The Lords of Salem Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Written and directed by Rob Zombie
2012, 101 minutes, Rated R
Theatrical release on April 19th, 2013
Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi Hawthorne
Bruce Davison as Francis Matthias
Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman “Whitey” Salvador
Judy Gleeson as Lacy Doyle
Meg Foster as Margaret Moran
A lot of words come to mind when people think of Rob Zombie, but “reserved” is not one of them. As a musician, his shows are loud and flashy, with massive video screens showing his favorite horror movie clips while his band roars on stage beside towering statues engulfed in flames. As a filmmaker, he is frequently touted as one of the forefathers of torture porn, often focusing on the gore-drenched exploits of nihilistic, white trash mass murderers and their victims (his debut film was titled House of 1000 Corpses – not exactly subtle). But The Lords of Salem is, while definitely a horror film, Zombie’s most toned-down feature in terms of both volume and violence, and is undoubtedly going to prove to be his most divisive yet.
In modern day Salem, Massachusetts, Heidi Hawthorne (a dreadlocked Sheri Moon Zombie) is a recovering drug addict and local rock radio DJ, sharing a show with “the two Hermans” (Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree). One day Heidi receives a record from “The Lords” that, when played, triggers visions of torture and witchcraft from Salem’s past. It seems the witches that were burned at the stake by Heidi’s ancestor, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine), are trying to return to fulfill a vengeful centuries-old curse placed upon the town’s women.
As I said, this is a major shift in style for Zombie. Instead of the hyper-graphic wholesale slaughter we got in The Devil’s Rejects and his Halloween remake, here Zombie relies more on atmosphere and horrific imagery to creep us out. He dabbled with the trippy, nightmarish visuals a little bit in Halloween II (remember Sheri Moon and that weird white horse?), but here goes a lot further. There are nude, haggard witches, char-faced zombie priests, and a kind of pig-child creature that’s truly repulsive. And surprisingly, it’s all blood-free. The camera movement is slow, deliberate, and symmetrical, unlike the visceral handheld camera work in his past films, and the effect of it all is very reminiscent of a film like Rosemary’s Baby, more disturbing than shocking.
While I haven’t always reveled in the unapologetic brutality that makes up much of Zombie’s repertoire, I have always said that I think he is a good filmmaker. He has a flair for storytelling that suits him well as a horror director. As a writer, though, he needs some work. He has a great sense of action and how to set up a scene, but he still lacks the ability to write good, fleshed out characters that speak believable dialogue (I feel the same way about Eli Roth). As with the violence, he’s reserved with the profanity. There’s no leftover Firefly clan member talking like they have coprolalia (I was gonna say Tourette’s Syndrome, but I looked it up, and coprolalia is actually what causes the spastic espousing of vulgarities, and not the syndrome itself – the more you know!). But unfortunately a lot of the characters speak in two languages: English and Exposition.
Given what they have to work with, I can only bash on the performers so much. Aged genre veterans give it their all as supporting characters, but it’s the casting of Sheri Moon as the lead that unfortunately drags the film down a bit. She was decent psycho eye candy eight years ago in The Devil’s Rejects, but she just doesn’t have the dramatic chops to carry this whole film on her own. In fact, several of the best scenes in the movie, particularly those with the great Bruce Davison as an occult expert investigating Heidi’s record, and a trio of modern witches (Dee Wallace, Judy Gleeson, and Patricia Quinn) plotting to seduce Heidi, don’t feature her at all.
Diehard Rob Zombie and splatter film fans who don’t know what “slow burn” means will likely be frustrated with The Lords of Salem. They’ll call it a misstep and wonder if Zombie’s gone soft. But other horror fans who appreciate an eerie and sustained buildup to a film’s climax will find this to be a lot more accessible without the off-putting sadism and obscenity that has come before.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a press screening.