The Lords of Salem
April 23, 2013 by Zack
Rob Zombie’s first major feature film, “House of 1,000 Corpses”, was a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, it was an homage to the grindhouse 70’s horror era, and on the other, it was a drummed up feature length music video. It had some individual style to it, and it definitely marked Zombie as an intriguing filmmaker. Above all, it tried to be entertaining, not taking itself too seriously and having a little bit of fun with its macabre sense of humor. Then came “The Devil’s Rejects” which was, in a way, a sequel to “House”. Much bloodier, much more realistic, with more of a purpose. Though also flawed, Zombie showed a growth and maturity as a filmmaker, and it looked as though he was poised to take over the horror genre himself.
With the “Halloween” remake, he took a bit of a step back–however, he still proved he had the chops to make a good film. He made the “Halloween” film his own, and although the backstory he provided for Michael Myers was a bit predictable and thin, the climactic scenes in the film’s ending were extremely intense and nail-biting.
Since the “Halloween” sequel, and now with “The Lords of Salem”, I’m feeling doubts on Zombie’s film career. There’s no doubt that Zombie is a competent director. He has a visual style that’s appealing for horror fans and seems to truly get what the genre is about. But he hasn’t proven himself to be enough of a storyteller to pull off a film that can really be considered one of the “great” horror films. But maybe I’m putting a little too much pressure on him.
The film has an intriguing premise: a radio DJ (played amiably by Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a strange package from a group called “the Lords” and her and one of her co-hosts plays the record (which plays backward). Somehow it has a strange affect on her, and she starts having visions and strange dreams and can’t sleep. Meanwhile her landlord begins to take more of an interest in her, and an unrented room (apartment 5) starts to draw the DJ, named Heidi, into it. One of the show’s guests, a Salem historian named Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), also takes interest in “the Lords”, which is revealed to be a coven of witches from the 17th century in Salem, that were burned at the stake. Straying from the idea that Salem witches were actually just innocent women, Zombie illustrates quite graphically that these witches were truly horrific Satan worshipping disciples.
There isn’t much else of a plot, however, after that set up. Much of the film’s third act simply is one long dream sequence that flaunts a lot of strange symbolism and imagery, some of which is startling, some is creepy; but some of it is also downright silly. And because Zombie never really sets up characters or conflict or an actual narrative arc, the film doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to try and shock you with its grotesque style. While that can work for a short film, this film begins to feel very long at the hour long mark–and at that time, you still have forty more minutes to go.
So, where does Rob Zombie go from here? I would hope he could recapture some of his sense of humor he showed in his first two films. This film takes itself too seriously. There’s no fun, or satire, or tongue in cheek moments. It’s a waste of an appearance by Ken Foree, who can usually effort a fun performance when given the chance. The film is just very drab, and very stale, and most of the imagery isn’t anything we haven’t seen from Zombie before. I hope he can return to form, which was still in development, at “The Devil’s Rejects”. I think he could use either a screenwriter, or some screenwriting lessons, however.
When Zombie was developing his idea for this film, he was on record as describing it as: “Salem radio station, blah blah blah, music.” Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to develop it past that.