Lords of Salem (2012)
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Bruce Davison, Dee Wallace, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Judy Geeson, Ken Foree, Meg Foster, Michael Berryman, Patricia Quinn, Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig
The Lords of Salem (2012)
(18) Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
Cast: Sherri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Rob Zombie, the director, seems to split opinion right down the middle. People either love his movies, or hate them, and The Lords of Salem will no doubt divide opinions again. However, those who have hated his extreme violence and chaotic camerawork and noisy production may find much more to enjoy here, while those on the other side just might not be happy with Zombie’s new direction. Me, I love Rob Zombie’s films, adore them in fact, and I have been waiting like a kid at Christmas to see this, and I can happily say that I am very very impressed. I will admit to being a little thrown in places, a little unsure and at times a little needy for a bit of the old Zombie ultra violence, but on reflection, The Lords of Salem is probably Zombie’s most accomplished, and indeed most passionate, film to date.
Make no mistake though, if you have come here expecting an onslaught of violence and mayhem, then best you prepare yourself for a unique and totally different Rob Zombie experience. The Lords of Salem is an ultra slow burner than reminded me of early Roman Polanski with clear influences from the likes of Dario Argento and even David Lynch, there are even touches of classic ‘losing your mind’ films like Jacob’s Ladder thrown into the mix, all with Zombie’s determination and admiration for horror. This is strong stuff, but not in the sick, repulsive way, but in the getting under your skin sort of way. I watched this film last night, and many images are still stuck in my head, and actually upon reflection, the film feels even better than I thought it was last night.
Sheri Moon Zombie has been cast as the lead actress (no surprises there), and she plays a recovering addict called Heidi Hawthorne. She works for a local radio station in Salem, Massachusetts, and every opportunity he gets, Zombie flaunts his wife’s assets. Wearing lots of revealing outfits, knee high socks, small skirts, and with plenty of naked backside shots, it is clear Zombie loves his wife, and while at times a little distracting, there are no complaints here! One day Heidi receives a brown package addressed to her at the radio station, and it contains a record recorded by a band simply called The Lords. The funeral march music sets off a chain of events in Heidi’s head, and once played on the radio, it effects all the women of the town. Shifting back to the 1600’s and the infamous ‘Witch Trials’ of Salem, the film opens with a coven of Witches performing a ritual around a fire. Dancing naked, they summon Satan, and Zombie carefully creates a real sense of sinister menace as the Witches insanely scream and bellow all sorts of batshit bonkers dialogue. Shots of a goat in the darkness only heighten the level of dread. These Witches were caught, put to trial and burnt alive by the local Witchhunter, but during the slaughter a curse is put on Salem, and a curse on the bloodline of the man who ordered their deaths…
Back in present day and it would appear that the curse has begun, and Heidi is feeling the full force of it. Living in a classic old style house of flats, her landlady lives downstairs and often spends time with her two friends, one of whom is a palm reader, and while these become increasingly strange and menacing, what is more worrying is what is behind the door at the end of the hall Heidi lives in, door Number 5.
After the opening, the film settles down in a ‘get to know the characters’ kinda way, and we even get some well written, playful banter between the radio station DJ’s and some of their guests. However, it doesn’t take long for the disturbing stuff to begin, and this is where Zombie really shines. The brooding, menacing atmosphere is cranked up to frightening levels by Zombie’s superb use of an almost crawling camera and a terrifically haunting score by composer John 5. The Lords of Salem creeps up on you, the atmosphere takes over and the film is absolutely drenched in menace and paranoia. Zombie cleverly catches you out with not only the usual sudden shocks, but the more sinister, almost subliminal images that just appear in the background. Here is Zombie as a calm, calculated and incredibly controlled director who could, at many times, have really gone for it and possibly spoilt the films feel. Instead, he continues to tease and scare in equal measure by never letting the film run away from him, and keeping a tight hold over the proceedings and the familiar but intriguing story.
The film is broken into days, and each day gets steadily worse for Heidi as things escalate. An early scene involving a hideous, massive hairy monster is truly the stuff of nightmares, but things actually get worse as the film progresses. Visually this film is probably Zombie’s best to date, with not only the creature effects impressing, but also his superb use of his surroundings. The camera glides through hallways and peeps around corners and doors, taking in all the authentic almost 70’s feel and design. Most of the film is shot at night, with daytime shots full of greys and faded colours giving that cold Autumn almost dead like look. The grainy picture adds to the magnificent design. What with the hypnotic score and the masterful visuals, The Lords of Salem is like nothing you will have seen before. Added into the mix is some classical music, including Mozart, and you have yourself an arthouse horror by a man who usually bombards us with images of violence. Sheri Moon Zombie does an impressive job leading the cast, but the massive list of genre stars all pop up and impress too. However, those hoping for some Sid Haig or Michael Berryman action will be sadly disappointed, they cameo for less than a minute.
The Lords of Salem is not without its faults, and at times the pacing can feel a little stretched when it is just based on dialogue. However, I feel Zombie should be applauded for changing direction so drastically, and here it feels like he has well and truly found his feet. I can imagine many will complain that this film is a little pretentious, but I say that in no way does this film feel like that. Instead it feels like a director is simply sharing his absolute admiration for a genre he so dearly loves, and it is about time that people get off his back and embrace one of the most exciting and visually unique directors working in horror today.
With all the brooding menace, visuals and general sense of bad stuff happening, Zombie still has one more trick left up his rotten sleeve with a finale that can happily add itself to a fine list of WTF horror finishes. The totally insane final moments are a joy to watch, hugely bizarre and a very good reason to be scratching your head. It is quite brilliant, and again shows that Zombie is more than willing to push himself into new and inventive places. The Lords of Salem is a superb piece of, dare I say it, operatic horror that gets into all those little places that a horror film is supposed to get to. It will leave a lasting impression, and it should (hopefully) put the Zombie haters to bed. Another masterpiece from a truly gifted director.