The Lords of Salem
by Rob Zombie with B. K. Evenson.
Grand Central Publishing, 336 pp., $16.00
We all know that we don’t get to choose our families—thus, mean older siblings and racist grandpas continue to antagonize us, generation after generation. Still, whatever annoyances you and I may suffer at the hands of our relatives, this truth is more unfortunate for Heidi Hawthorne of Salem, Massachusetts. You see, Heidi is directly descended from John Hawthorne, a man who had the misfortune of executing a coven of witches, one of whom bestowed a curse upon him that was promised to endure for centuries.
Heidi, for her part, knows nothing of Margaret Morgan’s curse, but she is painfully aware of the difficulty of her young life. Already she has lost her father and her closest friend, Griff, the latter to a heroin overdose. Heidi herself was in the throes of heroin addiction until his death, a wake-up call that compelled her to get sober. Finally, she has gotten a grip on life—maintaining her job as a radio DJ, with the help of her coworker, Herman. Still, the inexplicable seems to follow Heidi. How did she manage to find a low-rent apartment in historical Salem without even looking? Why do the nuns at the local Catholic church eye her when she walks by—and why do the members of the Satanist band that visit the station stare at her like she’s a ghost? Why does someone leave a record with her name on it at the station? Why does it only play backwards? And why can only Heidi see the man occupying apartment number five?
One of the most gratifying aspects of reading THE LORDS OF SALEM is that the questions only multiply as pages go by. Mysteries deepen and complicate and, although readers—unlike poor Heidi—can attribute strange happenings to the witch’s curse, more often than not, this explains little. It’s a little book—barely 300 pages long—but it’s positively stuffed with suspense and action. Finishing one chapter spurs an adrenaline rush that makes it impossible not to turn to the next. In this way, the novelization—THE LORDS OF SALEM novel was adapted from Rob Zombie’s 2012 screenplay—is an effective accompaniment to the film. Reading is an experience of excitement and dread in equal parts.
It should come as no surprise that THE LORDS OF SALEM is a gore-fest. At times, the descriptions elicited groans and noises of disgust from me. This is no high-brow, gothic ghost story or even the mystery-horror blend signature of Stephen King. Rob Zombie’s name is on the cover. There are no holds barred. At all. Take this bizarre passage, for example:
From [two stick-thin figures’] bodies sprouted two long twisting appendages, intestine-like but outside the body rather than inside it, phallus-like but too long to be phalluses, and too motile as well … The whores, though, moved quickly forward and managed in teams to trap the whipping objects and wrap themselves around them, riding them like horses as they cried in ecstasy … Four of them held them steady while the other two manhandled a funnel-shaped object and brought it forward, forced the ends of the appendages into the large end of the funnel. They began to milk them, working their hands up and down until a thick black liquid began to ooze from them and fill the funnel, and then began to drip from the funnel’s tip. (247)
What is even going on here? Why bother claiming that the objects are “too long” and “too motile” to be phalluses when the scene is so transparently one big hand-job to engage male readers? What is the point of this scene in the context of the book? I have no answers, only questions…and an eye roll.
Furthermore, THE LORDS OF SALEM contains common triggers left and right. For me, gratuitous gore is, for the most part, enjoyable. I find it thrilling when writers and filmmakers dare to push the boundaries of what abjection we can bear. I am fascinated by the way that our own insides can repulse us. But intense gore isn’t for everyone and, in this novel, the boundaries are really pushed—if you’re lukewarm on gore, this isn’t a read you will enjoy.
Rob Zombie’s take on Salem’s witches, brimming with references to traditional occult lore, is grotesque—creative and frightening, too. His Hell is nearly real enough to emit heat from the book’s pages (and I’m not too proud to admit that I found myself fervently praying once or twice after reading a particularly terrifying chapter: God, please forgive my sins and protect me from Hell … ) The combination of B.K. Evenson’s scene-setting and Rob Zombie’s dialogue makes for a surprisingly well-written book that will satisfy picky readers, and while the book is certainly no literary masterpiece, it’s nothing if not an entertaining ride.
At times, the gore is tastelessly misogynistic or crudely sexual. Nothing creative here.
It was absolutely horrifying; a star is deducted for content that is too over-the-top to be truly scary.
It’s a page-turner!
If the concept of a centuries-old curse that condemns you to torture and, eventually, hell doesn’t scare you, then I honestly don’t know what would.
Good. Not great.
I read THE LORDS OF SALEM on my nook; the nook book costs $9.99. You can also purchase a paperback copy for $10.72 or a used copy starting at $2.53 on Barnes & Noble’s website, or for $16.00 in stores.