Movie Review ~ The Lords of Salem

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Heidi, a radio DJ, is sent a box containing a record — a “gift from the Lords.” The sounds within the grooves trigger flashbacks of her town’s violent past. Is Heidi going mad, or are the Lords back to take revenge on Salem, Massachusetts?

Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davidson, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Gleeson, Meg Foster, Griffin Boice

Director: Rob Zombie

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  In his previous four films, director Rob Zombie was in it to win it.  A fan of old-school horror films, Zombie brought back a throwback nature to films like The House of 1,000 Corpses and its superior sequel The Devil’s Rejects.  These films were low down, dirty movies not for the faint of heart and established Zombie as a talent with an eye for the twisted.  Undertaking remaking the king of the slasher films, Zombie took a reboot of Halloween to a place I didn’t care for and then slashed through a sequel that managed to be even more vile – both of those movies really scared me, not so much because of any frights provided on screen but because of the lasting impression Zombie left with his shockingly violent killings.

So it’s pretty surprising that his latest effort seems so tame in comparison – it’s as if Zombie has gotten the need to shock out of his system and decided instead to focus on a more serious filmmaking exercise.  Clearly taking a page from Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, and early Dario Argento, The Lords of Salem finds Zombie not so much holding back but moving forward.  It’s not a great movie but it shows continued growth from the filmmaker.

Zombie’s wife (with an acting style that’s passable at best, laughable at worst) is a radio DJ in Salem, MA —  a dreadlocked bohemian chick that loves her dog, has colorful tattoos, and likes to sleep in the nude no matter how chilly it is outside.  Working in a Mod-Squad type set-up on her radio show (Phillips and Foree are her fellow mic-men), they play death metal and generally roll off each other well.  It’s interesting that Sherri Moon Zombie is the most effective in these scenes…naturalistic and unguarded – it’s only when she’s working through dialogue on her own that she sounds like she’s reading the script for the first time and missed all the punctuation.

Living in the type of boarding house straight out of any number of 70’s possession flicks, Heidi gets sent a record from The Lords and when it’s played on the air it’s eerily dissonant instrumental music has a strange effect on Heidi and other women of Salem that happen to be listening at that time.  You see, Heidi is the descendant of a famous witch hunter and has opened the door for the witches to return and bring Satan back with them.

That’s the gist of the set-up and Zombie takes a good forty minutes to set his picture into true motion.  There’s something to be said for a focus on characterization before the odd manifestations start to take place…but the material and performances in this first act doesn’t rise to the occasion.  It doesn’t help matters that wild-haired Davison blusters his way through the film as an author interested in witchcraft who surprisingly knows very little about the town he’s grown up in and its storied history.

Aside from Sheri Moon Zombie and Davison, the film casts four interesting veteran actresses in memorable roles that pretty much steal the show.  As the big bad super high meanie witch, Foster (with those icy blue eyes) is buck naked for 98% of the film and seems to relish the artistic freedom that comes with it.  As three sisters that seem to be auditioning for a local production of Macbeth, Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Stone (The Howling, Cujo), and especially Geeson (To Sir, With Love) are nearly worth the  price of admission – here are three established actresses that are game to play with what Zombie has given them.

Though his previous movies have creaked toward the two hour mark, this barely cracks the 90 minute plateau and all the better.  Zombie seems to have made it to the final reel before giving in to his previous stylistic trappings and decides to cram it all into a finale that features a lot of old lady nudity, ripped out intestines, and several strangely effective demonic images.

Even with all this it’s a slow film and I found myself fighting to keep my eyes open on more than a few occasions.  Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with Zombie tightening his reins and trying something different.  His last film, Halloween II, was way too violent for me and The Lords of Salem was overly languid to go along with.  Zombie picks and chooses his projects carefully so I’m hoping his next effort is a better balance of directorial narrative and the stylized violence and imagery he clearly is so adept at.

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