish actresses, are the life and soul of this psycho-drama which, given some tweaks, could pass for Pedro Almodóvar-styled black comedy thriller.
Unlike the camp hysterics of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Martino’s film is much more restrained affair, and actually shows the odd flash of artistry courtesy of Luis Buñuel’s Tristana/Viridiana cinematographer José F Aguayo, who uses the sun-drenched cobblestone streets of Ronda and Grazalema and the Monastery of El Paular as a backdrop to some very effective sequences. One that highlight’s Martino’s themes of religious cynicism involves Marta striding through bulrushes, which leave welts on her arms, in an act of orgiastic penance for her spying in young naked boys.
There’s little in the way of shock, horror and violence, and the death scenes aren’t as exploitative as you’d expect, while the nudity is limited to the odd exposed nipple and those youngsters Marta ogles. Geeson, meanwhile, doesn’t get to do that much with her amateur Nancy Drew character, and only gets to shine in the film’s climax, which is involves a grisly discovery in the inn’s impossibly large wine vats.
A Candle for the Devil is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from Odeon Entertainment in the UK