It's no secret, to those of you who know me, that I love Rob Zombie. I'm only a moderate fan of his music, but I absolutely love his film making. I own everything he's done and multiple versions and formats of each one. I own toys associated with his films as well as the soundtracks and anything else I can get my hands on. Something about his style and vision speak to me. The rest of the world doesn't always agree with my opinion about Mr. Zombie and as a matter of fact, his films are received one of two ways: you love them or hate them. There really seems to be no middle ground. I don't know whether people hold him to a higher standard because of his monster movie pedigree? I personally feel that this has a lot to do with it. Everything he does is put under an ultra fine microscope and he's expected to put out a 'Citizen Kane' caliber film, each and every outing. The reality is? That's not possible for even the most amazing film maker or the worst on the planet. Just because he has seen and/or owns every single monster movie ever made, that doesn't mean that he will create the perfect combination of them all in one pure film. Instead, he borrows some of his favorite elements from them and infuses his dark and unique voice to create something new and fresh. Especially with all of the PG-13 carbon copy garbage that's being churned out right now, it's nice to see someone still have their own personal vision and not be afraid to express it. To dig their hands deep into the guts and the grit and give us horror, not teenage date night material. The other thing I appreciate about his film making is that whenever you see a film made by Rob Zombie, you're never quite sure where he's going to take you. It's like a vacation without a plan or a map. It's completely frightening and unnerving, but at the end.... you're glad you made the trip. This is how I see his films. If that view point will affect your reading of this review, stop now.
After 'Halloween 2' was released, I had the chance to see it for my birthday weekend. What I saw was something completely different from what I was expecting. When the film started, I thought that was the direction the whole thing was going to take. What transpired over the course of the rest of the film, laid a ground work for where Mr. Zombie was headed in the future. For better or for worse, it was his vision and direction. I saw a take on 'Halloween' that I never expected and one that (in theory) shouldn't work.... but he pulled it off. After that film was over, I wondered where he was headed next? I have to admit, that when I heard the plot outline for 'The Lords Of Salem', I was apprehensive and skeptical. I have never been a fan of werewolves or witches. Slowly bits and pieces of the story and shots from the set started to leak. Nothing about it really spoke to me.... but I had faith that he would create something great anyway. Once everything was done and I finally saw the trailer, I was convinced that he had done his magic again. I as confused and unsure of what in the hell was going on exactly, but I couldn't wait to figure it all out. Sadly, once it his the theaters, it didn't make it to my hometown. I had no way to see it. So the long wait for home release began. Then.... on September the 3rd, my birthday, it was released. I couldn't wait to get it home and see what all of the buzz was about. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. It didn't quite hit me in the face like the 'Halloween' films did, but I could see that it was going to have a long term appeal. The next night, I sat down with pen and paper and popped it back in the player and watched it again.... this time with the commentary track on. Once again I was taken into his overcast world of evil and loved every minute. I understood more this time and could really get a hold of all of his nuances. Then, the wait. I wanted to let it all settle in and think it all out before writing a review and here we are.
Rob Zombie is a man steeped in horror knowledge and has created an entire persona around all things dark and sinister. He wears it proudly, like a badge and makes no bones about any of it. 'House Of 1000 Corpses' was a tribute to films like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. 'The Devil's Rejects' was a long song to the road movie, with guns. 'Halloween' 1 and 2 were simply his vision of the Michael Myers legacy, with a stronger focus on Michael rather than Laurie. 'The Lords Of Salem' is his take on a 70's horror film. There is a definite influence of Dario Argento, with its bright colors and vivid imagery. There is the static and slow camera work of Kubrick. Rob Zombie himself lists 'The Shining', 'Rosemary’s Baby' and 'The Devils' as his influence. If you've ever seen any of the films or film makers mentioned, then you can clearly see this showing through in 'The Lords Of Salem'. I am a big fan of that era of horror film making. There seemed to be a stronger sense of story and the director's and studios took the time to make a horror film that was good. They didn't slap dash something together, just to get it into the theaters to give teenagers a cheap scare. The 80's gave us that mentality. The films tended to be a bit slower and built the tension masterfully. There didn't seem to be any subjects that were taboo. It was a much more interesting time to be a film goer. There was no limit to what could be created. The only thing that slowed a film maker down or kept them from making a certain project, was special effects. Back then, everything was a practical effect.... they had no other choice. Because of this, some things came off as cheesy or silly but more often than not, those were saved for the B-movies at the drive in. Rob seems to feel the same way I do about the 70's horror legacy. He took great pains to create that same vibe and story line that has made those older films "Classics". I think that this is a big part of the reason so many people didn't get 'The Lords Of Salem'. They have no concept of what he was drawing from. The majority of film goers these days, weren't even alive in the 70's.... or even born yet. For them, a scary movie is 'Scream' or the 'Saw' franchise. This film is like night and day, compared to the films of the new generation. That doesn't make the newer films terrible or complete garbage. They're just a different kind of horror. Nothing wrong with that at all.
