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