(Sheri Moon Zombie is blinded by the light in The Lords of Salem)
Unsurprisingly, the Devil plays a key role in numerous horror films, including classics like The Exorcist and The Omen; even Halloween’s Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) intones that Michael Myers had “the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes!” Satan and/or his minions also drive the plot of the films I’ve selected for this edition of Underground Horrors.
Prince of Darkness (1987)—Weighed against such classics as The Thing and Escape from New York, this might be considered a second tier work from director John Carpenter, but it’s always been one of my favorites. The gleefully schlocky setup involves a research team who convene to analyze a mysterious substance found in a church basement, a pulsating green ooze that turns out to be, as one TV listing memorably put it, “liquid Satan.” It all leads to a siege by demonically possessed bums, led by rocker Alice Cooper, and a series of unforgettable shocks involving stabbings, bugs, and lots of projectile vomiting. It’s all a little ridiculous, but Carpenter’s relentless direction and the movie’s gritty intensity make it so vivid you won’t care.
Event Horizon (1997)—Alien has been called “a haunted house movie in space,” but Event Horizon takes that elevator pitch a step further. When a group of scientists investigate the titular ship, which was lost in a black hole and has mysteriously resurfaced, they’re subjected to a series of nasty visions and grisly accidents that recall their worst fears and anxieties. You can probably guess where Event Horizon’s been based on its inclusion in this article, and the power of that central conceit and director Paul W.S. Anderson’s vivid, high gloss style go a long way towards paving over all the nonsensical elements. An outstanding cast including Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, and Joely Richardson make this classier than it has any right to be. Plus, the thing is really scary.
The Lords of Salem (2013)—Rob Zombie is an endlessly polarizing director who tends to be either revered or hated. I’ve always been on his side, but this movie proved a real game changer for him. It centers on a radio DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s wife and muse) who comes unglued when she’s targeted by a coven with ties to Salem’s dark past. Breaking away from the white trash milieu and grisly violence that had become his calling card, Zombie crafts a moody, dream-like narrative that aims for the sustained mood and timbre of Polanski or Kubrick. He’s mostly successful, thanks to his phenomenal visuals (which have only gotten better as his career goes on), fantastic use of Salem locations, and terrific supporting cast. Veterans like Dee Wallace (The Howling) and Patricia Quinn (Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) turn in assured performances where Sheri Moon’s is just adequate—but she sure is lovely to look at. It all closes with a surreal montage set to the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” This is a real gem that deserves to be more widely seen.