Monday, September 16, 2013

The Lords of Salem (2013)

Title: The Lords of Salem (2013)

Writer/Director: Rob Zombie

Cast: Sherri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Ken Foree, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Meg Foster

From the very beginning, when I first saw House of a 1000 Corpses (2003), I always thought that Rob Zombie was a horror film director with lots of potential. House of a 1000 Corpses wasn’t a perfect film, but there was something there that screamed "this guy is promising". What gives Zombie the edge that other horror directors don’t have is that he knows horror inside and out; he’s obviously seen thousands of horror films and genuinely loves the genre.  Add to this the fact that he’s directed many of his own music videos and you’ve got a guy with the knowledge and understanding of the horror genre as well as the necessary experience behind the camera to make a decent horror film. He took a stab at making commercially viable horror films with his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween (2007) and followed that one with his own thing called Halloween II (2009), but according to Rob Zombie himself, making these two films wasn’t exactly the happiest of experiences. Working under the yoke of oppressive movie producers just isn’t Zombie’s style! He needs to let those creative juices run wild and free! And so, thanks to Oren Peli and his Haunted Films label well, Rob Zombie was given carte blanche to do a movie his way, and so here we finally have The Lords of Salem, a true blue Rob Zombie horror film. How was it?

The Lords of Salem revolves around Heidi Hawthorne, a radio DJ whose life begins to take a twist towards the dark side when she receives a mysterious package addressed to her. The package says it comes from “The Lords of Salem” a heavy metal band that she’d interviewed on her radio show. The package is addressed directly to her.  She soon discovers it’s a vinyl record, when she plays it out of sheer curiosity, she goes on a trance, getting these weird visions of witches being burned alive. What's happening to Heidi? Why is she seeing these horrible images? To make things worse, she has a mysterious neighbor who looks at her from the shadows of his apartment down the hall. She tries to be friendly to the new faceless neighbor but the neighbor only slams the door in her face! What gives?

I’ve always said that Rob Zombie is kind of like the Quentin Tarantino of horror films. Same as Tarantino, Rob Zombie watches a bunch of movies, puts them all in a blender and then makes his own thing with them. Take for example House of a 1000 Corpses, which was a homage to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986). He took elements from both of these movies and mixed them with his own brand of craziness, the result was an experience, uneven at times, but an experience none the less. For The Lords of Salem, Zombie put an even larger amount of films in the grinder! First up, Rob Zombie bows down to one of the greatest directors of our time, Stanley Kubrick. Many shots on the film have that Kubrickian perfection to them; for example Zombie has these long shots of a hallway that echoed those long shots on of the hotel hallways in Kubrick’s The Shinning (1980). I must say that this careful attention to constructing a shot was something new for me in a Rob Zombie film; most of the time Zombie’s camera is kinetic and crazy, moving about in scattershot fashion. On Lords of Salem you can tell that Zombie was going for a slightly more elegant horror film, in this way he paid his respects to Kubrick, which I immediately dug.

Then we have these crazy dream sequences that looked like they came straight out of a Ken Russell film. You ever seen Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980) or Lair of the White Worm (1988)? On these films, Russell’s characters always end up having these crazy dreams that feel like acid trips, with religious iconography being profaned. Images of goats and crucifixes and nuns being raped and all that?  Well, on Lords of Salem you will see these types of tripped out dream sequences, one look at them and you can tell Zombie watched a couple of Ken Russell’s films. I’ve yet to see Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), but something tells me that The Devils was a huge influence on The Lords of Salem because that film is also about witches. I also caught similarities with films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), because of this idea of having a paranoid character surrounded by a bunch of devil worshipping neighbors, and yet another film it reminded me of was The Sentinel (1977), a film about a woman who lives in apartment building that ends up being a gateway to hell. And if I go deeper, then I can also tell ya that certain scenes, especially those involving the witches and their satanic rituals reminded me a lot of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922). The scenes with the witches dancing naked in the fire and spitting on babies and the such…right out of Haxan in deed. On one scene they put this mask on a witch, an obvious homage to the opening sequences on Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963). So the influences on this one are like a Smorgasbord of horror. What can I say, Rob Zombie knows who to borrow from.

What surprised me the most about Lords of Salem is that Zombie has constructed a film that relies more on mood and feel than on words, like an Italian horror film, there’s very little dialog, the film tells it’s story more through images.  Every shot of the film is dark, brooding, depressive…Zombie really created a permeating, dreadful atmosphere with this one. The film isn’t loud and in your face like House of a 1000 Corpses, this one takes its time, building up the scares. Cheap jump scares are out of the question on this one. No, with this one Zombie wants’ to get inside your head, it is more about creating a sense of impending doom, loved that about it. This isn’t a film where people are running around screaming and running from a chainsaw, nope, this one is about the slow scares that creep up on you, so in that sense it’s a very different type of Rob Zombie film. And yes, it is style over substance, but that’s a good thing in my book when it comes to certain directors. What I mean is that Rob Zombie is an incredible output of artistic energy, the guy is a bonafide Rock Star, still pumping out cool tunes to this day (listen to Dead City Radio if you don’t believe me!), the guy has done comics, cartoons, films…he’s done independent horror films as well as commercial ones, the guy has even done freaking television commercials! Hell, Lords of Salem even has a novelization! In other words, Zombies all about the art, so I like the fact that this movie is not so much about the words and more about the visuals and the mood. And speaking of visuals, Zombie out did himself; at a certain point the film simply turns to eye candy for me, couldn’t take my eyes off. The colors, leaping off the screen! 

