After having buzz-worthy success with the small independent features House of 1000 Corpses
and The Devil's Rejects
, rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie broke through into the mainstream in 2007 with his hit remake of John Carpenter
. However, after his follow-up, Halloween II
, fell with a thud both critically and commercially, he's returned to more modestly produced and distributed fare with The Lords of Salem
, a witchy tale that is being released in the fewest number of theaters of any of his films to date.
During her evening shift at a local radio station, Salem, Massachusetts DJ "Heidi LaRoc" (Sherri Moon Zombie) receives a mysterious package containing a record attributed to "The Lords." After playing it at home that night, she begins to experience weird sensations, see ominous visions and have disturbing nightmares, often revolving around the supposedly empty apartment down the hall from hers. It turns out the music is some sort of centuries-old mystical tune that can bring back from the dead a coven of 17th century witches who were burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials and who seek to use Heidi to raise a little Hell on Earth.
The End Result
A scene from 'The Lords of Salem'.Photo: Dan McFadden © Anchor Bay
Rob Zombie is one of the most divisive figures in horror cinema today, and while he's frequently accused of being a bad director, he proves in The Lords of Salem
that he can craft striking visuals and can generate, at least intermittently, a brooding sense of dread. Unfortunately, that's about all he creates in his latest movie, which plays like a 90-minute music video that's concerned more with cool imagery than adding heft to its threadbare plot.
Maybe Zombie should focus on directing and leave the writing to someone else, because when it comes time for him to organize the shots into a cohesive, compelling, emotionally resonant story, he falls flat. Although Heidi is in 80% of the film, I couldn't tell you one below-the-surface thing about her personality of her backstory. The storyline is similarly undeveloped, playing in a shockingly straightforward, predictable manner, sort of like a straight-faced remake of the campy '80s heavy metal horror pic Trick or Treat.
The Lords of Salem is Zombie's most stylish film to date, and while his visuals succeed more often than not, they're still uneven in their impact. Some are downright chilling, others feel clichéd and too "on the nose" (bleeding walls anyone?), and others are downright cheesy (The revelation of Satan -- or whoever it's supposed to be -- is borderline laughable.). I do applaud Zombie for approaching the movie with a quiet, measured tone and a slow pace that aims to build atmosphere -- not unlike Ti West's films -- the moments of impact are too few and far between, and what moments there are, aren't particularly memorable.
- Acting: C- (Cartoonish performances.)
- Direction: C (Stylish but uneven.)
- Script: D (Thin characters and plot.)
- Gore/Effects: C+ (Not a ton of gore, given the concept; some effects are well done and others look cheap.)
- Overall: C- (For Rob Zombie fans only.)
The Lords of Salem is directed by Rob Zombie and is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use. Release date: April 19, 2013.