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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

LORDS OF SALEM (Blu-ray Review) - The Modern Take on Classic Euro-Satanic-Horror

My brother-in-law used to live in Salem, Mass. It means that when Rob Zombie starts talking about the Beer Works and going there after shooting wraps after only two and half days in Salem proper, you actually remember the taste of the IPA you were drinking when your sister brought you there to enjoy some coconut shrimp. It means that when you look at the exteriors featured in the movie, you remember drunkenly stumbling between houses after your brother-in-law lit off some fireworks on antique balconies. Not that I'm overly familiar with the few locations used in the Lords of Salem. The town just has a look. Old New England with a hint of modern cool. The faux radio station created for the film seems to echo Massachusetts music cool. The first time I visited my family in Salem I drove in very late in the evening the weekend of July 4th and listened to an eclectic A to Z metal special. I have a modest amount of history with Salem and Rob Zombie and even witches, and now with the Lords of Salem. So when I write this it'll be a heartfelt love note and not a critical slap dash of criticism and analysis.

A little bit about the Lords of Salem first. The story goes something like this. There's a lonely metal/hard rock DJ in the town of Salem who receives a rather strange record album, unmarked save for the name The Lords. On said record there exists an ambient rhythmic pulse of sound; the music equivalent of a chant that seems to set in motion a phantasmagorical series of events that drive our beloved DJ into a pit of Madness, self doubt and pure, old Evil (you capitalize evil when it's this old). She is about to discover who she is, from where the music originates and how she is connected to old time witchcraft circa the ever famous witch trials Salem is so famous for.

Before we get started here's my first review of The Lords of Salem upon viewing it theatrically:

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

I had the opportunity to watch this when Lords first appeared in a limited theatrical release last April. It was a late night screening and a few of us ventured out to enjoy Rob Zombie's new feature film after waiting with baited breath post film fest debut and subsequent Anchor Bay acquisition. I was surprised to even get the chance given the limited release, but got lucky this time. It was a shocking experience; one that lived up to my own internal hype. I was ready for a new Zombie picture. I've enjoyed his previous efforts and even had the opportunity to see an advance screening of House of 1000 Corpses when it was released. I think they call me a lifer in that regard.I get Rob Zombie pretty well for never having had the pleasure of talking with him. We seem to like the same movies and music. The music he creates I enjoy and the movies he makes resonate well with me. I seem to find the influence of each of his pictures are movies I love whether they are intentionally influencing Zombie's films or not.


Lords of Salem watches like a piece of superior Euro Horror. That's not to say that Zombie is working with incredible budgets with which to create better pictures. This movie embodies some classic Italian, German, English and Spanish horror. Everything from Mark of the Devil and Witchfinder General to Fulci's The Beyond or House by the Cemetery and Argento's Suspiria to nods from surreal Franco. That iron mask, the one you see in the trailer and on the poster, doesn't that feel like a nod to Bava's Mask of Satan aka Black Sunday? It's pain on your face. Lords of Salem captures a time in film where horror people were playing with scary; learning what it meant to terrify in color with color.  It's in the lighting and the high camera angles or just the selection of shots taken from corners or overhead. American horror seems to be a straightforward racing narrative to the end without consideration for mood or tone. A few standout that truly work that dont feature lavish exorcism. Maybe the best example of honest evil in a horror picture from American is the Devil's Rain, and you could feel it's weight on this picture.  Lords of Salem is paced correctly to induce a sense of mystery and to allowed a certain tension to rise up from underneath your seat. At times you'll feel like you may have stepped into Kubrick's The Shining with each day punctuated by a title card or an overbearing light source. Other times you recognize that even though I may recognize from where certain shots or concepts might have originated, this is a uniquely Zombie film. This isn't a rehash or strict homage to the devil movies of Europe during the 1970's. This is a story that can take old ghosts and demons a stream them through a modern eye to make them relevant to even the most skeptical of audiences.

