Saturday, October 5, 2013

Scary Movie Month Movie Club #1: The Lords of Salem

Albums, hallways and witches. Oh my.

Today is the first installment of our Scary Movie Month Movie Club (#SMMMC)! Thanks to all of you who were excited about the idea and who understood what we were going for with our picks. Even the movies you don't like -- and there may be two or three (or four) -- should leave us with stuff to talk about.

Our first movie is The Lords of Salem, which I thought many of you would want to watch during #ScaryMovieMonth because it's one of the year's high-profile horror movies and came out on DVD and Blu-ray pretty recently. Plus, it's the new Rob Zombie movie. Even if you dislike him as a filmmaker, his movies are worth seeing because they represent a vision. That's more than you can say about most of the found footage junk that comes out

So I don't want to start the discussion in any specific place -- I'd rather you guys guide the conversation. But I'm excited to take part in it, and I'm excited to hear what you all have to say. I like the movie a lot, but I understand it if anyone doesn't. Let's do our best to make the thread about more than just "I like it" or "I think it's bad." There's more to talk about here, right?

Let's put on our Lords of Salem record and start talking.

58 comments:

  1. "Put on our Lords Of Salem record" seems like a pretty good place to start, actually. What did everyone think about that piece of music? I thought it was perfect...disturbing yet oddly compelling. It can't be easy to come up with a piece of music to fit with what was necessary for the story and for me that piece was one of the things that worked best about the movie.

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    1. Agreed. So often in movies, the thing that's supposed to be the thing doesn't work (that makes sense in my head -- think of the movie some character makes that's supposed to be AMAZING but is actually trite and stupid, or the ad campaign someone comes up with in a romantic comedy that's actually garbage but to which all the other characters react like it's GENIUS), but this was one instance where it worked perfectly. I would think that even if you weren't a fan of the movie, you might agree that that piece of music is super effective.

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    2. That makes perfect sense and totally encapsulated what I was trying to get at.

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    3. Speaking of music, I think a strength of Rob Zombie movies are his understanding of how to use music. The Lords of Salem seems like his most successful combination of music and imagery to date. Watching the movie almost feels like listening to an album. The lyrics might not all be perfect but the music as a whole creates a spell as you experience it. It's like he said to himself "I want to make a movie that feels like a Velvet Underground album."

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    4. Well said, though his use of "Love Hurts" in Halloween still feels way too jokey for the tone of the movie

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    5. The music really is fantastic - and at one point when that little midgety-trolly thing comes tromping up to her bed with a trumpet (or something) noise marking each step it made - for some reason I found that SO creepy. But yeah sound in general is one of this movie's great strengths.

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    6. The music worked pretty perfectly for me, to the point where during the credits and it was still playing I was convinced something more awful was going to happen.

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  2. I really enjoyed this movie. After having to endure his Halloween re-imaginings, it was nice to see him go back to an original. I wonder, though, if Rob Zombie was happy with the end result. Listening to the commentary, every other line of his seemed to be "we wanted to film this" or "we had to cut that". Along with the fact that most of his movie releases include an extensive documentary about the filming of the movie, aside from the commentary, this release had no extras.

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    1. And yet this is a movie that he had total creative control over, isn't it? I wonder if he just felt like he didn't quite translate his ultimate vision to screen. Because that's the trick for any filmmaker (and why you won't see me directing anything anytime soon), making all those months or years of hard work end up in a place that's close to the vision you started with. It seems next to impossible. When it does happen, it's a miracle.

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    2. I haven't heard the commentary yet but I wonder if some of those issues were caused by the ill-health of Richard Lynch midway through production, which led to most of his scenes being cut or reshot. Given the limited budget, perhaps the cost of reshoots prevented Zombie from filming many scenes he had originally envisioned.

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    3. In most of the cases, Zombie said on the commentary it was an issue of time and money. The lack of of behind the scene & extra footage just make me curious if he was satisfied with the end result. Personally, I think it's the best thing he's done in years (if not THE best).

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    4. I haven't yet read the novelization (I know Erich Asperschlager has; I'm SURE he'll chime in SOON), but I understand it fills in a lot of the gaps in the movie an is closer to what Zombie originally intended.

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    5. Did someone say my name three times into a mirror?

