After a couple of films reimagining John Carpenter’s classic Halloween and it’s first sequel, Rob Zombie returns with some of his own original material, in this case The Lords of Salem, a kind of throw-back to the days of Ken Russell and art-house horror. This rather mixed bag of celluloid bones is a bit of a departure from Mr Zombie’s earlier films, namely the Texas Chainsaw Massacre–lite House of 1000 Corpses, which had way too many fast cuts in this reviewer’s opinion, The Devil’s Rejects (basically a sadist’s road movie) and the aforementioned Halloween films.
It seems that The Lords of Salem has really divided critics and fans alike with some raving about how it’s such a great departure from his previous movies and saying that he’s really grown up as a filmmaker, right across to those who were left cold by this new approach and who have railed against Mr Zombie’s seeming change of cinematic direction. I guess I’m one of the few who sit somewhere in the middle… However, before I critique the film I should explain a little of the plot for those who don’t know or don’t really care.
Basically, former drug user, Heidi (played adequately by Rob’s wife Sheri) is now working as a rock DJ at a local New England radio station with her co-hosts Whitey and Herman. Following one of their shows Heidi receives a parcel, which turns out to be a record by a band called The Lords, contained in a strange old wooden box. Quite understandably, assuming that this is a PR stunt, she gives the record a spin and then quickly starts to experience some weird hallucinations and bizarre flashbacks to some past trauma, weirdly triggered by the rather dirgey and haunting sounds emanating from the record.
As the rest of the week progresses Heidi experiences more and more disturbing flashbacks and ends up resorting to taking the drugs she had previously shaken off, but only after she admits three strange sisters into her life, sisters who might just be witches…and who have their own plans for the young woman.
The Lords of Salem wears a lot of influences on its crimson sleeve. There are flashes of Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Fog, The Crucible and The Devils, with a bit of The Shining and the films of Kenneth Anger thrown in for good measure. In fact the style and feel of the film definitely feels like Zombie has overdosed on classic era horror, but does that make it a good film? Truthfully, no, not really, but it scores points for trying, although I couldn’t help but feel that Rob Zombie has tried a little too hard to impress and the result, overall, is a bit disappointing.
However, there’s much to like here – for one thing Rob has done away with his usual kinetic editing technique and has chosen a more purposeful and steady style, which helps to keep the story on track, and to minimise distractions. It’s nicely shot; in fact there’s some startling imagery, particularly in the dream sequences, some of which wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a David Lynch film. Plus there’s an excellent scene featuring the three weird sisters and a local writer who goes to warn Heidi that her life is in danger. The menace in the scene is palpable. There’s also a very creepy scene involving a weird baby demon thing and Heidi sleeping – you have been warned! Additionally composer John 5 has come up with a memorable score for the film, one that slowly seeps under your skin and subtly unsettles… plus I enjoyed the use of Mozart’s Requiem during a couple of memorable scenes.
Frustratingly, there’s also quite a bit that is wrong with the film. Although the acting was decent throughout (even Sheri ups her game here), Judy Geeson and Michael Berryman should have been used more. The pacing is leaden in places and the film feels considerably longer than its one hour and forty one minute runtime. I also found the story rather predictable and guessed the outcome fairly early on, although that didn’t put me off sitting through to the end. And while we’re on the subject of the end – what the hell! I found it somewhat an anticlimax, but it is worth experiencing, although it did tend to end up a bit like a metal head’s music video!
The Lords of Salem is likely to become a bit of a cult film as the years flow by, as it’s chock full of horror stalwarts and there’s plenty of arresting imagery that’s definitely worth a second look. While not as good as The Devil’s Rejects, this is a more interesting film than the rest of Rob Zombie’s output and he should be congratulated on taking some brave choices with a very different style of filmmaking.
The Lords of Salem has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Momentum. The only extras on the review disc were trailers for The Lords of Salem and some other recent horrors including The Bay, The Facility and Dark Skies.
Reviewer: Justin Richards