I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Quinn at Chiller Theater in Parsippany this last year immediately following the screening of Lords of Salem a few weeks earlier. She resonated much of Zombie's commentary regarding the tension in the film. There were scenes you just couldn't shoot with time constraints or budgetary restrictions and through it all Zombie helped them navigate the process of movie making. She was very persistant that she loved working with Zombie and that he truly made his movie. It shows in every scene. Despite scenes that may have fallen victim to the editor's blade or to the untimely death or Richard Lynch, the movie flows well and the story comes across just as clear as the story will allow. Each performance whether it be from Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Ken Foree or Dee Wallace is spot on and enjoyable with pleasantry leading to creep out leading to bat shit crazy. You can anticipate nothing  from the Lords. It's scary that way.

I've been an adamant fan of the music featured in Lords of Salem whether it be The Spirit of Radio by Rush, Venus in Furs and  All Tomorrow's Parties by the Velvet Underground or John 5's brilliant compositions created for the film that echo the lighter side of progressive rock featured in horror and Gialli of the 70's. Whether we're talking about the music of the "Lords of Salem" or the fake death metal band, Leviathan The Fleeing Serpent I'm drawn in, raptured and sincerely haunted by the music. From the moment I knew that the title of Rob Zombie's new film was going to be The Lords of Salem, I listened to his song title of the same name. I'm highly susceptible to sonic influence. Since we're now talking about watching this on the small screen I can say that you have to play it loud to get the same profound punch as my initial theatrical viewing. I guess that should go without say, but I can't stress enough the importance that modern horror is placing on the score and soundtrack. Zombie, no stranger to the importance of music, uses sound like a blood soaked paint brush filled with used syringes and no sharps container in sight.

There's strange sexual perversity that is just as powerful with each viewing. The naked crone witches and full coven worshipping by firelight take me back to books I found on my father's shelf when I was too young to understand such things. Either wood cuts or prints of pagan imagery that get inside a child's mind. It was a time before you even understand The Devil or Satan or Evil exists or could exist. Maybe even before they walk you through 1692 in school over and over again. Where the persecution portrayed against the witches in Lords of Salem is brutally portrayed, the supernatural looms larger; larger than most "witch" flicks of the 70's. It's important to remember that with all of the powerful imagery that plays on your naked eyes, this is movie focused on the paranormal and not simply a witch hunter torture flick (though we'd love to see a cameo of Vincent Price in a pilgrim hat). You'll be shocked with a purpose all the way into the credit sequence.

The Blu-ray is a solid technical release featuring a DVD and Ultra-Violet copy. The film holds up and the visual experience, while it is difficult to be as impressive as it was in an auditorium with patrons gasping, the release does not detract from that great first viewing. Again, the audio quality is fine, but make sure to pump up the volume to actually feel the audio in the seat of your pants. Let is tickle you as if William Castle showed up for a midnight showing of The Tingler.


The commentary track by Zombie will make fans of the movie happy. People want to know just how this whole thing called The Lords of Salem came together. This is your chance in a scene by scene analysis though it would have been nice to get some cast involved. The one major flaw in the this release of Lords of Salem is the lack of features. You can watch it multiple formats, the packaging is superb even featuring a near holographic slip sleeve and Sheri Moon Zombie poster art cover, but where's the beef? We're missing a full making of feature or even a still gallery. Where's that amazing trailer featuring Mozart's Requiem. Hell, an interview or two with the cast. This movie is full of star power, and we'd have loved to hear from them. These things costs money and this release may not have had the budget to properly get a complete disc out there, but I hope the release is successful and perhaps could warrant a collector's edition featuring expanded features. I'm a fan boy first. I even bought the book though I haven't had the chance to read it.

Lords of Salem is available now on Blu-ray, VOD or DVD. Make sure to grab it HERE. I'd strongly advise you to grab the soundtrack as well. It'll make damn fine music for this year's Halloween party and the film itself is ripe for October viewing.  This movie may not be for everybody though Euro Horror fans should rejoice as well as the practical effects worshippers (myself included). It's creepy. It will put you out. It will make you uncomfortable and mostly because you keep thinking there's a little devil right behind you waiting to take straight to a Hell.

-Dr. TERROR

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