      I rewatched the movie yesterday and it's a different experience after reading the novelization, which has a lot more detail and is way gorier. This second time the movie felt more like story highlights cut together instead of a full story. I like that about the movie. It's abstract and suggestive rather than explicit. Sometimes the book sucks the air out of the story by explaining too much. It's absolutely worth reading, though, if you enjoyed the movie or want to see what Zombie might have done if he'd had more time and money. For example, the book has side sequences with the women hypnotized by the song. It also more clearly draws parallels between Heidi's slipping sanity and drug abuse. One way it doesn't work as well is by revealing her full name at the very beginning, so her connection with Hawthorne is never a surprise.

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    6. I havent read the novelisation and have only just now finished watching it for the first time, but I really liked the more subtle approach and limited exposition. It seems that Zombie placed a greater emphasis on the cinematic experience over telling his "cool idea" to everyone. I appreciated that.

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  3. I mentioned this a little in the comments on your previous review of the movie, but I had trouble getting into Lords of Salem until I started thinking about it and wondered if Zombie was slyly attempting to craft a sort of Starship Troopers-style satire about repression.

    First he depicts the Salem witch trials as a legitimate crusade against real witches who fit the standard evil witch archetype, which being a Salem resident I can tell you is something that wouldn't sit well with people around here. But then he also shows us a situation in which simply playing a record is enough to drive our heroine and others into a spiral of madness and horror, not to mention drug use.

    It suggests a connection between the warped dogma that justified the persecution and execution of the Salem "witches" and the deluded mindset that drove parents and lawmakers to attack heavy metal music as an Satanic evil that would drive kids to crime and suicide in the 1980s. In that sense, the whole movie offers a horror story as it might have been imagined by the repressive conservative mentality, illustrating and lampooning the fears that motivated their respective crusades by taking them to their most ridiculous extreme.

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    1. Super interesting interpretation. I really enjoyed reading this :-)

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    2. Same here, that made me want to revisit the movie again as soon as possible

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    3. Thanks. I really dig your avatar.

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    4. I like that interpretation a lot. Definitely something to think about, and Rob Zombie always seems to have something larger on his mind. We also know how subversive he is. A movie that's both a satire about the far right and ultra-conservatives as well as a loving tribute to Kubrick-style horror? That sounds about right to me. Love it.

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    5. This movie definitely draws from the same '80s conservative Satanic cult paranoia as The Conjuring. In both cases, I think the filmmakers are purposely over the top with a cartoonish depiction of witches. It works as commentary, sure, but also to ape the '70s horror aesthetic.

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  4. I'm not a huge Rob Zombie fan but I loved this film. It was odd seeing this after the general consensus had been established because so much of what people complained about didn't really matter to me. I mean, it's very much a modern version of 70s/80s Italian horror films and pretty much al the criticisms of Lords of Salem could be thrown at those films and in some cases they're more problematic. Look at something like Fulci's The Beyond; it barely makes sense, has no interesting characters, has terrible dubbing etc and yet it's generally well regarded because people just accept that those types of Italian horror flicks would have those problems. Lords of Salem isn't even as problematic in those areas but they seemed to be a big issue for some folk. I found the complaints about Lords of Salem's "incomprehensible plot" a bit unjustified too because it's pretty simple. This record entrances women, particularly ancestors of peoples shown in the flashback, witches try use Sheri Zombie to house antichrist, antichrist party at the end.

    One thing I really liked about the film is how connected it is to the past. It's about this record that affects those with witchy ancestors and the whole film reflects this idea that we are all tied to the past. From the use of Velvet Underground music and the giant Méliès poster to looking like a film from the past visually it just all reflected this in a really cool way.

    Speaking of visuals, man is this an insanely pretty film. Obviously there are scenes that have that Zombie dank grittiness but there's also some very Italian/Ken Russell inspired crazy visuals. I really loved how operatic and decadent the hellscape stuff was, so many films would have that look terrifyingly disgusting but in this film it actually made sense why witches would want to tap into it. It looks inviting, the real work is what is dark and scary looking. The hellscape stuff was otherworldly but very inviting (minus tentacle antichrist's).

    Overall it's probably my favourite Rob Zombie film and one of the horror films i've liked most so far this year.

