Friday, 3 May 2013

The Lords of Salem (2012)

Rob Zombie does not strive to make films for the mainstream horror audience or any other kind of fan of the genre for that matter. His creative output is personal as his work is very much made for himself and as a result is a very acquired taste. He is the most polarizing modern horror filmmaker who has ripped open a divide so great that the middle ground falls deep through it. On one side, there are Zombie’s fiercely loyal fans that defend his work with every given word who see him as a great visualist, and on the other side, he is shown complete and utter contempt with venomous spit berated as nothing but a hack. Despite all the stinging criticism from that side of detractors though, the writer and director could not care less and has carried on undeterred making the movies he wants to that he would like to see on screen while catering to the tastes of the adoring other half of the split.


I whole-heartedly respect Rob Zombie for sticking to his guns and I do not doubt his abilities as a director as his talent can be seen in executing startling mean-spirited set-pieces with the striking visuals he employs really hitting the mark with their impact and encasing it all in a thick dark atmosphere. He has a real flair for envisioning brutal visceral intensity. However, on the other hand his writing leaves a lot to be desired and is just some of the very worst in genre cinema. This is no substantial point to make at all, as anything that can be said about Zombie’s filmmaking career thus far both positive and negative has been said over and over time and time again by critics and fans alike. It is nothing most of you readers have not read, heard and discussed before.

Therefore, I am going to resist the temptation to give a detailed overview of the writer and director’s body of work. I will just say that I hated ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ (2003) but can forgive him for that as it was his debut feature. I loathed though his take on the Halloween series with the 2007 remake and its 2009 sequel a mythology that was just so not suited to the direction that Rob Zombie approaches his films with his usual anti-hero take on psychopathic villains. Zombie was a bizarre choice to helm such a major horror franchise when he is anything but mainstream. All three of these movies are visually stunning with some effective stand out sequences yet completely inept in the writing department. The Devil’s Rejects (2007) remains his sole solid effort due to some actually fine narrative writing but still suffered from his liking of rip-off second rate Tarantinoesque dialogue scenes though there are some memorable quotable lines throughout.

After four films, Rob Zombie's latest effort ‘The Lords of Salem’ at last thankfully puts all this to rest along with the redneck white trash characters as well only to be replaced by just unbelievable single layered ones. You can forget about narrative cohesion as well. In what is intended to be a tension filled slow burn exercise in dreaded atmosphere with the logic of dreams and flashbacks playing the part of the nightmarish imagery here there is nothing else to support it as there is nothing convincing to care about and nothing at all makes sense in an inferior emotionally unrewarding movie. Some may argue that it is all left up to interpretation for the viewer to decipher what the message really is underneath it all. I interpret it as what it really puts emphasis upon - the fact that Zombie is a TERRIBLE. FUCKING. WRITER. In addition, where Francis Ford Coppola learned after the only time casting his non-actor daughter Sofia in an important supporting role in the step down but still well worthwhile ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990) Rob Zombie makes the same mistake of not only casting his talentless wife Sherri Moon for a stonking fifth time but in the leading role.

Set during the period of a week recovering drug addict Heidi (Moon Zombie) is a DJ at the town of Salem’s local radio station Big H Radio presenting a rock/metal show along with the Hermans Whitney (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Jackson (Ken Foree). A mysterious wooden box arrives at the station’s reception for Heidi and inside is a vinyl record with written inside on the box "a gift from the Lords". She assumes that The Lords is a band promoting themselves and playing the record back at her apartment with Whitney it starts to play backwards and she starts to experience flashbacks to a past traumatic event involving the witches of Salem who were tried and executed by being burned to death in the late 16th century. Playing the record later on the radio show in which Heidi dubs the band “The Lords of Salem”, it entrances the female listeners. Heidi now begins to have potent surreal visions of evil and Satanism and descends into madness drawing the ever closer attention of her strange landlord Lacy Doyle (Judy Gleeson) and her two sinister friends Megan (Patricia Quinn) and Sonny (Dee Wallace). Tickets then arrive at the station to be given away for a free one off gig by “The Lords of Salem”.

Zombie’s passion for horror is evident on screen in all of his films with his homages to his favourite decades of the genre the 60s and 70s but they are done with the unsubtle heavy handedness of a fanboy student straight out of film school. Here he just apes the shit out of Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ (1980) that only serves to highlight the fact of what infinitely superior works they are compared to this uninvolving jumble of imagery as they were both extremely well written stories with real characters and had a genuine emotional lending. Granted the images in this movie are interesting, as Rob Zombie has put a lot of imagination into them succeeding creatively in staging as I stated before “the logic of dreams” and satanic symbolism with the flashbacks of witchcraft and the punishment for practicing it very well staged. The mood is also atmospherically brooding enhanced by the abrasively unnerving soundtrack.

This does not alone make a film though. None if this matters when there is no story to invest in. The premise is fucking ridiculous. The concept of the backmasking of the record releasing subliminal satanic messages is uninspiring and juvenile and oh, of course, Rob, your protagonist has to be a rock DJ. Yes, we get it you are a musician and a great one too I would like to add (I love the last two White Zombie albums and all of the solo stuff) and after four movie duds I wish you would just stick to what you are best at unless you direct somebody else’s screenplay who can actually write one. Just introduced and not fleshed out the cast of supporting characters are extraneous to the proceedings and even the protagonist of Heidi is one-dimensional and this coupled with Sherri Moon Zombie’s limited range of acting skills fails to elicit empathy for her plight. There is no emotional connection at all between the film and the viewer.

