Rob Zombie’s brand of heavy-metal horror first came to light in the brutal, but faulted, House of a Thousand Corpses, where he introduced his highly dysfunctional Firefly family, a group of sadistic killers so twisted it put Zombie on the map as a shock maestro. After that he cleaned up his act, sharpened his script, and unleashed the epic sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which affirmed him as a horror talent with more to offer than just blood and guts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of blood and guts. His Halloween reimagining was a fun thrill ride that lacked the creative flare of Rejects, but for his Halloween 2 he broke out the big guns and showed us he had the capacity to merge startling art-house imagery and brutal violence for a mainstream remake. Take this along with his witty dialogue, retro tastes in music and special effects, fondness for casting cult stars, and pop-culture referencing, and Zombie starts to look like the Tarantino of Horror. Zombie’s latest film The Lords of Salem has been splitting audiences and garnering some truly marmite reviews.
In the town of Salem, Massachusetts, former addict Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) works as late-night rock DJ at a local radio station.One night, after broadcast, she receives a wooden box containing a vinyl record, assuming its from an ambitious band she takes it home and listens to it. Immediately weird flashbacks and visions plague her and when she plays the record live on air, the visions grow even more bizarre and intense.
The new feature is probably a step too far into the arthouse arena, Zombie masterfully orchestrates the look and feel of the film but at points it seems to dance on its own grave with just a little too much enthusiasm. There’s not enough whollop in the script to ensure a steady and attention-grabbing pace, instead Zombie relies a little too heavily on the performance of Sheri Moon, and the impact of the visuals. The trailer compacts most of the intriguing imagery into an espresso you’ll probably wish you hadn’t taken since some of the most grand and striking scenes seem flat once their initial pow is nicked by over-exposure. That said, the film still wows consistently with how well it uses space and mood. Also on the down-side is Sheri Moon’s performance, as support she’s great, just look at Devil’s Rejects, but in the lead it’s a bit of a slog, there’s just not enough depth to her, or her character, to allow any real dynamic between Hiedi and the audience.
On the other hand there are some truly fantastic turns from Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace who channel charming old biddy/serial nutter with absolute glee. Geeson in particular is a dab hand at flipping the old ‘everything’s fine/ fuck that, I’m going to kill you’ thing. Meg Foster utterly transforms herself for a descent into madness as Margaret Morgan, leading Zombie’s pack of ravenous Mansonesque witches like some manky emaciated ring leader. Ken Foree and Jeff Daniel Phillips pop up as Hiedi’s fellow DJs, whilst Bruce Davison shines as Heidi’s only help. Apart from Foree and Phillips (and some tiny cut scenes with Sid Haig and Michael Berryman) there’s a disappointing lack of Zombie regulars.
The Lords of Salem is a really beautiful horror film that can easily be likened to The Shining thanks to that grande Gothic use of space and colour. Brownie points go to Zombie for being this ambitious and maintaining his general aesthetic so consistently. Some of the film feels like he’s throwing a big ‘fuck you’ to anyone who might have doubted he could go down the arthouse route, rather than actually ensuring it all fits. With repeated viewing you’ll grow to understand and enjoy it more, but it does have an element of hard work to its viewing.
A mind-fucking descent into madness helmed by a man with a distinct sense of visual style. The Lords of Salem is horrifyingly beautiful, well-performed for the most part, and the most innovative and intriguing Witch film for a long time. It will challenge some viewers patience and probably alienate some old-school Zombie fans, but it’s all worth it for some of the second act reveals.
Director: Rob Zombie
Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Bruce Davison, Ken Foree, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster