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Film

Published on May 17th, 2013 | by Chris Scott

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The Lords of Salem

The Lords of Salem Chris Scott

Summary: While not very successful as a film, The Lords of Salem at least proves Rob Zombie is capable of more than just gore-soaked slasher fare.

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Opinions on Rob Zombie as a director range from thinking he is a visionary horror director to a talentless hack that uses his name to get projects. My opinion is that I generally dislike his films but find him quite fascinating. He has an obvious love of 70s era horror, but he lacks the directing skills to facilitate translating that love into something worth watching. That isn’t to say he does not have flashes of brilliance (The Devil’s Rejects, the first fifteen minutes of Halloween II), but consistent quality is something he has been unable to deliver. Zombie’s latest film, The Lords of Salem, does nothing to alter my perception of him as a director, but I am ever more fascinated with him as one.

The Lords of Salem follows the exploits of late night DJ Heidi Hawthorn, played by Sheri Moon Zombie.  And by exploits I mean watching her do mundane things like sleep, go to the bathroom, eat breakfast, walk her dog and go to work all while the camera lustfully follows her. Eventually Heidi receives a mysterious package containing a record from an unknown band called The Lords. The music on the record is quite abrasive, but she brings the record to the station to play it on the air. After interviewing a local writer promoting his latest book on the Salem Witch Trials, the music is played and strange happenings start to take place.

In many ways, The Lords of Salem is a departure from Zombie’s other directorial efforts. It is paced very deliberately, showcasing Heidi’s ever loosening grip on reality. The decision to paint Heidi as a recovering drug addict, who slips up, makes the viewer question if what is happening is actually real. This exploration of Heidi’s character is fascinating, and Moon does a fine job on selling herself as a stereotypical troubled talent. Unfortunately, the film just kind of meanders on its path, never really building any sort of momentum, and instead of making the viewer question if Moon’s reality is chemically or supernaturally induced, the film defines everything in near point by point detail.

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Where his first four films drew obvious inspiration from American slasher films of the 1970s, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Lords of Salem pulls inspiration from Dario Argento’s Mother films, in particular, Suspiria and Inferno. Zombie’s film apes the stylistic flourishes of Argento’s classics and melds music to fit the mood to create his most visually interesting film to date.

Unfortunately, The Lords of Salem is just a depraved visual roller coaster lacking any of the subtext from the works he mimics. Instead, the film is just a series of half-thought out ideas intent on shocking the audience more than making them think. Sure, there are underlying messages at play but none of them pertain to the actual film itself. And once Heidi, in a church, is forced to perform oral sex on a priest as he lectures her on her sins, the film flushes any credibility it might have had completely down the toilet. It is almost like Zombie wants to put his wife in the most uncomfortable positions he possibly can, not for the sake of the film either, but just because he can. And that there is the crux of Zombie’s problem as a director: just because you can do something does not mean you should do something.

While not very successful as a film, The Lords of Salem at least proves Rob Zombie is capable of more than just gore-soaked slasher fare. It is an interesting evolution for a director that has yet to find his groove, and it leaves me questioning what his next move will be. Regardless of what that move is though, I’ll be there, because if Rob Zombie is anything, he is fascinating.

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