The Lords of Salem – 2012
Writer & Director Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, María Conchita Alonso, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster
There are better things that one could see at the beginning of a movie than a series of wrinkled old hags praising Satan and condemning our Lord and Savior. There are worse things that one could see following that than the naked backside of Sheri Moon Zombie. One of those things is her dreadlocked hair and the tattoos on her chest. I could smell it all from here.
Rob Zombie is not one for subtle imagery in his stories, but he is great at scaring the crap out of you in one way or another. When Moon Zombie as Heidi first meets her new neighbor in apartment 5 across from her own qualifies as one of those moments. Successful night-time disc jockey is somewhat of an oxymoron these days, but Zombie overcomes this by showing a diverse crew that is funny and conceivably entertaining. Fellow DJ’s Herman “Whitey” (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman “Munster” (Foree) have a genuine on air chemistry with each other. One could have been thoroughly entertained if Zombie had chosen to make it a straight film about the world of DJ’s post-Stern. The film is worth watching for their interplay alone.
There are no sacred cows but plenty of sacred goats in The Lords of Salem. Don’t approach the movie expecting to feel comfortable along the way. There are plenty of horrible things that your eyes will be subjected to. This is the mind that brought The Firefly films to life after all. The gift that Zombie has, for all of his ominous tones, is his propensity to allow somewhat strange people to be presented as normal. This is best demonstrated by Hawthorne herself. With her dreadlocks, her excessive tattoo collection and her overly decorated apartment, she seems to be already gone to the other side by the first time one hears her speak.
The supporting cast, always a Zombie strength, is also excellent here. Bruce Davison is perfect as the low key, and awkward cult investigator who stumbles into some real shit. Jeff Daniel Phillips, as one of Heidi’s contemporaries, is exceptional too. His acting career thus far has a high point of being the Geico Caveman. He has a wonderful sense of comic timing as well as a vulnerability that is better than a typical horror film deserves. It is likely that he will be much more than a B-Grade actor before long.
Geeson, Wallace, and Quinn have a delightful smothering quality that floats between real life and the horrible underworld that they protect so fiercely. Their gradual turn from 3 Betty White types to daunting old wretches is well paced. The only casting that lacks any punch is the most crucial one of Meg Foster as the lead witch. Strange enough, even with those almost translucent eyes, it still did not work.
The best and worst thing about Zombie the filmmaker is that he does not give a rat’s ass what people think. It works when one see’s how adventurous his work can be. The Lords of Salem early on feels a bit like a tribute to the work of John Carpenter. When making the Halloween films, the differences between the two directors was vast. This time around with many shots that pass through with horror lurking in the background, it felt like we were heading towards intrigue instead of overkill. This is cancelled out soon enough though. Many many shots of portly naked women push their way through the screen. Later, while seeing multiple demons defile themselves in front of Heidi, all hope for subtly is down the drain. From here, it’s just a bunch of scenes, each more horrible than the last. Some of them effective, many of them not.
If there is anything to be learned by Rob Zombie, he isn’t going to get the information from me. I can say I was entertained, and not nearly as queasy as the Firefly films made me. Maybe it’s because I never found witches to be all that scary. Maybe it’s because seeing them all naked makes them considerably less so. God Bless Rob Zombie, though. I am not sure he wants that, but something tells me the two would be okay together.
(***1/2 out of *****)