The Lords of Salem (2013)

In THE LORDS OF SALEM, Heidi Hawthorne (SHERI MOON ZOMBIE), a radio disc jockey, receives a mysterious package with a record inside. A friend attempts to play the record for her but it merely skips until Heidi places the needle upon it herself. The disc produces a haunting wall of sound that puts Heidi in a sort of a Stendhal syndrome trance while her friend remains unmoved. For whatever reason, Heidi then chooses to share her unusual discovery by playing it on her radio show. As the recording howls and booms over the airwaves, we again observe that the music affects different people in vastly different ways, some scowl and shrug and some stop in their tracks mesmerized. The best way to describe ROB ZOMBIE’s THE LORDS OF SALEM is to say that it’s a movie that operates exactly like that record does. It’s a treasure trove for those that respond to visual and audio stimulation and a barren coffer for slaves of clarity and traditional storytelling. If you fall into the latter category, don’t ever see this movie! I beg you! That whole crossed arms, I just ate a lemon, indignant consumer routine you do; it’s not as cute as you think it is.

ROB ZOMBIE is one of the more significant horror directors working today not because he is the most commercially successful but because he has miraculously held on to and honed his own voice (against a tsunami of chattering teeth opponents, I might add). Love it or lump it, he’s now at the artistic level where accessibility is no longer a concern. Think of THE LORDS OF SALEM as his STARDUST MEMORIES, he’s point blank telling anyone still listening that he’s not truncating his journey just because you dig his “earlier, funnier movies.” That could very well irk folks who can’t seem to connect with his work but stand down horror fans; the genre deserves at least one modern director not slavishly beholden to the sensibilities of mall teens. If you don’t like it, good. Welcome to the world of art! Don’t frown; in this joint you can get just as much stimulation from the stuff you don’t like as the stuff you do! Remember, you must be this tall to enter, keep your hands inside the car and stand ready to see things done in ways that you might not have done them yourself! Here is a bullet to bite. I know it’s not what you want but trust me, it’s what you need…

To me, in one way or another, each ROB ZOMBIE movie has been more interesting than the one that came before it. I’m not saying “better,” I’m just saying more thought provoking. (Actually, I could almost say I like each one better than the last except THE LORDS OF SALEM is not dethroning H2 in my heart anytime soon.) Maybe I’m just a very visually oriented person but there are moments in THE LORDS OF SALEM that I think are more potent and valuable then many of ZOMBIE’s directing contemporaries entire output. I’m not kidding. If an alien came to earth and was like “I’m either going to obliterate from existence that frame from LORDS with the orange fur beast or everything that ADAM GREEN and ELI ROTH ever laid a hand on, I would take zero seconds to shamefully respond “Give me the orange fur beast.”

Not that I have anything against those other guys, it’s just that for my needs they’re comparatively disposable and more likely to indulge audiences rather than shepherd them anywhere new. If I ever missed HATCHET, I suppose I’d just watch MADMAN whereas I don’t think there’s anything I could trade ZOMBIE’s imagery for regardless of how much it might be inspired by existing material. He’s just a brilliant visualist, end of story and sorry, that means something to me.

“But Unkle Lancifer!” you might be saying while taking off your spectacles and cleaning them with an embroidered handkerchief, “I don’t care for his writing! His dialogue is trite and like many horror aficionados, I’m an absolute stickler for dialogue!” Here’s the thing, I think his writing is fine and moreover, hold onto your tea cup Oscar Wilde, when it comes to the expression of horror, I don’t think the written word is paramount. “Clay face man walks goat in graveyard” is not much on paper but trust me, visualized it’s a whole different crap-your-pants kettle of fish.

I promise you, I didn’t salute every flag ZOMBIE hoisted. Remember when I was talking about the EVIL DEAD remake and I was saying that it was well built but failed to conjure up a believable presence of malevolent mojo? LORDS is the flip side, its malevolent mojo is indisputable but its structure could stand a few more laps around the gym. I’m not buying the SHINING-style days of the week title cards as framework. As in my actual life, I don’t care what day of the week it is and it’s really no less corny than showing a clock spinning. If you are dubious about SHERI MOON ZOMBIE playing the lead, I’m not going to totally disagree. I think she’s wonderful, a one of a kind character actress, she made an indelible mark in DEVIL’S and she broke my heart in HALLOWEEN. Still, I feel like this movie needed somebody that you didn’t intuitively predict was scrappy enough to wiggle out of whatever. It’s noble to put forth a different type of protagonist but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think some of the film’s erosion themes aren’t blunted by that choice. Do you know who would have been perfect? FAIRUZA BALK! Think about it. Before you agree just know that my answer for every casting quandary is FAIRUZA BALK and I may be subconsciously judging SHERI MOON on her hair.

