The Lords of Salem (2013)
Review by Jude Felton
As a film director, Rob Zombie has carved a huge divide between those that have embraced his movies, and those that consider them with nothing but contempt. Personally speaking, out of his four live action movies, I am a big fan of three. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects were two sides of the same beaten-up old coin, and were/are damned entertaining, and as for his version of Halloween; yeah, I dug it. It was a different take on the classic film and, aside from one or two issues; it’s a damned solid film. The sequel? The less said about that one the better, in my opinion. Now it’s Zombie’s time to bring us some brand new material, which of course still homages the past, and don’t you just know it, this one is going to be even more divisive than his previous films.
Stepping away from the straightforward narrative style of his previous movies, The Lords of Salem takes the viewer on a strange and almost hallucinogenic trip, as we follow radio DJ Heidi Laroq (Sheri Moon). Heidi co-hosts a show with Whitey Salvador and Herman Jackson (Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree respectively), in which they play rocking tunes and mock their guests. All is fun and games in Heidi’s world. That is until she is given a package containing an old vinyl album.
The album, which is from The Lords, is packaged in a strange wooden box, upon which/witch is a strange symbol. Even stranger than this is the effect that playing the record has on Heidi, as well as several other female listeners. There appears to be some connection between the record and events that happened in Salem many, many years ago.
Now, the star, and lead, of The Lords of Salem is without a doubt Sheri Moon. However, aside from the opening third of the film, she does not have all that much dialogue to work with. Instead, the film, and story, adopts a narrative style that doesn’t follow your usual American horror conventions. Heidi is still very much the focus of The Lords of Salem, but story is propelled forward by the likes of Bruce Davison’s Francis character and the three mysterious women, played by Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn, who live in the same apartment building as Heidi. Could they also have ties to the past?
The Lords of Salem is an incredibly visual film, with plenty of nods to Italian and Spanish horror of the 70s, as well as England’s Hammer Horror, although it is not overly reliant on these visuals. It is a film that doesn’t follow your typical storytelling conventions though, and for this reason I can see it alienating many folk.
Is it a perfect film? It certainly is not. In my humble opinion it is incredibly good, and is definitely a bold statement from Zombie, but I was left with quite a few questions about it. Not questions about the plot, but more in terms of what wasn’t there, what could be there and whether Zombie has something more lined up in the future.
There were characters and actors that were advertised as being in the film, and aside from the late, great Richard Lynch, I don’t know why they weren’t in the film itself. Is there an extended version of this film planned for further down the line? I also question the release itself. In the past all of Zombie’s films have been released with an extensive amount of extras; usually an entire disc’s worth of them. This UK DVD release, aside from a couple of preview trailers, only has a trailer for the film itself included. For a start, why no Blu-ray? This film is definitely one that would lend itself to the HD viewing experience, yet it is only seeing a DVD (and limited theatrical release). Maybe these questions will be answered in the fullness of time?
Overall though, in terms of the film, The Lords of Salem worked far more than when it didn’t. The cast seemed a more natural fit than in the past, with even the usual Zombie extras being there to play their roles, rather than just appear as cool cameos. At times it is moderately gruesome, although not anywhere near as overtly violent as past Zombie flicks. It’s a film of experiments and vision, of Rob Zombie not giving a flying fuck about the commercial aspects of film. It will baffle some and some will downright hate it, but I am convinced that there are those out there that will embrace its twisted logic and charm.
The Lords of Salem is without doubt Rob Zombie sticking a big middle finger up and delivering a film that he wanted to see, and obviously cared a hell of lot about. This is about as far removed from his previous films as he could get, and I absolutely enjoyed every second of it. It won’t answer all of your questions, and the nightmarish logic will downright piss off many, and this is just part of the reason I enjoyed it so much.
Horror films are all too often safely packaged products, in this day and age, that don’t challenge the viewer, let alone scare them. They have become product, rather than art, and as with all art it is down to the individual viewer as to what they get from it. The Lords of Salem delivers the creepy moments, visual flourishes and more than enough nightmarish logic to keep it firmly away from the mainstream.
If you want a safely packaged horror film you’d be better off looking elsewhere. However, if you want to watch a film that, despite its flaws, attempts to challenge the viewer and offer up something new, whilst still paying respect to the genre, you really should visit The Lords of Salem.
Divisive? You ain’t seen nothing yet, baby!
The Lords of Salem will hit UK theaters on April 19th, with the DVD to follow on April 29th, and is released by Momentum Pictures.