THE LORDS OF SALEM – Review by James McVeigh

The Lords Of Salem
Rob Zombie
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison

A common trait that the films of Rob Zombie seem to share is that they’re loved and loathed in almost equal measure, and to a curiously extreme degree, by both genre fans and regular cineastes alike. Nobody says any film of his is just okay. It’s either terrible or amazing. Perhaps that’s borne out of internet-based hyperbole, but it’s certainly fair to say that few modern filmmakers and their works elicit such a polarised response (except maybe Michael Bay who, as anyone who knows anything knows, is actually awesome). In a turn events that surprises nobody, The Lords of Salem is no different.

The story’s a fairly simple one: rock radio DJ Heidi starts her week by receiving a mysterious box with a record in, a gift from the titular lords. Upon hearing it, she gets plagued by a series of ever more unsettling visions, each becoming increasingly terrifying as the week progresses. Ever seen a priest ejaculate black goo from his mouth? You’re about to (and ejaculate is totally the word, by the way), so strap yourself in.

Compared with Zombie’s previous efforts, Lords is like nothing you’d expect. Creepy, unsettling, and eerily beautiful, at least for the first hour. Eschewing the exploitation-type grindhouse japery that permeated pretty much everything he’s done, he’s taken a more sedate, almost European approach. There’s a feel to the film that’s reminiscent of the likes of Don’t Look Now or more specifically, The Devils (to which it certainly owes a doff of the cap, at the very least). Then there’s that Kubrickian corridor in Heidi’s apartment building that can only be described as disconcerting, especially the way Brandon Trost shoots the thing.

Almost everything about Lords is perfect, the score, the production design, the photography, and you find yourself thinking that this is the Rob Zombie movie after which we’ve been hankering, at least up to a certain point. For the last act, the whole thing gets weird, disjointed and almost nonsensical, rife with second-hand shock-rock music video platitudes. Had the rest of the film not been as good as it is, you’d forgive it, and let it on its way. The frustration comes from essentially having the rug pulled from under you, only to be sensorially assaulted and shown the door, without so much as a thank you. It’s forgivable, but you’ll need some time to get over it.

Concerns over casting his wife yet again are also valid. She might be very easy on the eye, but she’s not a lead actress, not by a long shot. She does well enough for the most part, but there comes a point when she becomes simply annoying, moping about in a weird trance-like state.

What’s also frustrating to learn is that the finished product is something of a compromise (where’s that unholy trio of Michael Berryman, Sid Haig and Udo Kier we were promised?), and Zombie’s gone on record as admitting that the script got tweaked during the incredibly short production. Working with the smallest budget he’s had (even his animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto cost roughly $10 million compared with this one’s $1.5million!), it’s easy to understand the need for changes, but one can’t help but think there’s a more meaningful, and more importantly, rewarding version of The Lords Of Salem to be found somewhere.

In the scheme of Zombie’s efforts, this is by no means as bad as some critics would have you believe, and whilst it’s not as rewarding as the likes of The Devil’s Rejects, it’s nowhere near as dire as Halloween 2, so make of that what you will. Its visually cacophonous finale notwithstanding The Lords Of Salem deserves an hour and a half of your time, at the very least. As polarising as its schizophrenic plot, and as beautiful as it is disgusting, this is a bold work that gets under the skin, but just doesn’t quite stay there.

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