Final word on Lords of Salem is that it isn’t a film for everyone, at times it can result truly shocking, especially when it comes to those scenes involving witch rituals. Normally, films about Satanism come off as goofy to me, but when they are done right, it works. And this one pulled it off brilliantly. Like Alucarda (1977), this film is all about people hailing Satan and requesting his presence and all that, which I’m sure will prove to be just a bit too much for some viewers, especially those of you inclined towards Christianity. You’ve been warned! In this movie, there is no hope, it’s all gloom and doom. At the same time, I have to tell you guys that this is without a doubt in my mind Rob Zombies best film; it’s far superior to anything he’s done before and for that I salute the Zombie. I believe Zombie can go even further, but this one was close to being perfect in my book. So if you ask me, Rob Zombie continues to grow and evolve as a horror director, he keeps surprising me and I’m happy he’s still making horror films. He’s turned into one of this generations greatest horror directors. I’m sure he’ll keep it going, I certainly hope he does, which reminds me, there’s hope for horror yet!

Rating: 4 out of 5


Erich Kuersten said...

Solid coverage brother. I have an issue with Zombie because on the one hand I love the palpable love of cinema and slime bag crazies he has, the lavish attention to unique horror detail, and he keeps their teeth clean and straight (except for Sid's) which i respect even if it is anachronistic

on the other, like Eli Roth, for him it always boils down to torture porn, which I just can't stomach, it makes me physically ill and it's never really scary so much as depressing. herri Moon is always a good presence, and Sid Haig, but that skinny blonde dude - the Rob Zombie stand-in, sounds way too polished and sensitive to be a killer (I'm thinking of my favorite of his films, Devil's Rejects)

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Erich, interesting thing about The Lords of Salem is that it doesnt rely on gore either, I dont particularly remember a gory or bloodsoaked moment on it...and it still manages to be disturbing.

You mean Bill Mosley right? Ha, yeah, The Devils Reject is a good one...I need to see Lords of Salem again just to make sure, but I now have a battle between which of the two is my top favorite Rob Zombie film, The Devils Reject or The Lords of Salem.

I hear ya, on The Lords of Salem he also has a Rob Zombie stand in who looks even more like him! His name is Jeff Daniel Phillips, and he looks exactly like zombie, and even dresses like him, but it isnt.

Erich so you might enjoy this one a bit more, it's a "classier" horror film then what we're used to getting from Zombie, some of the visuals are downright beautiful, even though they are horror oriented...the colors, awesome. Let me know if you dig it once you check it out!

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robotGEEK said...

I'm glad someone else loved this as much as I did. I actually drove an hour outside of my town to go see this at the theater as no theater around me was showing it, and I loved it. It's definitely an experience for sure, but not for everyone. It's an acquired taste to say the least. Personally, I think it's brilliant. All I kept thinking as I watched it was how he was channeling Kubrick, Roeg, Polanski and Russell. And honestly, there's no other filmmaker these days willing to take that risk. Zombie definitely has balls.

Right now it's a toss up of whether I consider this or Devils Rejects as my favorite Zombie films. They're just two entirely different entities and I love them both equally, just in different ways. Devils Rejects isn't even a horror film. I'd consider it more a throwback to grindhouse/exploitation. And I'd call this film more of a surrealist horror film. Very slow-burn in it's approach. But I was hooked right from the very beginning and love it to death. His choice of music, his impressive camerawork, and the slow intense buildup to that awesome third act. I think if people know what to expect, they might enjoy it more.

Great review as always. Keep up the good work. By the way, did you ever read my review on it when it first hit theaters? We share the same view pretty much spot on. lol.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey RobotGeek, a thought that popped in my head while seeing it was that it was good enough to have a wide release in theaters. But I see why it didn't, as you say, it's an acquired taste. True horror fans will have a ball with this one, picking up all the influences and homages.

Agree about The Devils Rejects vs. The Lords of Salem, definetely very different films in terms of tone and feel. I guess I'll end up loving both of them for different reasons. Also, true, The Devils Rejects isn't a horror film perse, which is what cought me off guard when I first saw it. Here's another way in which Zombie shows he's got balls, the first film is a straight forward horror film, then he goes and delivers a sequel that more closely resembled something that Sam Peckinpah might've done. Ballsy in deed!

The music was something I failed to mention on my review, but it struck as a great choice, the music perfecetly matches the visuals, classy stuff. This also made me think of Kubrik because classy visuals plus classy music always spells Kubrick to me, which I'm sure is what Zombie was going for.

I'll check out your review, always enjoy reading other film buffs views on films I've seen or havent seen for that matter!

Thanks for commenting!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Sherri Moon Zombie is still quite a tasty bird even at the age of 43.

jimmie t. murakami said...

Francisco, when you watch "The Devils" make sure its the complete uncut version not the edited one.

Franco Macabro said...

Jimmie: Okay, I am actually looking forward to it, I'm curious as to exactly why it hasnt been released on dvd must be a shocking film. Looking forward to seeing that uncut version.


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