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    1. That Italian horror connection is spot on. What I can't figure out is why I STILL can't get into Fulci and Argento, but I'm totally able to accept the dreamlike craziness of Lords of Salem. That's one of the things I like best about it; why can't I cut Gates of Hell the same slack?

      I really like that the movie let Rob Zombie do something very different. I'm a fan of his movies (it sounds like more so than you, James), but there is a sameness to his first four that was getting repetitive. This one felt different while still feeling like one of his movies.

      I'm really bummed that he has said he's done making horror movies, because he's one of my favorite horror filmmakers working right now (and there are a lot of good ones for the first time in years). His movies are fascinating, even when they don't work.

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    2. I can't really get into Fulci either but I love me some Argento. For me he makes up for the plot/character issues by just making his films so visually stunning and inventive. Suspiria's probably my favourite horror film of all time. The beauty of the images pull you in then the scary shit hits you even harder. When I saw that in theatre's it was almost oppressively scary. It was at the tail end of an all night horror event and I was as slumped as the sleeping person next to me because I wanted to be as far away from the screen as possible without looking away.

      To be fair, I haven't seen House of 1000 Corpses or Halloween 2 and didn't see Devils Rejects or Halloween in the best circumstances. They're definitely films i'm gonna have to re-visit. Especially since someone (I think it was you on a podcast) said that Halloween 2 does some really interesting stuff and deviates from the original more than the first remake did.

      I had not heard that, that's a huge bummer. I do remember reading that the making of Lords of Salem wasn't ideal in a lot of ways and pretty frustrating but man it worked out well. Totally agree that even when his films don't totally work for me they're still so unique. Having distinct if flawed horror films is so much better than having bland but fine ones.

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    3. Patrick, I think the difference between Zombie and those Italian horror filmmakers you mentioned is that Zombie likes his characters and Argento and especially Fulci seem to hate theirs.

      One part of Lords of Salem that I love is how much Whitey loves Heidi. It's pretty amazing to see a character try to be that sensitive and empathetic in a horror movie.

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    4. Whitey also gives one of the best performances in all of Rob Zombie's movies, and theirs is probably the strongest relationship in his filmography, too.

      What does everyone think of the acting in Lords of Salem overall? I guess SMZ, specifically. I made her name into initials because I'm all about saving time. To watch more scary movies.

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    5. SMZ probably does her best work to date in The Lords of Salem. I don't think it's a fantastic performance and it can't hang with the performances that the other leading ladies in this movie are giving, but they're older. And besides, it represents a lot of growth, IMO. In fact, she fits the role she's playing to a T. or...to a Z.

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    6. If Whitey is the bearded guy then I agree he was great, wish there had been more of those two together. I didn't think SMZ was bad in any way but at the same time I didn't think she really brought much to the role. She was kind of just there. Had she been a bit more dynamic or just more interesting to watch I think it could've really added to the film. For the most part she just felt like the necessary guide for taking me through this story.

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    7. I think people have been sort of unfair to her. Lots of people seem to slam her performance in Halloween but I thought she was fine, even moving as her character reached the end of her rope. She was solid here too, and Bruce Davison might have given the most sympathetic performance in any Rob Zombie movie. I found myself wanting to spend more time with him as the movie went on, which is a rarity in Zombie-land.

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    8. Yeah it was strange seeing the film after hearing she was "horrible" in it because she's really not. She's just not quite as interesting as some of the other performances in the film. I would've liked to have seen more of Davison and his wife's characters. In general I just want to see more of this film. Apparently the novelisation adds more to it- http://badassdigest.com/2013/09/06/how-the-lords-of-salem-novelization-fixes-the-movie/

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    9. Man, I liked Whitey. It's always interesting to see a nice, kind person in a horror movie (and one who doesn't get punished for it!) and that performance was one of my favorite parts.

      As for SMZ...I liked her a lot. I've honestly never seen another Zombie movie but I thought her performance was interesting and sympathetic and also kind of fun before things go off the rails.

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    10. Yes - I was so surprised and relieved that Whitey wasn't brutally murdered. I love the character and the relationship he has with Heidi - I've had a similar relationship myself and Zombie and the actors do a great job capturing the subtleties of that not-quite-romantic limbo in a certain kind of friendship.

      And I think SMZ did a great job too. My favourite of all her characters and performances.

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    11. D'Artagnan FlewellingOctober 5, 2013 at 9:32 PM

      Patrick, re: lack of love for Fulci...one clue might be that GATES OF HELL is the terribly edited for American video title of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, or "Paura nella città dei morti viventi" if you prefer. The version released by Anchor Bay Entertainment is the complete, uncut version, containing all the gore and violence. It still isn't super-coherent, but damn if it doesn't have a mood that's awesome, which might be what gets ruined when they chop the gory bits out.

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    12. DArtagnan FlewellingOctober 5, 2013 at 9:33 PM

      Apparently I can't put an apostrophe in my name where it needs to go... :-P

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    13. Thanks, D'Artagnan. I've actually seen it as City of the Living Dead, and I still couldn't get into it. I keep trying with these Italian movies, and it hasn't taken hold yet. But I appreciate you looking out!

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    14. Im interested to go and read the complaints people had about this movie. From what I think they are they seem pretty unfounded based on the movie I saw.

      SMZ was good, and when taken in the context of independent horror movies she was closer to great compared to her peers.

      Was this a case of "Haters gonna hate"? complain if a horror movie is by the numbers, complain if its interesting and outside the box.

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    15. Also, Id be keen to hear more about: "favorite horror filmmakers working right now (and there are a lot of good ones for the first time in years)."
      Sounds like it could make for a good SMM article. ;)

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    16. Regarding Italian horror Patrick it could just be that what separates Lords of Salem from those films for you is technical proficiency. When watching Italian horror films you kind of just have to accept the terrible dubbing and stuff but it can be too much of a disconnect for some.

      Brad, my favourite current horror filmmakers are probably Ti West, Ben Wheatley (solely for Kill List) and Vincenzo Natali I guess. Weirdly I find that there are not as many great horror directors as there are great horror films. There are a lot of singular horror films I like but a lot of the time their directors have made less good stuff too.

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    17. I thought SMZ was fine to good in Lords of Salem, and she got the job done in both Halloween movies. I just wonder how much we're grading on a curve, because she was pretty actively bad in Rob Zombie's first two movies. I'm glad she's showing signs of improving.

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  5. Wow, great discussion so far everyone! I'm glad to find some people that enjoy this movie as much as I do since it seems a lot of my friends didn't care for it. I love the comparison to 70's Italian horror because I initially did not make that connection. I love psychological horror such as Romero's Season of the Witch. I thought the relationships amongst the DJ's was such a well done aspect of this film and very compelling and believable. A lot of people have been writing this movie off as having "music video" imagery which I feel is sort of a cop out given the obvious career of Rob Zombie. I think his imagery in this movie is fascinating as documented above so well by other other commenters. I enjoyed how this movie just goes off the rails and again I can't say enough about the music - I especially thought the Lords of Salem "theme" was very effective.

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    1. I'm with you in thinking that the 'music video imagery' is kind of a cop out, Kyle. I get where the criticism comes from; the last act of the movie is a lot of seemingly disconnected shots of "messed up" stuff, which was a staple of a lot of videos (especially in the late '80s/early '90s). But it's to a purpose here -- it's not just thrown in for the sake of being there. And when you consider that SMZ has been gradually hallucinating to greater degrees throughout the movie, the big finish makes a lot more sense.

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    2. Do you take it all as hallucinations?
      I think it was intentionally ambiguous during the movie with more weight given to hallucinations than reality, but especially the radio news at the end seemed to suggest it was real.

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    3. I wanted to think it was all allegory and not literal but I heard in a Lords of Salem Q&A at Flashback Weekend that Rob Zombie wanted audiences to take it at face value. I think it works as both.

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    4. Which is always the best approach, where it works on multiple levels. I want the surface level enjoyment of a story but also for there to be deeper complexity or meaning that you can return to and dissect. Like Grant Morrison comics :-)

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  6. I hate to be Lil’ Nellie Negative here, but I’m just drinking the Kool-Aid on this movie. Yes, it looked pretty, and you could play the Tarantino game by going through it and trying to spot all the references to old ‘70s/’80s flicks, but beyond that, I don’t know if Lords of Salem has anything to offer.

