When it comes to a Rob Zombie film, most will either love it or hate it; there’s usually no middle road. He is an acquired taste even by horror standards. I’ve been following The Lords of Salem ever since it was announced and was thrilled to see the first trailer at one of his concerts last year.
Now having seen the movie, all I can think is “that’s it”? It isn’t that Salem is a bad film – it has a lot of strong points – but it definitely misses the mark on several important aspects.
Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) works as a DJ at a local rock station. One night she receives a wooden box from “The Lords” which houses a record with a single song. Once Heidi plays the song, she enters a trance-like state and the crazy train takes off from there.
The film is shot like a ‘70s Italian horror film, and Zombie uses a lot of film grain. This would be fine if the movie didn’t take place in present day. The editing is also choppy at points, and it’s hard to tell if this was Zombie’s choice (or style), or if things were cut to preserve an “R” rating, which does the film no favors.
There’s a little bit of everything going on in this movie. It takes some cues from Rosemary’s Baby and even some shots directly from The Shining. The cinematography is excellent in a number of scenes, mostly towards the end, and it make me wish the rest of the film could have looked as great. There are a few scenes, though, that stand out as bad, including the introduction of the DJs, and a weird, ‘80s rock video-esque scene later in the film.
The true highlight of Salem has to be the soundtrack. It is a nice, grainy, industrial sound, and it creates a wonderfully eerie atmosphere that just brings the film to life.
Sheri Moon Zombie stars, and while she’s likeable and believable enough in the role, her character is so poorly written that I can’t help but wonder why she starred in this. In a horror film the audience needs to root for the heroine. For example, in Scream when Sidney is first attacked, her toughness and her story make her likeable. She’s a fighter, and the audience wants to see her make it out alive. The Lords of Salem script, on the other hand, just has Heidi enter a bland, zombie-like trance for the majority of the film. She never once questions what is happening to her, or the world around her, and she just carries on.
That’s the problem with the whole film, though. As a viewer, you know where the entire movie is going, start to finish, without a single surprise. Some of the “scares” just make no sense and/or aren’t scary at all. The SyFy-esque sound effects are laughably bad, and really hurt the movie. I know the budget was on the low side, but I would have sacrificed a set piece to have stronger, more effective sound effects.
Besides the soundtrack, I have to admit that the landlord and her two friends – played by some horror alumni – also help bring the film to life. It’s a shame that these characters aren’t more of a main attraction. In a movie entitled The Lords of Salem, one wouldn’t expect, or want, Heidi’s character to be the star.
It’s hard to recommend The Lords of Salem, but fans of Rob Zombie’s divisive style will want to check it out, even with its flaws. The worst part about, though, it is that the flaws could have, and should have, easily been fixed with test screenings. Even though The Lords of Salem isn’t a perfect movie, it definitely isn’t boring, and does manage to deliver a solid story.