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John’s Horror Corner: The Lords of Salem (2013), the softer side of Rob Zombie

September 13, 2013

MY CALL:  Zombie has sidestepped shock and awe in lieu of character-driven story development and a more subtle, creative approach.  It’s not stellar.  But the first two acts were well done and make me eager to see what (and how) Zombie does next.  MOVIES LIKE The Lords of SalemBook of Shadows: Blair Witch (2000), Mother of Tears (2007).

Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie; Halloween, Grindhouse, The Devil’s Rejects) is a friendly recovering addict and a very alternative-meets-Bohemian-looking Salem radio DJ. She is anonymously sent a box containing a record inscribed “the Lords.”

Heidi plays “the Lords’ greatest hits” on the air–which sounds like playing a death metal band’s record backwards–and women across Salem become possessed instantly over the air ways.  Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison; X-Men, The Crucible), an author, witchcraft historian and guest on Heidi’s show chatting about the Salem witch trials and how witchcraft is a psychotic practice, is a little apprehensive about the Lords’ song.  Francis tasks himself with investigating the “Lords of Salem.”

Written and directed by Rob Zombie (Halloween 1 & 2, House of 1000 Corpses), this movie aims for gravity and an artistic journey into Heidi’s possession and why she was chosen.  One device which Zombie uses differently than most masters of horror is nudity.  We see a lot of nudity, but often not on women you’d find “sexy” as they are occasionally older, heavy and/or filthy, nearly corpse-like in some cases.

Neither one of Zombie’s typical gore fests nor a cookie cutter teeny bopper horror film in which brutal death is prescribed by premarital sex or underage drinking, Zombie set out to really make a film.  Great lengths were gone to capture powerful shots, eerie transitions and haunting lighting.  At times Zombie’s attempts to be dark and artistic were overdone by a hand not yet sufficiently practiced behind the camera.  But I appreciate what he tried to do and his less elaborate attempts (generally in the first and second acts) felt effective.

You can’t get too critical over this film.  You need to let go and take the “trip,” because increasingly psychedelic is exactly what is produced before your eyes and ears.  I feel that Zombie clearly had difficulty tying together an adequate ending from an otherwise very effective serious of weird events.  Even though I had no clue where these events were leading me–and, evidently Zombie didn’t really know either–they had my attention and interest, making the ending all the more abruptly disappointing.  At least the ending really only takes about 10 minutes.

If you know Rob Zombie’s work, then you know that pretty much everything stars his wife and shows her fun parts.  Neither of these are bad things.  I’ve been generally please with Sheri’s acting and…her ummmm…you know.  But one thing I love about Rob Zombie beyond his vision for horror is how he loves to cast horror icons.  We get horror cameos galore, over 20 in fact, including Heidi’s cohosts Herman ‘Whitey’ Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips; Zodiac, Halloween II) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree; Halloween, Death Spa, Dawn of the Dead), along with Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, Critters), Meg Foster (They Live, Leviathan, Masters of the Universe), Nancy Linehan Charles (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Stepfater), Bonita Friedericy (Paranormal Activity 3), Andrew Prine (Witchouse II: Blood Coven, V: The Final Battle, Amityville II: The Possession), Richard Fancy (Species, Spellbinder), Michael Berryman (Weird Science, The Hills Have Eyes Parts I & II), Judy Geeson (Inseminoid), Sid Haig (Galaxy of Terror, Creature), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next, Puppetmaster), Clint Howard (Halloween, House of the Dead), Udo Kier (The Theater Bizarre, Mother of Tears, Iron Sky), Camille Keaton (I Spit on Your Grave, The Butterfly Room), Richard Lynch (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge), Silvia Moore (Chillerama), Maria Olsen (Paranormal Activity 3), Michael Shamus Wiles  (Hellraiser: Inferno, The Puppet Masters, Puppet Master 4), Lisa Marie (Sleepy HollowMars Attacks!), Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2, The Running Man) and Daniel Roebuck (John Dies at the End, Final Destination).

I am generally pleased with Zombie’s body of work and this represents an important step for him.  He has sidestepped shock and awe in lieu of character-driven story development.  That didn’t go well from start to finish in this case, but he certainly had my attention and interest beyond the first 60-80 minutes, shortly after which this trippy descent into madness falls flat on its back.  His attention to lighting, Sheri’s acting and a lighter approach to intensity make me eager to see what he does next.

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