There is a sub-plot involving Bruce Davison’s character Francis Matthias the author of a book on the Salem witch trials that guests on Heidi’s radio show. After hearing the record in the station, he investigates it and Heidi’s link to it. It only serves the purpose to reveal why the record only affects the female listeners and why Heidi is made the head of it all. It does not go anywhere much like the entire movie that results in a nonsensical climax that neither answers questions nor raises them to give the audience something to think about, as it is just lazy writing to fizzle out the already near non-existent narrative of the last 1-hour and 40-minutes.

I wrote in my conclusion to my review of The Devil's Rejects - “So far, in his filmmaking career Rob Zombie has been a terrible writer and a mediocre director three out of four times.” Now make that four out of five times. Zombie’s terrible scripts render him a mediocre director when he has the potential to be such a good one. I really wanted to like ‘The Lords of Salem’ as I was hoping he could pick up from where he left off with his last wholly original work with the good time that is The Devil’s Rejects. Alas, Rob Zombie’s latest effort is not much of anything as it is just a shallow pretentious load of self-indulgent  hogwash - an artistic failure.

* out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2013 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.


  1. The lords gave us plenty of signs but we were too blind to see them. Pick any WHITE ZOMBIE album there is and take a look into the lyrics. Mister Zombie always tried to warn us that he the lords cursed him with an non-existing talent to write.
    He tried....but we were to ignorant to notice.
    Now they strike us with colorful visual boredom which will doom every last one of us. Amen.

    1. Lol! Great comment.

      I've actually been a fan though of Zombie's music since 'La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1'. His writing of lyrics suits the kind of good time horror hard rock/metal that he makes and the sub-genres of those that he incorporates.

      Writing music though is an entirely different kettle of fish than writing a screenplay. Give him another actually good writer's script then I might be interested.

  2. Pastiche of half the special effects from the past four decades of cult film? Let’s see; House By The Cemetery, Zardoz, I’m sure even hallway sasquatch was supposed to be a cheap riff on blowjob bear from The Shining. The only one I can’t peg is the turkey baster bastard take on Satan. Oh and before I forget Rob probably saw Possession recently too accounting for the octopod Antichrist.

    I know what you’re thinking. Does this namby pamby prattling on about Rob’s homages have a point? Yes, Lords was a sorry excuse for a fully fleshed out film; budget be damned. Referencing sixteen things to try and pass off your vague little farthouse project as a full-fledged film is bullshit.

    Ironically, probably the primary reason Zombie/Tarantino butt butter butt buddy Eli Roth will never fool around with a feature length version of Thanksgiving is that he full well realizes he gave away all the best parts in that Grindhouse trailer so trying to pad it out to feature length redoing those scenes would just be a tedious exercise in futility. I say wise move for once on his part.

    Meanwhile, what you got with Lords was a bloated runtime without any actual meat on dem dar bones; an exercise in tedium leading up to a payoff that was essentially a half-assed music video and nothing more. Once again I’m sure every quirky music choice and of course casting of lead actress was deeply personal to Mr. Zombie but I personally don’t give a fuck about all that as much as I do being entertained or taking in a cohesive work of horror.

    1. In fact, it’s probably just easier to list a few films that touched similar ground as Lords but decided to set a foundation instead of being some scattershot vanity project.

      By the way, The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby won’t be brought up because that would be disrespectful towards those classics.

      The House Of The Devil- When you consider this one played like a straight story about skeevy old sayten warshippers right up until the climax and then the weird supernatural wrenches it seamlessly threw in at the last minute; hey, this is how you do it.

      As an avant garde arteest fartsist Zombie wanted something much more ambiguous and weirder meaning we got plenty of random creatures throughout just popping up to posture, pose and loom in the background. Big fucking deal. Where did Heidi disappear off to? Not as important a question as why do I give a fuck what happened to that stupid junkie bitch?
      What became of Samantha and her baby is a much more eerie loose end left dangling than whether Heidi vanished into the ether or some slum. Witch is also slang for heroin after all.

      The Fog- Similar enough revenge story to Lords except again Carpenter played it straight and did shockingly well with what have to be pretty archaic effects by now. Also Zombie could never make a movie this simple and straight forward instead going the route of convoluted allegory piece of shit about the perils of smack addiction versus the banality of Christainity. Burn me at the stake please.

      The Sentinel- Seeing as how this is from a bygone era, it’s kind of a given that it would be slower paced therefore it has a built-in excuse whereas Lords’ glacial pacing just comes off as outright wankery. As for the actual films and considering each one’s ending they do make interesting companion pieces and reciprocals considering which side prevailed in each.

      Neither nutty broad was all that fleshed out. Which is fine. The actress in Sentinel seems obscure enough whereas I’ve been overexposed to SMZ’s bony ass by now so I know which one is less grating.

      I guess if you’re a prude or just nitpicky you could either be offended or feel that things were just plain cheapened by the fact that The Sentinel resorted to using real-life circus “freaks” to achieve its hellish crescendo. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was still more effective than whatever that crap student project montage was at the end of Lords. Sex toys and rip-off Dr. Freudstein popes or cardinals just seem immature to me, but what do I know?

      Whatever Lords was, it wasn’t a cohesive piece of finished work. As far as being something that tried to get by on sheer weirdness and atmosphere, it didn’t have nearly enough of those elements to fill out a whopping 100 minutes either. I agree; a swing and a miss.

    2. Very good comments made here with some sharp observations. There is indeed more ripping off ideas from other superior films. However, I did actually enjoy a lot of the imagery and I thought the soundtrack was effective. Although, none of this matters as there is nothing substantial holding it all together. This is a truly awful film.

    3. The film's original score and Lords' smash "single"? Agree. But the choice of Velvet Underground song featured for that skidmark of a finale? Trite and shallow as everything else. Also it was highly hacky how Zombie recycled that happier times montage device from Rejects. But that one little thing hammered home what a huge jerkoff this whole project was by Zombie.

    4. Yeah the original music is very effective but the film is a failure of epic proportions.