Posts Tagged ‘Michael Berryman

20
Oct
13

The Lords of Salem (2012) a Rebecca Keel review

Lords of Salem

a Rebecca Keel review

Rob Zombie has long demonstrated himself to be among the elite talent of contemporary writer-directors,  and even with such a high bar to clear,  he has succeeded in shocking and impressing me with his recent,  wrenching film The Lords of Salem.  Superficially,  the work stands as a brilliantly innovative horror story about the legacy of colonial witchcraft in modern-day Salem,  Massachusetts,  but with even a prick to the skin of the tale,  the viewer is sucked into a powerful and disturbing allegory for the effect of mental illness on a person’s life.  Poignantly precise and fearlessly thorough,  The Lords of Salem captivates with its insight and its remorseless horror.

The story lays out the events of seven days in the life of Heidi Laroc (stunningly portrayed by Shari Moon Zombie),  a radio DJ in Salem,  after she receives a mysterious vinyl record from “The Lords of Salem”.  The music on the record triggers visions of a coven of notorious witches from the colonial days of Salem.  Unable to resist the fate she inherited from her ancestors,  Heidi’s life begins to spiral into destruction.

A masterfully constructed allegory can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle with an image on both sides of the pieces.  Constructing the puzzle facing one way yields a comprehensible design,  while locking the pieces with their opposite sides up reveals another;  yet the puzzle itself maintains the same shape,  regardless of the image visible.  Each piece has a role to play in the final design,  and this role is the same,  regardless of which image is constructed.  Likewise,  the allegory is made up of diverse pieces,  each of which has a role.  If you lift a single piece and turn it over,  you can see its role in the image on the opposite side,  even though it must lock into its neighboring pieces the same way,  regardless of which meaning is viewed.

A quote from the character Francis Matthias,  a local witchcraft historian,  binds the surface tale of witchcraft to its deeper representation of the destruction of a life due to the inexorable force of mental illness.  He states to Heidi,  “Witchcraft is nothing but a psychotic belief brought on by a delusional state of mind.”  This clear declaration identifies the primary allegorical device in the film:  witchcraft is psychosis.  From this melding of two ideas into a single metaphorical puzzle piece,  the rest of the allegory can be teased from the dense imagery of the visually-stunning film.

It is beyond the scope of this short review to analyze the imagery,  symbolism,  and structure of The Lords of Salem.  However,  certain points bear mention,  as they may affect the way the film is received by its audience.

The overt,  perhaps even garish,  Christian and occult images which permeate The Lords of Salem may distract some viewers from the underlying meaning of the film,  or,  perhaps,  suggest a rebellious philosophical bent which is meaningless to the film’s interpretation.  Christianity plays a twofold role in the allegory.  As the epitome of mainstream normalcy,  it provides a backdrop against which the perverse (on the one hand,  worship of Satan,  and on the other,  debilitating mental instability) can be contrasted.  Christianity further fills the role of the flamboyant,  but useless,  “solution” to the conflict at hand (witchcraft or mental illness).  The latter role is also tied to the character of Francis Matthias,  who bears the names of two important Catholic saints and whose efforts to rescue Heidi from her impending demise are fated to fail from the outset.

Sexual imagery,  particularly in the context of the perversion of Christian symbolism,   can also come across as heavy-handed,  but it,  too,  plays a valuable role in the interpretation of the film.  Explicitly sexual imagery rarely represents sex itself in a symbolic structure.  Over the course of the film,  the character of Heidi is conspicuously asexual,  while the witches are overpoweringly sexual.  This prepares the character of Heidi to be the virgin mother of “the devil’s child”,  as foretold by the witch Margaret Morgan.  Regardless of the character flaws borne by Heidi,  she is,  in fact,  a blameless victim of exogenous—albeit internal to her genetic code and her mind—forces.  This use of contrast between sexuality and asexuality is highly appropriate,  given the wider cultural context of the society into which the film was released.  Specifically,  sexuality is frequently depicted as a negative trait in Western religious culture,  and has long been associated with black magic and devil worship.  This makes it an effective symbolic infrastructure for deflecting blame from the persecuted main character of The Lords of Salem.

The film presents a plot which relies on supernatural events,  such as witchcraft and inescapable fate,  and these elements may irk some fans of Rob Zombie’s horror films,  which typically rely on the capacity for evil within human beings for their conflicts.  However,  all of the supernatural aspects present in The Lords of Salem are pieces of the allegorical puzzle meticulously constructed over the course of the film.  When a viewer sees these elements as fantastic or unbelievable,  they are granted a greater understanding of Heidi’s state of mind.  She has inherited a curse from her forefathers which has doomed her to eventual destruction.  In the literal story,  the curse is the result of evil witchcraft;  in the allegorical story,  it is a predisposition to psychotic mental illness.  Both engender a sense of helplessness and hopelessness;  however,  the use of a literal curse makes this emotional response more accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the experience of heritable mental illness.