The basic plot of the film is that Heidi is a DJ who has finally gotten her life back together. She's on a highly rated radio show and seems to have everything in order. One night she gets a mysterious package from a group called 'The Lords'. Inside the wooded box is a record that contains some of the most disturbing and bizarre music I've ever heard. When she finally plays the record, it puts her almost in a trance. She comes out of it feeling nauseous and sick. Her friend and fellow DJ decides that they should play it over the air. Once they do, all of the women in the community become entranced as well. As Heidi's mind starts to unravel, so does the mystery behind 'The Lords Of Salem', a coven of long dead witches. With the help of the record, Heidi and the women of the area.... the witches begin to create their final solution. Help bring the devil himself back to earth, via a surrogate woman, Heidi.
Okay, maybe you're still not impressed. Maybe you're still not seeing what I see and that's okay. Not every film is for everyone. For example, my wife would have hated this film. The only reason she's seen his two 'Halloween' films, is because she went with me to see them on my birthday. This is why I love film.... there's something for everyone.
Say what you will about Rob or this film, but at least he didn't go CGI on the effects. Everything here was a practical effect, even the rats. Despite what people seemed to believe.... the rats are real. The hallway of the apartment complex was rather short, but through camera tricks and other methods, it created the feeling of being extremely long and ominous. His vision of Satan (the thing in the giant theater type setting) was done on purpose and on a budget. He wanted to create a devil that no one had seen before. He described it as a deformed baby and an over stuffed turkey, that impregnates Heidi with his intestines. You have to respect him for trying something new and completely different. Did it work? I think it did. It was disturbing to see something you've never seen before doing god knows what to our main character. Not too mention the sound effects and the music added to the creepy factor. Another thing about 'The Lords Of Salem' that you really have to respect is level of commitment that each and every actor had to the film. Meg Foster ran around naked for a large part of the film, in horribly cold weather. He was also able to get a worthy performance out of his wife, Sheri. She's not known for her acting chops, but in this film, she proved that she's more than just a pretty face. Everyone involved, believed in what they were doing.... plain and simple. And if you left the movie wondering what in the hell happened at the end? That was all intentional too. Up to the end of the film, we're a little unsure if what we're seeing is reality or just something in Heidi's mind. The ending shows us that either way, her mind has completely snapped and we witness her final descent into madness. The ending is left ambiguous and up to the viewers interpretation. That, is 70's film making for sure.
Here's my final thoughts on 'The Lords Of Salem': I really enjoyed it. I think it proves that Rob Zombie still has a lot to say in the horror genre. It also shows that he's growing as a film maker and is willing to take risks. No matter whether you liked it or not, it doesn't matter. He created the film he wanted to create and he doesn't make films that are made to please everyone. He's a film maker who revels in the dark side of life. He's lived and breathed horror for his entire career and because of this, he has a concentrated lens to point at his subjects and create something that's visually strong and genuinely scary. He's not even at the height of his powers yet. This is the one thing I learned from 'The Lords Of Salem'. Don't get me wrong though, this is not the perfect film. This still has many flaws. I also don't believe that this is his magnum opus, but I can see glimpses of what may be in the future. I can see that he's still working on mastering his story telling and his pacing. He used this film to step outside of his comfort zone and to try new things. The results were successful and has given him more tools in his arsenal for the next film he makes. (Which is going to be a hockey movie. Yup, a hockey movie and not a horror one either.) At the end of the day, if you're expecting another blood bath of violence and mayhem, this is NOT the film for you. This film as all about creating a mood and a sense of dread. It has almost no blood and very little violence. It's almost more on par with a thriller or drama with witches, than a horror film.... by today's standards. It's slowly pace, abstract and beautiful to look at. Three things that belong more in an art house film than a Rob Zombie joint. That to me just proves once and for all that he's not a musician playing around at making movies. He's an artist who's proving that he has a very large palette to paint with.... music, art, films, etc.
Before I sign off for this review, I have one last thing to say. I read another review that really summed up everything nicely, so I thought I'd repost a direct quote from it here. I don't think I could say this any better. "In the modern horror landscape, The Lords Of Salem is something very different. It’s not going to be for everyone. I’m not here to spin you bullshit and trick you into seeing a film you’re going to hate. I’ve really liked every Rob Zombie film to date and I really liked this one too. Some of you who have liked his previous films aren’t going to be into this one at all – it gets pretty weird." That takes everything I've just said and magnifies it into one brief paragraph. Thank you Rob for creating another chapter in, what I hope, is a long and healthy legacy of flim making.
4 out of 5 stars, but I've only seen it twice. It may change with repeated viewings. Also, there is also a severe lack of features on the home release and after hearing of the hours of footage left on the cutting room floor.... I imagine we'll see a much beefier special edition in the near future.
If you like this, check out his films: 'House of 1000 Corpses' (2003), 'The Devil's Rejects', 'Halloween' (2007) and 'Halloween 2' (2009)