Dave's Rating:

3.0

Coven lovin'

Film critics rarely get to choose where or when they see the films they write about. My days are full of improbable double features dictated by deadlines and available screening opportunities. Yesterday's pairing: Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem and Terrence Malick's To The Wonder. And they really do go together a lot more fluidly than, say, The Croods and The ABCs of Death.

You'll find the full review of To The Wonder here if you choose, but it's about Terrence Malick's obsession with spiritual beauty and the yearning for solid faith in God, communicated through beautifully suggestive montage of a man in love with two women and a priest struggling with his own failing belief structure. Rob Zombie's movie is about Satan worshipping covens and his own determination to show off his wife's naked body. It's Christian theology's kick-fighting flipsides: spirit and flesh, doubt and certainty, locked in a cage-brawl for dominance.

Sheri Moon Zombie plays Heidi, a hard rock radio host in Salem who goofs on the very interview subjects she has in her studio, whether they're Satanic black metal musicians or witch trial historians. Dreadlocked and tattooed, she looks the part of a typical Rob Zombie horror nerd/acolyte but she doesn't really have time for any of it. She'd rather listen to Rush and play fetch with her dog, go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and hang out with her tea-drinking landlady (Judy Geeson from To Sir, With Love, whose evil intentions for Heidi are revealed fairly quickly). So when a mysterious record shows up from a band called The Lords and Heidi plays it, unleashing a hypnotic pull toward evil, she's not prepared for the ride. In other words, Rob Zombie has made a gnarly Chick Tract about ignoring evil and simultaneously letting it infect you (in fact, it shares weird commonalities with Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, which pulls its own woman down the stoney end, minus the ghouls and incantations).

Hopefully Zombie wasn't aiming for actual scares here because there are none. But there is a kind of vintage Polanski-aping comedy taking place as Judy Geeson's pack of devil-loving tea time pals (E.T.'s Dee Wallace and The Rocky Horror Picture Show's Patricia Quinn) become more and more involved in the reeling in of Heidi's soul. In fact, it's clear that all three actresses are having a blast being so nasty and, more importantly, that Zombie loves taking his beloved spouse and turning her into a demonic witch-Madonna while The Velvet Underground drones "All Tomorrow's Parties" over the soundtrack. As horror it's not horrifying, but as a valentine to creepshow romance it's almost heartwarming. And as a crazy, gruesome, companion piece to Malick's veneration of To The Wonder's Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams -- that film's twin angels who spend their time communing with God by twirling around in sun-streaked meadows, arms outstretched to the sky -- it's almost serendipitous. This cage-match is a tie.

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