To all of you loyal followers out there, you are probably aware of the love/hate relationship that I have with Rob Zombie. Or, if you aren’t a loyal follower, why don’t you do yourself a favor and check out my reviews for House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween, and Halloween 2. It’s okay, I can wait. All caught up now? Great! As you can see, his most recent two films are the two that I couldn’t really find anything to connect to. When I had found out that he was going to be doing a movie based in Salem, I got pretty scared. Coming off those two films I didn’t really like, and being from Massachusetts and absolutely loving Salem, I was nervous that the film might end up being something more similar to the aspects of his filmmaking that I’m not really a fan of. I tried to avoid learning anything about the movie, but the more details that were released, the more that information just kind of permeated its way into my brain. When each cast member was added, I could see he had a few familiar faces in there, as well as some great new ones. When I started seeing some stills and promotional images for the film, I couldn’t help but get excited by the colors, composition, and iconography. As much as I wanted to get excited about the film, I just couldn’t shake those negative feelings and worries I had, and The Lords of Salem was probably my most anticipated film of SXSW, if only because I wanted to know which aspects of Zombie’s films it incorporated. Surprisingly, this movie felt completely different from anything he had ever done before, and they were all things that were fucking AWESOME.
YOU WHITE PEOPLE AND YOUR GODDAMNED DREADLOCKS!
The film opens by seeing a coven of witches do what you expect a coven of witches to do, so there’s lots of fire, dirt, and stringy hair. Cut to present day and we see Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) making her way to work at the local radio station. As she’s leaving her shift, the receptionist lets her know that a mysterious record was left for her by a group calling themselves “The Lords”. When she listens to it back at her apartment with her fellow DJ Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips), she gets a migraine and collapses. The strange album coincides with Heidi seeing someone has rented the room at the end of the hallway, despite the landlord claiming that no one lived there. During an interview for a radio show, Heidi is talking about the truth behind the Salem witch trials with author Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison). When the DJs decide to put on the record of The Lords, their mysterious nature and the fact that they’re in Salem causes them to instead refer to the as “The Lords of Salem”. The record has the same impact on Heidi, but we also see that all the women throughout town seem to be hypnotized by the music. The music also sounds familiar to Francis so he decides to investigate it and finds that the musical notes date back to the Salem Witch Trials and also discovers that Heidi has a strange connection to those events. Heidi’s visions become more intense and Francis becomes more frantic as he tries to put all the pieces together, and the film reaches its climax when The Lords of Salem have a public performance. I won’t go too much further, but I’ll say that if you like the way Lucio Fulci movies end, then you’re in for a treat.
This is basically what 95% of the concerts I go to look like.
My life would have been so much easier had I just been able to hate this movie, but try as I might, I just couldn’t do it. I mentioned earlier how being from Massachusetts means that the source material is something of interest to me, and the research Zombie put into the plot really shows. One character explains the fact that there were only around 25 people who were killed, which is absolutely nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands that have been killed in Europe, and even used some historical characters in flashback sequences. I had mentioned how good the cast was, with people like Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Clint Howard, and Barbara Crampton, but due to financial limitations and a cast member dying during production, a majority of the recognizable names ended up cut out of the movie entirely. Luckily, Sheri Moon Zombie carries the picture on her shoulders and totally pulls it off. Considering how her most famous role is that of the psychotic Baby Firefly, it was great to see her tone down her performance so that she could be neutral enough for the audience to connect with. Her chemistry with Jeff Daniel Phillips as the quasi-love interest/nontraditional looking leading man was enjoyable to watch, and the DJ scenes with the two of them and Ken Foree were really fun to watch. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but you also get to see some great performances by Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, and Patricia Quinn.
There were still some funny parts in the movie, like when Kramer burst through the door to shout about turning that cross off so he could get some sleep.
Rob Zombie is known for having a distinct style, whether that be with his films or his music or even just his personality. The most interesting thing about The Lords of Salem is that he’s able to represent his style in a completely different way than anyone’s seen before. The incorporation of music into his films can sometimes fit really well and at other times feel very forced, almost as a “Hey guys, just want you to know I like this song” kind of thing. Music plays a heavy part of the film contextually, so the times that there is a recognizable song, it’s usually within the context of someone putting that record on. A lot of Zombie’s other films build a sense of energy and pace through the use of montages and quick cuts, and this film does the exact opposite of that by holding on shots for a long time and relying on the composition of the shot and the location he’s shooting to help build the mood. I honestly can’t remember seeing even one shot from a handheld camera. A lot of these things, as previously mentioned, hearken back to films the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Ken Russell, and Roman Polanski. These are some of my favorite horror filmmakers, but I also totally understand how differently they did things from contemporary horror films, and even how different they were from their peers in the horror genre. It came as no surprise that, by the time you reached the end of the film, that there were people in the audience laughing at the absurd visuals up on-screen, and even people walking out. In fact, when Zombie introduced the film he gave the audience the disclaimer that half of them would love it and half of them would hate it, so even he knows that reactions to this film will be polarizing. We still get to see what Zombie’s style and interests are in horror films, but rather than establishing his own style, he made a movie that’s an homage to the films he loves and through that, you could kind of absorb those influences to learn more about him. Zombie’s right, this film is NOT going to be for everyone, in fact, it’s probably not for MOST people. I am pretty sure that the day this film comes out in theaters, people’s minds are going to be blown by the sheer absurdity of it, and that’s fine. I’m lucky in that slow-paced, surreal horror film that build on atmosphere instead of action/gore are the ones I enjoy, so I thoroughly enjoyed The Lords of Salem.
Wolfman Moon Scale