    In the writing world, you hear a lot of talk about “wants.” What does the main character want? What does the villain want? And so on. These wants have to be established early on, preferably right on the first page, so the audience can immediately identify with the character (at least that’s the idea. I’ll admit this is easier said than done, and I struggle with it in own writing). I bring this up because I don’t know what Heidi wants. Therefore, I have no idea who this character is. She mopes around her apartment, she looks sad while walking the dog, she’s distant with the beard-guy who’s her friend. Yeah, there’s the substance abuse angle, but I thought that felt tacked on. When she hears the mysterious music, it has an effect on her, but what kind of effect? The witches – excuse me, the “lords” are all about the evil baby-makin’, but how does that affect Heidi personally? In Rosemary’s Baby, which this movie owes a lot of debt to, we spend a lot of time with the protagonists as they do the “newlywed bliss” thing, because that’s an emotional connection to the evil baby-makin’, but in Lords of Salem, there’s none of that. Does Heidi want/not want a baby? She appears to eschew intimate relationships, but why? How does that tie into what Heidi transforms into at the end? Unfortunately, Rob Zombie’s idea of a character arc boils down to naught but, “Dudes, check out how hot my wife is.”

    Also, that thing where a character appears to have a supernatural experience filled with frightening imagery, only to then wake up back in bed and we’re supposed to wonder did she dream it or did it really happen? This movie does that multiple times, and ticked me off every time. You guys at F This Movie often talk about how movies often don’t have rules or don’t play by the rules they’ve established, and that’s what Lords of Salem is doing with these cheesy dream fake-outs.

    I’ll agree that the movie is a visual feast. And with zero CGI! The real “star” of the movie is director of photography Brandon Trost. I looked him up, and his filmography is littered with clunkers like Crank: High Voltage and That’s My Boy. He’s even directed one feature, that goofball dance movie The FP. Here’s hoping he can “break out” and really wow us with something amazing in the future.

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    1. In the first sentence above, I meant I'm NOT drinking the Kool-Aid on this one. Sheesh.

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    2. I get what you are saying about Heidi's character arc. What I took away from it though was that she was more a victim/puppet in her life, not in control of her destiny with multiple outside sources trying to pull her towards them (Whitey, the Wax museum guy, the witches, drugs) rather than her having an internal drive of her own. Her absence of goal actually worked in that context. It ultimately means that her being overcome by the witches is a bit lacking of sympathy or loss, and more characterised by her fulfilling a destiny...which was pretty much the point, i think.
      No, its not screenwriting 101, but in terms of a thematic exploration (is that a thing?) I think it works.

      Also, I found the dream "fake outs" to be very consistent with what the movie was trying to get across. Im interested what rules you see these as breaking because I see it all as part of the main character experience of supernatural/reality vs hallucinations/dreams. This question is not meant to be answered until the very end with the movie being more a building of the question rather than a series of jump scares and new shock experiences.

      Hope this doesnt come across as nitpicking your comment. Im happy to be proven wrong ;-)

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    3. I'm with Brad on this. The film jumps around, but that jarring disconnect is the main reason it's effective. Heidi doesn't have much control over what happens because her destined path has brought her face to face with the Lords. I do wish Zombie had been able to bring in more of her drug addict backstory. It's a nice thematic parallel with her descent into madness. I never read her waking up in bed as cop out dream sequences. Just because she surfaces every now and then doesn't mean the weird things that happen to her aren't real. There are real stakes, even if a lot of the imagery is surreal.

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    4. It’s like this: Our heroine walks down a dark, gloomy hallway with a foreboding-looking door at the end. She enters it, and is confronted with horror weirdness. At this point, the suspense is at its peak. What is the nightmare weirdness? How will our plucky girl hero escape it? Oh, wait, it’s a dream and/or cut to the next morning. Instead of the nightmare weirdness enhancing the story, as it does in The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby, in this movie it merely replaces story, so Zombie can be as weirdballs as he wants to be without having to tie things together thematically.

      But then, that’s just my take. Reading over all these comments, looks like most folks enjoyed this one a lot more than I did, and I’m totally OK with that.