Here’s the thing though, the most important thing, after the movie was done I went to the restroom in the theater and something about the place felt wrong. The overhead fan was acting up, singing a crazy womp-womp LYNCH-ian dirge and the lights were blinking an indecipherable code. Half my head was still in the movie and that’s my idea of success. True, I missed the emotional punch of H2 (if you didn’t feel anything during Annie’s death scene, congratulations you’re a sociopath) and I admit that I prefer my ZOMBIE a little more stompy. And yet LORDS certainly constructed a hazy, mad malaise that wasn’t so easily wiped off my windshield. Those who get frothy at the mouth minimalizing ZOMBIE’s vision can sleep well, LORDS‘ adamant ambiguity gives you plenty of space to dig in your talons. All I know is that my trusty specter detector was reading some true, undiluted horror on the screen. And when I say “horror,” I don’t mean the pandering power fantasy kind, the giggly, popcorn sleepover kind or the logo strewn, fan bought collectible kind used to spackle over identity chasms and make one feel all safe and special. I mean the unpleasant, corruptive, soul-siphoning kind that has no interest in patting you on the back. No, LORDS doesn’t deliver the rousing cathartic thrills horror fans are looking for instead it offers something most horror fans have little taste for at all, actual horror.

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lottie_of_millhaven
lottie_of_millhaven
8 years ago

Yes! I’m glad to see someone that almost exactly felt the same way about this film as I did.

I saw it on Monday,and a few of the images are STILL stuck in my head, mostly from the ending montage(which I,with only one minor gripe,adored).

I can see why people disliked this one,but count me as a huge fan!

knobgobbler
knobgobbler
8 years ago

Unlike a number of horror ‘fans’ I’ve enjoyed Rob Zombies films. I’ve been excited to see this movie… avoiding all information. I’ve got no idea what it’s about… but I read your last couple lines, just to see the verdict, and that sounds just what I hope for… ‘real’ horror, not action-horror or horror-comedy or any other box of not-so-scary.

M Kitka
M Kitka
8 years ago

Well, the “I break for geniuses” & “my own personal Jesus” tags are enough to sell me. Having read your review I’m frightened in advance… and hopeful.

There’s a level of soul horror I craved for months after seeing The Exorcist for the first time & finally gave up… Maybe this isn’t a masterpiece but if it’s exquisitely beautiful and the monsters are REAL (which I think is a little bit what you’re saying) I shall be very pleased.

Also: No need to apologize in any way for visuals mattering to you. Because, seriously, you are a FILM LOVER! If visuals didn’t matter you’d be a radio aficionado. 😉

And yes, I am such a wimp that I’m already worried about the dog in that clip. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. 🙂

ozne
ozne
8 years ago

I accept, in this case at least, that I don’t understand Rob’s vision when he made “The Lords of Salem”. I’ll go so far as to agree he had some cool scenes if I critique them separately from the movie, but overall, I can’t say I was impressed with this disjointed slop.

I’ve read a few reviews that stated Rob borrowed from Kubrick. Maybe just a bit here and there, but I will say he heavily borrowed a from Carpenter, in terms of sound effects and camerawork. In fact, he over did it with the Carpenter sound effects. The only part of Zombie that came through the film was Sheri Moon’s horrible acting. No offense Rob.

I will say there are scenes that will stay with you long after you’ve watched TLOS. For me, that scene (SPOILER ALERT) was when Moon was in the abandoned apartment down the hall, facing a neon cross while a scary, demonic Bigfoot appeared from the dark, growling. That’s going to be a forever moment.

If this was viewed in an art class and thought of as a series of snapshots of surreal horror, then I’d say Zombie succeeded. Italian horror director Lucio Fulci once said, “In Italy, we tried to make films based on pure themes, without a plot, and The Beyond, like Dario Argento’s Inferno, refuses conventional and traditional structures”. Maybe this is what Rob Zombie was trying to achieve. I don’t know, but if you’re looking for a film that makes some kind of sense, then go watch another horror movie. You’re wasting your time with this one.

