The Lords of Salem Review
By Bret Dorman
House of 1000 Corpses! Insane! The Devil’s Rejects! Awesome! Halloween! Thrilling! Halloween II! Brutal!
The Lords of Salem! … … … really?
Rob Zombie’s movies have always strived to be different from the last while all being retro homages doused in Rob Zombie’s crazy visuals. The Lords of Salem is no different in the fact that it IS different from the rest of his work, but unfortunately it’s also the first that feels like a direct assault to the audience. We get it Mr. Zombie, you don’t play by the rules or care what people think! You still need to deliver a good movie.The Story: Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a local Salem DJ who lives in an old building. Her landlord Lacy (Judy Gleeson) is kind of creepy, as well as the ghostly happenings like the mysterious tenant in apartment #5. One day Heidi gets a record from “The Lords” and she gets a headache and weird stuff starts happening. Witchcraft! Curses! World Domination! Also, naked witch parties aren’t as sexy as they sound.
The Lords of Salem is clearly inspired by such older horror films more interested in unsettling atmosphere like Rosemary’s Baby, Season of the Witch (aka Hungry Wives), or The Omen. And in order to establish creepy witch-y cults, Zombie taps his ‘normal’ style to provide the rock ‘n’ roll vibe that meshes so well with the horror genre. Only this movie feels really impersonal as we watch our main tortured protagonist Heidi mope around and pout about headaches and being tired. Not to mention the ‘world domination’ aspect that any good demon cult movie has feels really underplayed. The film opens with a (botched?) attempt to bring the anti-christ into our world from a bunch of dirty naked witches speaking gibberish in a fashion that would make Billy Madison go crazy. We then learn some ancient dude burned all the witches and they put a Freddy Krueger-esque curse on the unborn children of Salem, invoking one of the bloodline’s to actually be the new bearer of the anti-christ itself. Of course the question the movie asks is the same one we all ask ourselves everyday… how can we change our own fate and not give birth to the destroyer of our world?I find it refreshing that a horror movie dares to focus on adults. Sheri Moon Zombie seems like the youngest of the group and she’s in her early forties, her character age maybe mid thirties? There’s plenty of scenes between older groups of actors who trudge through the obvious mystery and paranoia. It’s no secret that there’s something fishy going on with the landlord and her two “sisters.” Meanwhile Bruce Davison as Francis does a great job at playing the expert who has to put all the pieces together and add a (mere) sense of urgency.
I don’t mind movies with slow burns, especially ones where I am already predisposed to liking the filmmaker’s work and trust in them to deliver the goods. But there is a difference in slow ratcheting up of tension and sacrificing momentum for mood. Heidi has no distinguishable future. She’s an ex-junkie who has a sort of fling with her co-DJ Herman aka Whitey (Jeff Daniels Philips) and nothing coming up to look forward to or be excited about. It’s hard to care about a character being assimilated into a cult against her knowledge/will when we don’t have a good sense of her normal life and where it’s headed. At the same time, symbolism plays a big part in witchcraft and here there’s no subtlety in how it’s handled. The same two symbols (“The Lords” half crescent/trident/cross combo and the normal Jesus cross) are displayed in full and hallucinations/’flashbacks’ are tonally abrasive while also being visually striking. Yes it is fun to watch Zombie’s were-wolf creatures, sleazy priests, creepy no-faces, and bleeding paintings but they are ALL flash and no bang.I’m not saying The Lords of Salem has to be like House of 1000 Corpses, but what was so exciting about that movie was that Zombie built a mythology around Dr. Satan and then delivered us right into his crazy ass underground laboratory to the ‘man’ himself and his demonic goggle-wearing axe-wielding creations. Here we have Meg Foster as Margret Morgan, lead witch, create a fun backstory ripe for conspiracy and character corruption. But as we get closer to the big ceremony, we see that Heidi is neither willing nor struggling against it. The final fifteen minutes feel like a student film that blasts you with crazy imagery that begs you to dissect it and marvel in its mayhem. Instead of bringing us into hell, the movie just gives us a flashy montage. Instead of looking at the destruction of innocence, the movie just mumbles through fits of depression. Instead of making us fear the consequences of what might happen if the coven succeeds in their plan, the movie just presents some stylish imagery.
In Conclusion, I’m not ready to give up on Rob Zombie yet. I loved Corpses, Reject’s, and Halloween (only seen H2 once although I do own a used copy). But to me The Lords of Salem seems like a misguided attempt at someone deliberately trying to deliver a branded product while simultaneously giving us the finger saying “I”m not your puppet and I don’t dance for anyone man!” At one point a character threatens another (with one of the coolest lines of the movie) by saying “God doesn’t forgive Angels who have sinned.” Luckily I forgive filmmakers for movies I don’t particularly enjoy.
Final Grade: D
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