I’ve been strangely intrigued by The Lords of Salem ever since first seeing the disjointed trailers. Gave some info, but only a little, like any good trailer should do. Feeling the same as most people, to me, Rob Zombie’s films are very hit or miss. Sometimes within one film we get a mixed bag of quality. Almost like Zombie had no idea what he wanted to do with the movie and just threw in whatever came to mind on that particular day. I felt that way about House of 1000 Corpses, but when he made it’s follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects, it seemed like he had finally started to come into his own as a director. Paying heavy homage to the redneck horror flicks of the 70’s; which I could appreciate as a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. As much as I am a fan of Devil’s Rejects, I still wanted to see him stand on his own two legs and do something that was truly his. Instead we got a somewhat decent, brutal remake of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween and a terribly awful sequel Halloween 2 (which I still really believe to be a middle finger to Dimension Films for making him do a sequel after he so clearly only wanted one film made). It seemed like he was afraid to step out of the shadow of what had come before.
Fast forward to 2013 and we get The Lords of Salem. Which is definitely Rob Zombie’s most original and possibly best film. The film opens with flashbacks to the era of the Salem Witch Trials. There’s a small coven pledging their allegiance to the Prince of Darkness and there’s a goat and weird s*** goes down and it had some of the weaker qualities of Zombie’s past ventures, but my interest was piqued, for sure.
Moving along to present day, Sheri Moon Zombie plays Heidi LaRoq, a rock radio DJ in Salem, Mass with a penchant for 70’s garb and watching old black and white movies in her apartment with her dog Troy. One night when closing up the station with her co-hosts, (played genuinely by Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree and character actor Jeff Daniel Phillips; who, with his long hair and beard looks very much like Zombie himself) the receptionist tells Heidi that a weird package was left for her. Inside a strange wooden box with odd carvings is a record with creepy music that you would never want to put on after a hard night’s work. As the music plays we get flashes of the witches and Heidi looks to be getting the worst headache ever. She goes to bed and visions of hellions dance in her head. Taking place over six days the movie sends us on the downward spiral of creepiness and evil that Heidi is dragged through. I was very much pulled into the mystery and learning why Heidi has been chosen out of all the people in Salem.
When I first heard about this, I definitely wanted to say, “Why Rob? Why cast your wife in a lead role in every single movie you direct? And this isn’t to say that I disliked her in the other roles, but c’mon pal, give someone else a chance.” In Corpse/Rejects her character “Baby” was extremely annoying. I know this was the point; she played a raving lunatic pretty well, but there’s that. She was good in Halloween, but to me she just wasn’t right as Deborah Myers. Something was off. In Lords of Salem, Sheri Moon has gotten the best role of her short career. She’s a protagonist that we actually care about, even if she’s a little kooky. She’s a normal person that most people can relate to in some way; we don’t want her hurt when and if the evil is unleashed. I liked her a lot in this movie, her acting was good, she fit the part completely. Plus I really dug her in glasses, not sure what the dreads were about, but I digress.
Overall the movie itself is very reminiscent of the 1970s-80s films of Dario Argento: with the modern witchcraft plot and it’s pacing – Roman Polanski: for it’s Rosemary’s Baby subtle wickedness and sense of doom – John Carpenter: for the nod to The Fog‘s ‘not all is well in this sleepy town’ style. There is even a touch of Stanley Kubrick throughout. From the way certain shots are framed and that strange mix of Victorian and Art Deco, to geometric and sterile rooms and luminescent, rectangle nightstands and wall art that could have been found in Alex DeLarge’s bedroom. All of this in one film, but it blends together wonderfully. No single characteristic overpowering another. It works, it all works. Now you may be thinking, “Hey didn’t you say earlier that you would prefer it if Zombie would do something that was totally his? And stopped riding the wave of paralleling and imitation?” Yes. And I still feel that way. And while Lords does pay homage to classic horror styles, I refuse to categorize it as a ripoff or say it’s derivative of any other film. Some may see it as he’s still on the same path, but I see it as something new. I feel like it may be getting mixed reviews because it does have some of that old school slow-burning horror movie pacing and today’s audiences just can’t handle it. To be completely honest, this moves like a rocket compared to some of Argento’s films.
There are definitely moments where one may have the thought “What in the hell am I watching?” It’s ok, I went there too, but only a couple times. I absolutely loved the way this film was shot, especially everything that takes place in Heidi’s apartment building. It all has that wonderful vibe of a growing terror. The still that I used for the featured image above is from one of my favorite shots in the whole movie. The door to abandoned apartment #5 (where we just know that evil is brewing) slowly opens and Heidi is compelled to enter. All she finds inside is a red neon cross on the wall humming with sense of hostility and she slowly walks towards it, drawn to it. Outstanding shot.
Anyway! The cast is filled out with veterans of horror and science fiction: Dee Wallace, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Maria Conchita Alonso, Andrew Prine, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig (blink and you’ll miss him) and many, many others are strewn throughout. All pull their weight in the film, making an excellent web of characters and plot. Along side Sheri Moon, Bruce Davison is a standout as author and museum curator Francis Matthias.
There’s rock music, crazy, interesting and realistic characters, witches, denizens of hell, spirits, crack smoking, death, minimal blood and old lady boobs. Lots and lots of old lady boobs. So there really is something for everyone in The Lords of Salem. I had a few gripes with the end, but it’s ok, it was enough. At one point I thought the credits were going to roll and we’d be left with absolutely no explanation. In my head I was screaming, “No! No! Do not end it like this! I’ll be so pissed!” Thankfully it did not end there.
Today’s cynical youth may not get it and leave confused or not go at all (which may explain why I was the youngest person in the theater). Fans of the classics may prefer to sit home and watch those instead. I think a lot of that attitude is unfair to this movie, but what can ya do? I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s latest project a whole lot and this is the first time I’ve actually been anxious to see what he does next.