Lastly, (subtle SPOILER ALERT) I’d like to point out the best witch-burning scene in horror cinema was in “The Devil’s Rain (1975)”. Ernest Borgnine burns while cursing his accuser in a way not seen before or since the movie’s release. Classic.

ozne
ozne
8 years ago

Unkle,

I haven’t seen Brotherhood of Satan in a long time. I know it’s in my closet somewhere. And yes, it is underrated. Now I want to see “Crowhaven Farm” again. I, too, feel the calling of satanic/ witch flicks.

SMZ did an okay job in Rejects but I couldn’t get into her character in TLOS. She wasn’t at her finest, imho. I really like Toolbox Murders but don’t recall her in that version. I guess I was always focusing on Bettis’ character. I’ll have to give it another look see.

I guess I’ll have to let TLOS sink in and see what surfaces in my mind.

That’s great you used to live near Salem. I was planning on a visit this Halloween. It’s on my ‘TO DO” list.

ozne
ozne
8 years ago

I forgot to mention that Rob Zombie should just take the demonic Bigfoot character and make a movie devoted to it. I’d like to see that as his next horror movie.

Taylor
8 years ago

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from what I’ve read about it (here and elsewhere), it sounds like the kind of movie where a casual viewing for escapism purposes will probably yield a bad experience. Back to the Fulci thing, I remember my friend trying to hip me to The Beyond when we were in high school, and I thought it was absolutely butt-awful…Not even just because I was a naive teenager, but because I went in expecting something a lot more like the conventional US horror that I was used to, something pulled along by narrative rather than feeling, which is what those bizarre Italian movies are all about…Creating a feeling, logic be damned.

Who knows, I may end up hating The Lords of Salem anyway, but I really like the idea of a movie like that with this subject matter. I don’t always love Zombie’s movies, but I do respect him as a filmmaker even when his films don’t hit with me.

Eric Eddy
8 years ago

As long as it isn’t another rape of a notable horror franchise, I’ll give it a chance.

ozne
ozne
8 years ago

Glad to be of service, Unkle.

Let me take a crack at that poster.

d-tux
d-tux
8 years ago

I hate disagreeing with UNK, but I guess we’ll have to agree to do so with TLOS.

Now… I whole-heartedly agree that modern filmmaking has been wounded by our culture’s preference for “clarity and traditional storytelling” but I find it very difficult to believe that what Zombie gives to audiences is anything close to some intriguing “visual and audio stimulation”.

Now, I’m not here to kill the guy. I think Zombie is getting better at compostion, but he still knows nothing about camera placement, camera movement, and the rhythms of editing (all key elements to delivering moving visual and audio stimulation). You don’t do a tracking shot because it’s “cool”, you do it because it communicates an emotional meaning. Zombie only does the former. In other words, yes, we could pick a frame from The Lords of Salem and like it as a still, but overall it’s is a sloppy shit of a mess.

To reference a previous comment above, this is what also buckles a somewhat compositionally fine film like Fulci’s “The House By The Cemetary” and arguably 75% of Dario Argento’s catalog. Yes, composition is key to great filmmaking, but when you steamroll over that with shitty editing, poor sound design, and bad directing of your actors, the sum of the parts is an “eh…”.

I wouldn’t put Zombie in the class of Argento or Fulci (though, he’s probably more coherent than the latter), but one thing they all have in common is that cinephiles continually make excuses for their faults and prop them up as “masters” that they are not. As filmmakers, we let them off the hook by doing this. Horror films shouldn’t be judged on a lesser criteria. Cult appeal shouldn’t equal quality artistry.

I mean, if you look at early works of a Henenlotter or Stuart Gordon or Ferrara, for instance, you’ll see that they *get* the language of cinema. Rough works, yes, but still emotionally engaging through movement, sound, and vision. They are artists. Zombie, Fulci, Argento… they’re just dudes who want to make movies cuz it’s fun. I can’t blame them for that, but I’m not gonna give them status.

batsupsidedown
batsupsidedown
8 years ago

This is the only Lords of Salem review I’ve been waiting to read. 🙂

I thought it was great, and honestly it is the only movie in the past year I have been looking forward to seeing in the theater.. well Django too I guess.

