Review: The Lords of Salem / Cert: 18 / Director: Rob Zombie / Screenplay: Rob Zombie / Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison / Release Date: April 29th
You can expect certain things from a Rob Zombie film. It will be filled with challenging imagery that pushes boundaries and will be heavily in debt to the more grimy and violent horror flicks that came to prominence in the '70s and early '80s. What you shouldn’t expect is subtlety and the lack of this is what ultimately makes The Lords of Salem a disappointment.
In the small town of Salem, a rock radio DJ named Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) is sent a vinyl copy of an album by The Lords of Salem and playing it has a strange effect on her and any female who happens to hear it. Heidi begins to experience awful dreams and hallucinations and the three spinsters that live on the ground floor of her building start to get overly friendly. Heidi, who has a history of drug addiction, wonders if she is finally losing her mind. Meanwhile, The Lords of Salem are apparently coming to town for a concert at the end of the week.
Kudos to Rob Zombie for trying something different with his fifth film as a director even if he fluffs the execution. The Lords of Salem wants to be a surreal and trippy horror movie where you're never quite sure what is going on but the atmosphere and mystery pull you in regardless. However, Zombie plays his hand far too early with flashback scenes of old hags writhing nude and spitting in the face of a newborn baby; and by going for the shock factor in this way, he torpedoes the surreal atmosphere he was aiming for. As the film progresses, certain moments teeter on brilliance and the build up and character work is reminiscent of early John Carpenter far more than Zombie’s Halloween films were. But it's all stymied by Zombie's unfortunate habit of placing genre veterans in prominent roles and then allowing them to give hammy performances. Appearances by Bruce Davison, Meg Foster and Dee Wallace give rise to laughs rather than upping the creep factor or the mystery.
You can cry nepotism all you want but the director’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie gives the best performance here as a woman on the edge who has a past she is trying to outrun if she could only make it out of Salem. For all the good work she does though there is little pay off. Despite looking very nice the climax is a mess of exhibitionist priests, riding goats and tongue happy Goth blokes.
Zombie once made The Devil's Rejects and The Lords of Salem has been touted by some as a return to form. Unfortunately it’s not much better than your typical pretentious direct-to-DVD horror and that is a great shame.