BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Ken Foree, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, María Conchita Alonso
Film-wise, Rob Zombie has taken a little bit of flak over the last few years. The Devil’s Rejects was something of a surprise critical and commercial hit back in 2005 and set the musician/director up for plenty of well-wishing going into his remake of Halloween, a project that he seemed the perfect fit for. But despite the film being successful it did cause something of a dispute amongst hardcore fans as to Zombie’s excessive use of gore, white trash characterisations and back-story for Michael Myers – causes for concern that weren’t helped by his grimy sequel that, whilst seemingly getting universally trashed at the time, does have some merit in simply being a decent slasher film if you can disassociate the Michael Myers connection. After releasing the low-key animated feature The Haunted World of El Superbeasto Zombie returned to the world of music for a while before embarking on The Lords of Salem, based on an idea that he had before making Halloween II, and sees the director changing direction but is it enough to restore the balance after the damaging Halloween II reviews?
Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie – The Devil’s Rejects) works as a DJ at the local radio station based in the town of Salem, a town with a notorious history of witch burning. Receiving a record through the post from a band known only as The Lords, Heidi and her fellow DJ’s Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips – Halloween II) and Herman (Ken Foree – Dawn of the Dead) play the record on air, causing Heidi to experience flashbacks to the witch trials and attracting the attention of local museum curator Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison – X-Men), who is a guest on their show and begins to investigate who The Lords are and the stories behind the witch trials and the curses that were placed on the town.
Visually The Lords of Salem is instantly recognisable as a Rob Zombie film, with many of the director’s trademarks at the forefront; the dark, washed-out backgrounds, the ’70′s hard rock soundtrack, bohemian-type damaged characters and, of course, the familiar faces that he always puts in his films. But what is new for Zombie is the time he takes to let the story unfold and build an atmosphere, something that his previous films didn’t really require as much. Almost European in flavour, there are definite nods to the works of Dario Argento and Mario Bava; the flashback scenes involving the witches being burnt are an obvious callback to Black Sunday‘s opening torture scene. Very sparse in colour throughout, the final scenes are bathed in bright, neon colours and surreal symbolism that bring Argento’s Suspiria to mind, and show that Zombie isn’t a one-trick pony and is willing to add different influences to his already established style.
But the other Euro-horror styling that isn’t as graciously done is the pacing, which is a little inconsistent. Zombie spends a good hour of the film carefully building a creepy atmosphere in a very deliberate way but when all of that tension reaches a point where it should detonate into a final act where everything comes to a head it just sort of limps into a finale that, whilst visually quite striking, doesn’t quite come together as it should and feels a little unrewarding after being invested for all that time.
Naturally, there will also be cries bemoaning the inclusion of Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role of Heidi. Naturally because she has appeared in all of her husband’s previous films and is generally considered to be the weakest link when it comes to casting. To be fair, she doesn’t do too badly here, her role not being as demanding as, say, Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween or Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and her restrained line delivery is a more fitting to the style of the film. As for the rest of the cast, everybody is as solid as you would expect, especially Bruce Davison and Ken Foree, who is always a fabulous presence in any film that he’s in, and Dee Wallace (The Howling) who is also fun, considering the role she has. It’s also great to see María Conchita Alonso (The Running Man/Predator 2) back in genre films, her on-screen relationship with Bruce Davison coming across as quite natural and genuine.
Overall, The Lords of Salem is a brave move on Rob Zombie’s part, exploring a different direction whilst maintaining the director’s distinctive feel and look. It’s a move that doesn’t always pay off as the dip in momentum going into the final act is quite a big one and the ending will be seen as unsatisfactory by many, but what Zombie does right is establish a mood early on and keep it going for a good amount of time as we become more invested in Heidi’s plight and what it all means. He also makes witches scary and grotesque again, creating some stark images that borrow from other sources but in a respectful way. As well as the obvious European arthouse leanings there are other visual moments that pay reference to Kubrick’s The Shining and Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession that are done with the care and attention of somebody who knows the material and what it represents within genre filmmaking. The Lords of Salem won’t be for everybody – indeed, anybody expecting another House of 1000 Corpses or The Devil’s Rejects will be sorely disappointed – and it does benefit from a couple of watches to fully appreciate what Rob Zombie is attempting. It may not be the all-out gorefest that many were expecting but that’s part of Rob Zombie’s appeal, by not going exactly where you want him to go, and by doing so it opens up the possibilities as to where he can go next.
Special Features: Trailer
UK Release Date: 22nd April 2013