I have little of which to complain about The Lords of Salem.  The soundtrack did,  at times,  stray into the realm of clichéd horror tropes,  such as a sudden,  loud bass chord at the appearance of an unexpected apparition,  and in these few instances,  I found myself sighing deeply in resignation.  Other aspects which might garner my criticism in other films,  however,  such as loose ends to supporting characters’ stories,  busy imagery during the film’s climactic scene,  and atypical pacing decisions for the plot,  support the sense of bewilderment and confusion experienced by the character of Heidi,  and add to,  rather than detract from,  the message and value of the film.  I went into my first encounter with The Lords of Salem anticipating a dark and entertaining film.  I was stunned to experience a deeply insightful,  unflinching,  and tragically personal depiction of a life shredded by mental illness.  It isn’t an easy film to watch,  but it’s one which no one should overlook.

07
Jul
11

Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies: Finger Licking Good

a Primal Root written review

Recommended to me by Craig of Craig’s Killer Coffee here in Tallahassee (Join their fan page on facebook!). ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’ is one very strange yet wholly entertaining concoction of cleavage, cleavers,and carnage. ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’ rehashes some very familiar themes. Auntie Lee, entrepreneur and Satan worshiper (played with psychotic glee by Trash Cinema Legend, Karen Black), runs her remarkably successful Meat Pie empire with the help of her four busty, homicidal nieces (Fawn played by Kristine Rose, Coral played by porn star Teri Weigel , Sky played by Pia Reyes, and Magnolia played by August 86 Playboy Playmate, Ava Fabian) and her mentally handicapped handyman, Larry (played by the always awesome Michael Berryman).

Auntie Lee’s business is run from a lovely, spacious, ranch house settled on miles of property located in the little one-cop town of  Penance, California.  The locals and surrounding counties can’t get enough of Auntie Lee’s meat pies and pay top dollar to procure her delectable, baked concoctions with that unique flavor unlike any other meat product they’ve ever shoveled into their gob. What’s the secret ingredient? What sets these meat pies apart? Hey, anyone who is even remotely familiar with the horror genre knows where this is going…

See, there’s a history of drifters going missing in Penance. They simply vanish without a trace once they step foot into the town and often they are last seen ogling the assets of one or more of Auntie Lee’s nieces. Of course, the town sheriff, Chief Koal (a southern fried…Pat Morita?Who has a stunningly natural southern drawl!) can’t quite put the pieces together. THAT IS, until a big city private investigator shows up in town looking for one of the missing gentlemen, and the fact that Larry has begun to act far loonier than usual.

The film itself has that grainy, early 90’s straight to video feel. The thing looks cheap as dirt but there’s a spirit to this thing that keeps it interesting and kept me entertained even through the more monotonous parts. Plus, early on, there’s this fantastic decapitation scene that’s gotta be seen to be believed. It’s abrupt, violent and hysterical and really sets the bar for the film.  The nieces can’t act worth a damn but that’s not the point. They serve as smiling, seductive, sirens who lead eager, horny morons to their well deserved demise.  The only truly grueling moments in ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’ are the scene that rest solely on the shoulders of these women. Their delivery is stilted and it’s easy to sense they have no grasp on what their lines mean.

The murder scenes range from the somewhat pedestrian (i.e. ice pick to the forehead) to the inspired (i.e. pantry decapitation) and the head scratchingly bizarre (i.e. giant rattle snake fang chest impalement…what?) but they all seem o work within the frame work of such a bizarre film. Oddly enough, the gore is kind of tame. There are very few moments where any excessive blood is sprayed or gore is spattered. And even more odd is the lack of female nudity. I believe we only get one pair of breasts, however, they may be the only natural set of breasts int he entire film. The only other nudity even hinted at is during this exceedingly strange pantomime strip-tease shower scene which takes place behind back lit false walls. The woman is nude, with levitating artificial breasts…the shower also happens to be fake. It’s a fan blowing streamers. Yes, thus particular group of psychopaths are also well skilled mimes and flash dancers. Go figure.

My only wish after watching ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’ is that there would have been a  bit more history and explanation behind this business and those who are involved.  The film is so involved with delivering goofy kills and flashes of female flesh that they never drop us any hints as to who these people are or how they’ve gotten there. Is Larry related to Auntie Lee? If these girls are her nieces where are their parents? I assume Larry might be Auntie’s brother or something and that these girls are orphaned after Auntie Lee kills their parents and has been collecting and brain washing these girls to expand the business.

However, at the films end, he camera pans out to the backyard of Auntie Lee’s ranch and we get a glimpse of all the old, destroyed automobiles of their previous victims that they’ve been hiding out back for who knows how long. It’s a shot similar to the one Robert Rodriguez would use a few years later at the conclusion of he and Tarantino’s vampire/crime wave flick, ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’. I cannot help but wonder if those guys are fans of ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’.

Far from a masterpiece but certainly one to keep you and your buddies entertained on a bad movie night, ‘Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies is a grab bag of our favorite Trash Cinema elements lovingly and cheaply assembled for our consumption. It’s tasty, greasy, guilty pleasure well worth sinking your teeth into. This puppy seems like the perfect flick to watch side by side as a double bill with ‘Motel Hell’. 😉

Stay Trashy.

-The Primal Root

Couldn’t find the trailer for “Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies’ anywhere. So here’s “I Saw Your Mommy’ by Suicidal Tendencies which is  featured in the film. Enjoy!




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