Even if you didn’t know that Rob Zombie had fronted a heavy-metal band before turning to filmmaking, you could probably guess as much from the random demented imagery that populates his fifth feature, The Lords of Salem. Initially, as the title suggests, most of it revolves around witches: Following a prologue set in 1692, we’re introduced to a present-day DJ, Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s wife), who’s perplexed both by mysterious goings-on in a vacant apartment down the hall from hers and by the arrival of a vinyl LP that seems to put her in a drug-like trance whenever it’s played. Eventually, the requisite occult scholar (Bruce Davison, having fun) works out that Heidi has been chosen as a vessel for something spectacularly nasty.
Compared to the nearly unbearable depravity found in Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the shocks here seem downright sedate; early scenes in which invisible (to Heidi) ghouls lurk in the background of her dingy apartment achieve a genuine frisson of paralyzed creepiness. Before long, however, Zombie just starts tossing out every vaguely demonic idea he can think of, making the movie play like little more than a moving collage of album covers that Tipper Gore would have wanted banned. By the time Heidi stands atop a staircase in literal zombie face paint, holding (essentially) Rosemary’s baby as opera swells on the soundtrack, The Lords of Salem has collapsed into self-parody.