The Lords of Salem Review (2012)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Lords of Salem Review (2012)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on September 06th, 2018 | Movie Review | Supernatural, Witchcraft, Satanic

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It’s about the town of Salem, Massachusetts being haunted by a coven of witches.

The Lords of Salem was directed by Rob Zombie (who also directed 31 and Halloween) and stars Sheri Moon Zombie (from The Devil's Rejects), Bruce Davison (from Corbin Nash) and Jeff Daniel Phillips (from The Ice Cream Truck).

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The Lords of Salem Review

Nobody reviews a Rob Zombie movie, they just review Rob Zombie

The Big Zombie Himself has a new movie coming out soon, 3 From Hell, so it’s a great little time to refresh our view of his recent efforts. Now, before we get started, Present Author will set out the bowling pins before knocking them down:

  • Rob Zombie has an unshakable fan base, and I’m sort of in that camp myself.

  • 90% of that unshakable fan base is because of his music career, and yes, I’m from that camp.

  • When it comes to making movies, however, Rob Zombie brings a mixture of genius and incompetence.

  • He gets a license from me and his unshakable fan base to keep doing that anyway.

Rob Zombie, the musician, is simply the greatest horror-metal artist breathing. This is the man who gave us lyrics like “Dig through the ditches and burn through the witches.” Zombie has taken up the horror-rock roots of his predecessors like Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and several metal genres at large, and knitted them into his own original artistic style. You can clearly point out his influences, it’s true, but at the same time you cannot deny that he makes everything he borrows uniquely his own.

Rob Zombie, the film-maker, is a savant at visuals, soundtrack, atmosphere, and style. Given those gifts, I cannot find it in my heart to blame him for trying. But let’s face the devil in the room: he sucks at telling feature-length stories. Characters, dialog, plot, act structure, these are all a foreign language to him, and he never seems to get that much better at it.

I think, in Rob Zombie’s own stitched-together, black leather heart, he knows and freely acknowledges all of the above. Rob Zombie is OK with being Rob Zombie, and that makes some of us OK with him too.

The movie itself...

The Lords of Salem is about a gal, Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), who DJs a horror-themed radio show and receives a cursed record from “The Lords of Salem” to play on the air. Playing the record makes Bad Things Happen, in a hazy storm of visions, nightmares, people acting goofy, and a coven of witches who have an interest in her. The spooky spell has an effect on all the women of the town, turning the whole town into a kinky Satanic orgy which sort of recruits Heidi because why not?

That’s the most coherent read of the story anybody’s going to give you. Rob Zombie himself describes the movie "as if Ken Russell directed The Shining." Once again, we have to point out he’s under- and over- selling himself; much as we love Russel, Zombie’s visuals are far better composed, but when it comes to The Shining, it’s a perfectly linear narrative that’s ten times more coherent than anything Zombie shows here.

Forget the story, it’s about the visuals, sound, and atmosphere!

Good pentagrams, does Rob Zombie ever know how to compose a scene! Pick any frame of The Lords of Salem, and you have a gorgeous painting worthy of framing. The neon crosses and flames, the theatrical stage show scene, the goats and ghouls, the Satanic priest marching up the hall with a menagerie of pig-headed naked witches, the witch execution flashbacks, that crazy bed with the A Trip To The Moon (1902) headboard. Never mind watching the movie, I want Rob Zombie to open up a chain franchise to compete with Hot Topic, and he can just stock his prop closet.

Holy demon poop, does Rob Zombie ever know how to compose a soundtrack! Not just content to fill it with his own music, Zombie piles on songs from Manfred Mann, Rick James, and two songs by the almighty Velvet Underground! Zombie pays his respectful due to VU, giving “Venus in Furs” (we zoom in on this here) and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” perfect visuals to go along with them. In between music, the sound effects are spooky, creepy, atmospheric, and evocative. Just providing us with eye candy to go along with two of Velvet Underground’s most iconic songs is justification alone for this movie to exist.

And great flaming Satan’s boxer shorts, does Rob Zombie make sweet atmosphere! While this movie just isn’t all that scary, the creepy scenes pile on one after another to make a shivering nightmare to some, or more likely to make this world of hedonistic witches seem like a fun, decadent place to be. Forget competing with Hot Topic, Rob, tell you what let’s do instead: Open up a franchise chain of S&m dungeons! Yeah, with just one movie, Rob Zombie blends sex and the occult with better taste and style than the 300+ movies of Jess Franco.

Is style enough to forget substance?

That’s the question that Rob Zombie pushes in our face. Normally, we people in the film commentary business poop on style-over-substance. But what if the style is really, really, really, really, really good???

Well, at a certain point, you have to concede that the genre of horror owes a lot more to style. Half the monsters we write about here make no sense, but we don’t care as long as they’re chasing people around and taking the occasional chomp out of them. More than any other genre, atmosphere goes a long way in horror.

And since we lavish praise upon movies like Haxan, Suspiria, or The Company of Wolves for style alone, it would be hypocritical of us to set an arbitrary cut-off. Yes, certainly, something is going on in Rob Zombie movies, and perhaps Rob can start pulling a David Lynch and hinting that his movies mean more than we’re getting - the symbolisms there, look harder! It would be transparent bullshit, but nobody could call him on it.

Bottom line: Rob Zombie movies are all hour+ Rob Zombie music videos. Watch them that way.

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