Having just visited Salem and being on a witch kick, it was great timing that this movie was just released. Centered around a woman, Heidi Hawthorne, played by Sheri Moon, who DJs in Salem, the story of a witch’s curse is told, from her persecution to the current manifestation of her damning words.
Like Zombie’s previous films, at least the original scripts, it is a visual feast. He captures Salem beautifully, its gray coastal quality, its small town charm, its self-realized history of witch persecution. He takes advantage of the rich history with flashbacks to the witches rites and their burning.
But in good horror fashion he explores the satanic witch, the witch who craves power and control, who will destroy for her master. The ugly witch. And in this depiction something very clever actually occurs. Zombie creates a distinctly feminist tale. It took me a couple weeks to process this and decide this is what it means to me because it is not something I have noted him address in interviews about the movie. However, the women are independent, strong, and in their skin, meaning, they make no excuses for who they are nor do they cower to social expectations. When they strip for satan in their rites, the women are all ages, all shapes, all sizes and all without shame. Frankly, this rocks. Also, I believe since the cast is mostly female and they have numerous conversations not about men, well it passes the Bechdel test too.
In terms of style, this is a little more low key than other efforts, which doesn’t mean much, it’s still crazy and over the top, just not as gory or slasher centered. It reeks of Italian horror, the play on primary colored lighting, the bizarre flashbacks, the sexually charged violence. Ultimately though, the story isn’t action driven enough and Moon falls a bit short as the lead actress. Ok, kind of a lot short. I’m being nice, because I am a fan, because her performances have improved and because I think the instinct to use an actress who is not a typical lead is a good instinct. Also, I love husband-wife teams! But the movie fizzles a bit toward the end. It needs more action and better plot elements to push through.
All in all, Zombie’s visual style keeps improving, but the writing could be stronger and the action could have more dimension. Still, as a lover of witch themes and euro-horro, this is pretty good.