But I agree.. as good as it was, great atmosphere, story, and crazy visuals.. it did not dethrone my beloved H2.

kirbyreedloveshorror
kirbyreedloveshorror
8 years ago

Oh, I’ve been eagerly awaiting your review of this one! I was hoping you’d enjoy it. I’ve read a lot of comments from people saying that this movie makes no sense. I really don’t get that. What exactly is it that people are not understanding? I agree everything isn’t diagrammed and laid out for us in perfect bullet points, but is what unspools really that hard to follow? I find most commercials on television more incomprehensible than this. I also failed to really notice any major Carpenter nods, besides maybe the casting of Meg Foster and I’m curious about what other people picked up on. I love the mention of the witches looking like something from Goya, I totally didn’t catch that. (Something else I didn’t pick up on was how the record only played when Heidi dropped the needle onto it, I love that your reviews both amuse and enlighten.)

I really don’t get all the Zombie hate – and I’m speaking of both Rob and Sheri here. Sure Moon Zombie isn’t the most nuanced or classically trained actress but people seem to go after her just for the heck of it. As they do Rob himself. I just don’t get these people who believe his film-making is the downfall of horror and I’m especially saddened to hear he isn’t planning to make any more horror for a while. Maybe that will be a good thing for him as a filmmaker but personally I don’t feel like it is a good thing as a horror fan. Like most people who have enjoyed this film and his work in general, I don’t always agree with Zombie’s vision (I really disliked the Halloween remake even while I admired what he was trying to do, however I’m one of the few who also really, really enjoyed H2) but damn if he doesn’t always fully embrace and realize to his best extent what he’s conjured up.

I really want to see a movie where Sheri plays a librarian with her hair in a bun!

I got the impression that bigfoot was supposed to be the devil…but then it seemed like that little zombified turkey bulgy red-eyed thing was…I guess this could be pointed to as one of those instances that “didn’t make sense” but it really didn’t bother me that much.

This film submerged itself in psyche and I’m still thinking about it weeks after seeing it. How many other recent horror films can you claim that about? Incidentally I recently watched Argento’s Inferno and I really, really disliked it. I typically love Argento and films that are more about emotional response and dream logic than following along the rails of a traditional plot-line but something about that film really left a big BLAH taste in my mouth. Almost immediately after I saw Lords and I kept thinking about Inferno and the Evil Dead remake and how Lords was so much more satisfying than either (to me).

Having said all that however, as much as I do love Moon Zombie and as much as I enjoyed what was given to us I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking how awesome it would have been if the main thrust of the tale had focused on the trio played by Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace.

Liver_Jihad
Liver_Jihad
8 years ago

I’ve chimed in on TLOS elsewhere, so I’ll essentially cut & paste what I wrote previously. HOLY GOD, this was an *awful movie*. Let me preface this by saying that I’ve like a lot of what Zombie has done. I love THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, and I think his HALLOWEEN II is one of the best horror movies of recent years. I was *really* looking forward to this, and I loved the trailer. So it shocks me that this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen from him. Certainly, it was beautifully shot, with a couple cool/freaky moments. I enjoyed scenes at the graveyard and the hallucination with the priest. But it’s a mostly a boring mess; dull when it intends to shock, and at several points unintentionally funny. Like a surrealist horror painting that gets a laugh. The pseudo-masturbating priests, for example. Trying so hard to get under my skin, and failing miserably. The plot was like ROSEMARY’S BABY without any of the zest, charm, and dread. It is an artistic zero, and not as deep as it thinks it is. Sheri Moon was not the problem here. The movie is. Oh, and did I mention that the music was dreadful?

I’ve heard RZ complain about studio interference ultimately dooming some of his movies. I hate saying this, but here’s one that probably would’ve benefitted from interference. I don’t think he’s an auteur like Lynch or Kubrick who thrives when there’s no one to report to.

I’m glad Rob Zombie exists as a filmmaker, and I’m always going to be interested in what he has planned next (in this case, a hockey drama, which as a hockey fan is fine by me). But for me, this was a HUGE letdown after HALLOWEEN II. I’m not sure there’s anything coming out this year that will be more disappointing.