The hate in some circles for Rob Zombie is palpable, to say the least. Few appreciated his attempt at filling in all the mystery around Michael Myers with his Halloween remake. Even fewer appreciated the sequel, which, according to Zombie himself, was never going to happen because, well, he isn’t a sell out. Well, it did, and he reportedly made bank from it. So either Harvey Weinstein is a Jedi (a definite possibility) or Rob Zombie took a fat paycheck for a sequel he didn’t even want to really do.
I mention all this because, as much as I want to not like Rob Zombie… he made The Devil’s Rejects… and my friends… The Devil’s Rejects is the tits. He dared to use Free Bird in a movie, and god damnit, he pulled it off. That feat alone deserves a modicum of respect in my book.
Which is what was so frustrating with the Halloween movies. I’m in the horror fan minority that still holds out hope for a good, ORIGINAL Rob Zombie movie. So lo and behold, my hopes were high going into Lords of Salem.
The film centers around Heidi (Sherri Moon Zombie), a chick that looks like she listens to Rob Zombie, but actually listens to The Velvet Underground (because that makes sense, right?). This maverick of musical taste hosts a radio show in Salem, Oregon. One day, she gets a strange record in a wooden box from “The Lords of Salem” and they play it on the air. The strange, grinding music seems to have an effect on all the women that hear it, and soon after, strange things start happening to Heidi.
The premise sounds so silly on its face: Witches send an LP to a radio station and cast a spell on an entire town. Which is why I was so surprised with the way Zombie switched up his style. All of his previous films have felt married to the world of exploitation-trash cinema. For Lords of Salem, Zombie gets credit for leaving the comfort zone of tongue in cheek hyper reality, instead aiming for something more akin to a Ti West film with better jokes. it really is a solid sign that he’s matured as a director in a number of ways, so kudos on veering away from the white trash aesthetic, Rob.
That’s not to say the spirit of midnight movie-going is absent from The Lords of Salem. It’s very much the back-bone of this flick. There are some very sincerely well done WTF scenes that really worked for me, including what the movie ultimately culminates to. (think El Topo set in Suspiria). The scenes that worked best were the slow progression of strange, inexplicable things Heidi starts doing. She slowly becomes more and more alien to us as the movie progresses into the third act, and I really liked that aspect… mostly.
Despite some very strong scenes and a sorta satisfying ending, the movie’s parts don’t equate to a horror classic the same way The Devil’s Rejects does. There’s just too much fat to trim from it. Once Zombie gets you to like Heidi, he takes a lot of liberties that he doesn’t quite earn. This is also a common gripe I have with Ti West’s movies – I already like the character you set up, now can they please do something that matters?
That’s not to say the slow burn horror movie is inherently flawed. Cronenberg is a master at it, but thats because in his films events are propelled forward by way of the protagonist actively trying to unravel the strange shit that’s going on around them. Lords of Salem instead takes the easy route by having crazy shit unravel around Heidi for way too long. As a result, the second act is very hit and miss.
It’s like if Rosemary kept drinking the weird milkshakes her satanist neighbors prepared for her every day without complaint until all of a sudden, “Oh… Whoops. I just birthed evil incarnate. The End.”
It’s just not as satisfying a journey that way. And a few really strong, visceral scenes just don’t make up for it.
But let’s keep things in perspective. This flick wasn’t NEARLY as terrible as the Zombie haters will want it to be, and I’d probably even recommend it overall on the strength of the good stuff that’s in it, but as a whole, Zombie still hasn’t topped himself since 2005. At least he’s back to swinging for the fences again.