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  7. I've hated every movie of Rob Zombie's that I've seen except for his remake of "Halloween II," which I respect and admire more than I like. It turns out "Halloween II's" dream-imagery (the horse, the mother, etc.) are the starting point for "Lords of Salem's" mise-en-scene. It's not that I think Zombie is a bad horror filmmaker, I'm just turned off almost completely by Rob's infatuation with 'grindhouse meets 70's white trash' settings, characters, photography and overall look/execution of his films. If that's the reaction he wanted to get out of me he succeeded, but there at least some characters in Todd Solonz and Neil LaBute movie that I find likable. I find nobody in a Rob Zombie that I even want to look at (except for a few in "Halloween II," and Danielle Harris being in that movie has a lot to do that), let alone give a shit about their well-being or fate.

    So I was surprised that, even though I didn't like "The Lords of Salem" (and neither did a friend at work that liked every Zombie movie up to know, so it didn't work on a Zombie fan and an open-minded person like "mua"), I actually liked some of the characters (Ken Foree's DJ, Bruce Davidson's author, etc.) and found myself admiring the directorial choices of Rob. The man shows sings of growing confidence and maturity in his skills by stepping out of his 'white trash' comfort zone, and expanding his interpretion of horror beyond foul-mouthed trailer park inbreds saying/doing horrible things. Borrowing heavily from Kubrick, Polanski and Lynch, Zombie plunges head-first into supernatural mystery horror territory and marries that, awkwardly, with his eye for nightmarish imagery; the typical grindhouse photography, thankfully, is jettisoned (save for the desaturated color palette) and replaced with a more polished-but-too-digital-looking normal look.

    I knew nothing about the plot of "The Lords of Salem" going and it plays better like that. Afterwards I wanted to watch the Benjamin Christensen semi-documentary "Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages," which is an obvious inspiration of the parallels to mental illness (specifically group hysteria) that "Salem" brings to the forefront. What "Salem" lacks in jump scares, violence or gore (it's practically PG-13 compared with "Devil's Rejects" or the "Halloween" remakes) it compensates for with mood and the promise, finally, that Rob Zombie will do a good horror movie in the future. "Halloween II" and "Lords of Salem" have to be building up to something, right? Right?

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  8. I just watched it for the first time, and I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it. This one's gonna take some time ...

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    1. I know this is pretty much a closed/dead thread by now, but after sitting with this movie for a night, I think I fall on the side of macmcentire.com. I thought the performances [by most] were great -- specifically Bruce Davison's scene in the landlady's kitchen [one of my favs of the movie] -- and it was definitely a FEAST FOR THE EYES (copyright, me). But a lot of it left me cold, and for as much as he gets certain aspects right (the music, a particular vibe), he gets others wrong (what a radio talkshow sounds like). Other things just felt creepy for the sake of creepy -- not a lot of purposeful "scary" stuff. I'm glad I saw it, and definitely don't dislike it. It's just ... not for me.

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    2. I knew it wouldn't be for everyone, but I'm glad people gave it a chance and are at least trying to see the good in it, even if they aren't on board with the movie overall. And as someone who really likes the movie, let me just second your comment that the radio show scenes are THE WORST. Is it supposed to be a parody of a radio show? Or has Rob Zombie really never heard the radio in his life? He's personal friends with Howard Stern. How could he not approximate it better? Those scenes make me cringe.

      Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOUG!!!!

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    3. I have to assume it's a parody of a small-town radio show right? Look everybody - we have a SOUNDBOARD!

      Also, Happy Birthday Doug! Did you get my card or did it get lost in the mail? Aw shucks, and it was stuffed with cash too. Hope you have a great day anyway!

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    4. I did! Thanks! Too bad all those loonies (and toonies) aren't accepted here ...

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  9. I know I am a bit late to the party on this one but I still wanted to share a few thoughts. As it is possible that those who caused the Salem witch trials were victim to ergot poisoning (LSD derived from ergot), it is quite an interesting connection to make between possession and drug abuse. Of course the type of hallucinations Heidi has, we are taken along with so both she and the viewers are put into the position of those involved in the Salem Witch trials. This is complex in the film as the witches are evil, so in putting us in the position of the protagonist, who is possessed by their powers, so too are we. This is why I think it will work better in a cinema because you will be able to be put under the witches spell so to speak. I think if the film works on you, you will be slightly dizzy after it finishes, having some of the film's images lingering in your mind.

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