After seeing The Lords of Salem probably five or six times, I gave the book a whirl after receiving a copy from my wife as a gift. I had wanted to pick it up and read it for some time, but now it was in front of me, so I set aside another book I was reading, and dove right in.
If you’ve been wondering whether or not you should give it a read, the short answer is yes. If you’re a fan of the movie, you should definitely check it out to appreciate the story in written form, and digest all of the changes that were made.
Here’s the slightly longer answer.
If you love Rob Zombie’s film, reading the book is a no-brainer. If you just kind of liked the movie, you should still read it. There is enough different about it to give you a pretty different experience, which you might like better. If you didn’t like the movie, I guess it really depends on why you didn’t like it. If you didn’t like the basic plot, then don’t bother. If you liked the concept, but didn’t like the way it was carried out for whatever reason, you should read it, because it’s a different experience than the film, and it goes in some dramatically different directions at times.
Ok, now I’ll get to the long answer.
Let me start by giving you my overall feelings about Rob Zombie as a filmmaker, so you’ll know where my perspective is coming from. I’m a fan. I love House of 1,000 Corpses, and I love The Devil’s Rejects about five times more. I’m not the biggest fan of Halloween, but I think it has some really solid elements, and I still find myself revisiting it every now and then. I cared for H2 even less, but I still enjoyed it more than H20 and Resurrection. Like many of Zombie’s fans, I was left largely disappointed with the Halloween era, and was unsure of what to expect from Lords. Then, I watched it, and fell in love with Zombie the director all over again. To me, Lords of Salem was exactly what Zombie needed to do to, and exactly what horror in general needed at the time. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t help but feel like it was the film he should have made after The Devil’s Rejects. I’m sure others have expressed similar sentiments.
So suffice it to say, I’m a fan of The Lords of Salem. I like the premise, and I love the overall atmosphere and visuals. I also love the soundtrack.
Now, on to the book. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Just as I wasn’t sure what to expect from Zombie going into the film, I also wasn’t sure what to expect going into the book, as it would almost have to be hard if not impossible to pull off the same kind of dreamy atmosphere showcased in the film without the luxury of visual media (not to mention the lack of soundtrack). I was also unsure what to expect from Zombie as a novelist, though he co-wrote it with B.K. Evenson (whom I’d also never read before). I’m still not entirely clear on how much of it was actually written by Zombie himself, but in the end, I don’t suppose it matters all that much.
Starting off, it doesn’t take long to realize that the novel differs significantly from what we see in the film. The opening chapters are dedicated to the witches and witch trials of the past. We get a very graphic depiction of an infant sacrifice, and actually get to meet Satan pretty early on before experiencing the capture and torture of the witches themselves.
Once it gets to present day, things start off pretty similar to how they do in the movie, except that we learn that Heidi’s dog’s name is Steve rather than Troy. Zombie explained the reasoning for the change in the DVD commentary. Basically, the dog they were using was really named Troy, and it was just easier to work with a dog that responds to its real name.
Much of the storyline remains in tact throughout the novel, but there are a number of scenes that weren’t in the movie at all, and some others that were fairly different.
There’s a scene absent from the film involving the witches in present day congregating in a church and plotting revenge. In another scene, Heidi encounters some strange “nuns” from the church.
There are two different scenes involving women in Salem (descendants of key players in the witch trials) hearing the Lords’ song on the radio, and violently murdering their significant others. These are very descriptive and somewhat lengthy scenes in the book, and provide an entirely different look at the effect of the music on the town’s women compared to the brief shots we see in the film. There is even some self-mutilation and necrophilia involved.
There is much more to the scene in which the black metal band Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent does the interview at the radio station (in the book there are two band members instead of one). There is some extra humor added to the scene in the book. We read about, for example, one of the band members sitting in the lobby reading a Highlights magazine as they wait to be interviewed. The band also seems to creep people out in the book more so than in the movie, which plays a role in the tone of the book.
There are some scenes with the radio station’s boss that aren’t in the movie. There is also some humor that comes along with is role. For example, he and Whitey have an argument about how to file a Rod Stewart album.
There’s some additional stuff with the receptionist at the radio station, such as her talking to her babysitter on the phone about True Blood (which she deems “hardly” a vampire show, and is more about men taking their shirts off). This is when the Lords’ album box appears on the desk out of nowhere. She actually sees it appear out of nowhere on security camera footage.
We learn more about why Heidi lives in the apartment that she does. Early on, it’s clear that Heidi’s landlord is strange, and has a great deal to do with why Heidi is where she is. We also get to learn a lot more about Heidi’s relationships with Whitey and with Herman.
We get more scenes with Matthias as well, and his character is slightly different than in the movie. Frankly, he comes off as a bit more of a pretentious prick in the book (at least at first) whereas in the film, he’s pretty likeable the whole time.
Like in the movie, there are some really fucked up dream sequences, but they’re mostly different in the book, and often more fucked up, and much bloodier.
I don’t really want to go into too much detail about all the crazy shit that happens in Heidi’s dreams, because that (along with the murder scenes) are probably what make the book worth reading more than anything else, for those well acquainted with the film. I don’t think I could really do any of it justice by summarizing anyway.
The book also offers a great deal of character development not found in the movie, and some additional backstory to add to the lore of the witches. It also ends quite a bit differently (and again, more violently).
All in all, Lords of Salem is an easy read, and a fun one for hard core horror fans, and it deserves a place on your bookshelf.
It’s hard to say how I would have felt about the movie had I read the book first. There were so many changes. I may have been disappointed that some things were left out, but having already been so familiar with the movie going in, and appreciating it, reading the book only made me appreciate The Lords of Salem as a whole all the more. As is the case with other movies that are also books, it’s nice to have both formats to return to.
Not that I consider Lords of Salem on par with The Shining (in either medium), but I love that story in both forms – Stephen King’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film. Both are generally well received as separate entities, and that’s just fine. Just as I wouldn’t have any reservations about revisiting either, I won’t have any about revisiting either version of Lords.
The project as a whole has only left me wanting more horror from Rob Zombie in any medium he chooses.