Film Review: The Lords of Salem
The Lords of Salem is one of the most eagerly awaited films for many horror fans within the past year or so. The film is the latest work from heavy rocker turned film auteur director Rob Zombie. He began in 2003 with his somewhat messy albeit entertaining first film House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie would greatly refine his style both as a writer and director with the sequel The Devil’s Rejects in 2005. Later Rob Zombie would go on to direct and write a “reimagining” of the first two Halloween films, films that polarized critics and horror fans alike. However despite how successful or unsuccessful you may think Zombie has been as a director he has certainly established himself a very strong and highly recognizable sense of style, I was interested to see where he would take this with his new film The Lords of Salem.
Unsurprisingly Zombie once again cast his wife and muse Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role of Heidi Hawthorne, a radio show host who begins to have strange experiences once she listens to a mysterious record. Sheri Moon Zombie is not by any means a great actress, in fact I have never seen her in anything major outside of her husband’s films, however her roles always seem to fit her very well (probably because they are most likely written for her) and she is always satisfying to look at on screen. The film has within it many brilliant spots of casting for horror fans such as Ken Foree, multiple time badass horror film black guy most notably Dawn of the Dead (1978). Sid Haig, exploitation film legend now known best as Captain Spalding from Zombies early films and Patricia Quinn who I’m sure we all recall as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, I could probably write and entire article about just how much fun the casting of this film is for me and other such horror geeks, but for now I better leave it there.
Prior to viewing I found myself asking, what exactly am I expecting from this film? I figured based upon what I had seen before I was expecting a lot of gore, a crazy story filled with even crazier characters and a bizarre and inventive use of music and visual images that would upset, thrill and shock me. Strangely, my expectations were not at all met in the way that I thought they would be. The Lords of Salem starts out fairly well with decrepit old witches gather around a camp fire, taking their clothes off and screaming to Satan, brilliant I thought. Then the film cuts to Sheri Moon naked in bed with her blonde dreadlocks hanging down. She gets up and walks out of her dingy apartment and sees a strange figure in the mysterious apartment number five who slams the door, fairly standard stuff for a horror film. However as the movie continues things start to get weirder and weirder. Rather than having a series of murdered victims, scenes of torture or dismemberment or indeed even hallucinations of something violent and bloody, the film plotters along as Heidi dips in and out of a world that is filled with images that are fairly dreamlike and surreal rather than gory or violent. More concerned with Heidi’s mental state and the characters around her, the films contains very few gore gags and scare moments aside from the old “boo” scares driven mostly by a jump in the soundtrack. Needless to say I was rather disappointed.
This is not to say that some of the images within Lords of Salem are not at all shocking, they certainly are. Indeed, some images are downright grotesque and I would say hugely impressive, I was at some points thrown back by what I saw and that is saying one hell of a lot. However it is the delivery of these images that ultimately lets the film down. Far less of a standard horror flick or ever Rob Zombie film, The Lords of Salem is more a surreal horror experiment than a mainstream horror feature and for this the film will most likely struggle for acceptance with many viewers. I have now seen the film twice and when viewing whilst knowing what to expect, it is more enjoyable, however I would be lying if I said that I would still not have rather seen a third film about the Firefly family.
An Interesting film from Zombie that shows his willingness to break away from horror conventions and play with images and narrative for what would seem to be his own experimentation with cinema. Not at all for everyone, I don’t think even a lot of Rob Zombie fans will like it, but anyone who is a fan of modern surreal and somewhat transgressive images should check it out.