Friday, April 19, 2013

The Lords of Salem (2013): The Euro-Horror Guidebook as Told by an American Filmmaker

What did I expect from Rob Zombie's latest effort, The Lords of Salem? I firmly believed that the film was going to be a 1980's rehash romp of something between Trick or Treat featuring Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons and perhaps a hint of Bava (because of the mask in all the damn advertising). That's what I thought I was going to get. This simply was not the case. It is something completely other, but more on that in just a minute. Let's disclaim this fucker out so there's no question as to where my loyalties lie.

I'm a fan of all of Rob Zombie's works. I love his music and his music videos. I love every movie and faux trailer he's done. Yes, I enjoyed Halloween II... and Halloween ... and I LOVE House of 1000 Corpses, and I really like Devil's Rejects. This review is biased from the outset. You might as well call me the Rob Zombie Liberal Media here because I'm simply not going to attack this movie. Not that I've heard negative things about the movie though tonight I had stumbled upon some criticism that claimed the movie was a mess. Rob Zombie's shooting style and method of storytelling work for me. It's how I tell stories when I do rough drafts (on post it notes even). I enjoy his use of music and his reoccurring cast members. I think Sheri Moon Zombie is hot. I think she's a great actress though I understand why her style isn't for everyone. I didn't have to enjoy The Lords of Salem, but I did.. there I've said it. I enjoyed this movie. I like everything Rob Zombie does and I liked this effort too. So there's that. Let's get specific about more than a few things. I've had quite a horde of Diet Mountain Dew tonight so bare with me.

I'm not going to spoil the movie so feel free to enjoy this little review.

First off, this movie is a direct homage to everything I adore about European horror movies. The aesthetic seems directly lifted at times and others borrowed, but all lovingly. Zombie is clearly a fan of the classic Italian and Spanish masters. Bava, Fulci, Argento, Franco... they're all on display as well as some lesser known folks. The film feels old though it's clearly shot in modern day. It's definitely not the homage to Trick or Treat that I thought it might be. There are themes that you've seen in the posters for this movie that you can clearly see lifted from the 60's, 70's and 80's in Europe. Most specifically you've seen the poster art of the individual wearing a torture mask used during the witch trials. Striking resemblance to Mr. Bava's Mask of Satan aka Black Sunday right? Has to be. This is purely intentional and fans of this era and this origin of horror are in for a treat. You can play a game finding all the references to early work. The lighting of Argento with the Fabio Frizzi esque score and the lovely ladies of Franco all swirl like autumn leaves in Hell. Favorite "homage/reference"? A character that had me thinking Dr. Freudstein from House by the Cemetery. You can see this in the poster art so I'm not giving too much away there.

I mentioned the score, so let's talk about that for a second. The overall soundtrack is classic Zombie. He plays the game of pulling cult and radio classics from the 60's and 70's in an effort to tell a story and set the mood. It works. Velvet Underground and Lou Reed and of course some Neko. Rush... of course.  The actual score for this thing as well as the haunting repeated "song of the Lords" is just brilliant. John 5 of Zombie's band exceeded my expectations for creating powerful soundscapes and dark, hollow cemetery growls alongside Griffin Boice. You'll be feeling extra super prog at times and others, you'll think you might have stepped into the opening oveture to a Cradle of Filth album. Seeing this in the theater was clearly the way to go from the audio perspective unless you have a nice surround sound at home. Crushing the Ritual written by Zombie and 5 and performed by Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent is must listen material for the death metal fans among you. Also, the use of Mozart's Requiem in the trialer gave me goose bumps. It does in fact show up in the movie and gave me... a boner.

My ride home was foggy and the street lights cast auras or halos around each one. It was very similar to how the movie handles lighting. Individual lights that stand out and glow and almost seem to burst through the screen. Color plays an important role in accenting more than one creepy scene and had me thinking Suspiria all the way (a very nice touch). Lots of empty space to play with, dark and shadowy with angles from the bird to the rat. It's as ambitious as I've seen Zombie. The shooting locations are brilliant and these angles and color choices really make use of the surroundings. Having visited Salem more than once when my sister lived there I thought it was all the more haunting to see places that were familiar, lit all a ghost and the boarding house with the feeling of the hotel from The Beyond.

All performances were excellent from Ken Foree to Dee Wallace. Sheri Moon Zombie as the lead is stunning, unclothed often and basically emotive and haunting. There are moments quiet fear surrounded by chaotic mischievous terror that this cast pulls off well. You'll get the laughs you enjoy in other Rob Zombie pictures without said laughs being tossed in your face (say like House of 1000 Corpses just whips it on out).  Maria Conchita Alonso from the Running man! Get out of town! I loved seeing her and Patricia Quinn is truly incredible.

For those of you who prefer bullet points:

The Players: Great job by everyone especially Sheri Moon Zombie and Meg Foster. Ken Foree is as funny and talented as ever and no complaints here.

The Scare: Lords of Salem is slow. Slow. Slow... But burning white hot. It's hard to tell when you just feel uneasy or if they chaos is getting to you, but there are moments of tension sure to upset you and a few jump scares that set you up for big punch line at the end.

The B(lood) & G(ore): Practical effects all around used to great effect. There's a scene that I would deem an homage to Cronenberg's The Fly that is particular effective and a bunch of crone witches with interesting body suit and make up. You'll see what I mean.There's one faile for me in this whole thing. One creature/character design that didn't work for me to the point of finding it humorous. It pulled me out of the movie for a short time, but didn't ruin the entire experience.

The Ta’s: We see a whole lotta Sheri Moon Zombie. You also see a whole lotta of some rather interesting women... maybe not necessarily what you might expect but it works. It was reminiscent of the use of nudity in The Shining (as was the use of each day of the week being announced as a chapter).

The Family Plot: You have to pay attention. You'll see were the movie is going but you'll never know how it's going to get there until it leave you with your pants around your ankles. By that point you'll either feel like you got your knob polished or your ass solidly poked. The feeling will be obivous.

The Finish: Powerful ending that I enjoyed full of energy and atmosphere with Natural Born Killer level chaos.

The Scope: Unfortunately this may go down as Zombie's folly. While I enjoyed it I think most fans of Zombie's earlier work will find this inaccessible and aside form the Euro horror fans and faithful devoted, many may find this a bit to artsy for their taste buds. It's an ambitious movie with an original story that pulls from a gaggle of the best horror we know and love. Let's hope people can see that in it and get beyond what some might deem arthouse. Part of me feels like Rob Zombie was able to capture what Ti West was so successful with in House of the Devil. I'll leave that up to you to decide. Maybe it's just the titles and credits.

I'll be buying the Blu-ray upon release and enjoying it hopefully with plenty of commentary from Rob and the gang. I want to know what went into this movie. Now that I've seen it and don't have to worry about it being spoiled I can start to check out some of the interviews and commentary from my fellow bloggers and reviewers. This is not my favorite Zombie movie, but it has the potential to grow into something. There are scenes in this movie that will stick with me for quite some time and music that command me to buy the soundtrack.

It's in limited theatrical release so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for venues.



  1. This is a great review. I love the movie and am excited about its bluray release today. Excellent movie to own and watch again and again, especially in September and October. More horror films from you, please, Mr. Zombie!

    1. Thank you so much. I agree. Keep 'em coming Rob. I'll watch whatever he puts out. Even the new hockey movie he's looking to put out, and I'm not a hockey fan.