Rob Zombie has spent his film career making grubby, uncomfortable and sometimes downright nasty films with the likes of House of 1000 Corpses, The Devils Rejects and his two awful Halloween reimaginings. Now he’s back with The Lords of Salem, perhaps his strangest film yet but one no less stuffed with rambling horror-soaked nonsense.
The film follows Heidi (played by Zombie’s real life wife Sheri Moon), a local radio DJ who one night receives a mysterious record by a group called “The Lords.” Upon playing the music out on air she starts experiencing some strange and vivid nightmares of the town’s violent past. Meanwhile novelist Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), who was a guest on Heidi’s show, starts investigating the music only to discover it has links to the coven of witches from centuries previous who were known as “The Lords of Salem.”
It’s not an altogether uninteresting premise clearly inspired by horrors of years past and while it starts off intriguing enough the film ultimately devolves into a mess of shock value tactics, increasingly annoying characters spouting clunky dialogue and indulgent horror movies rip-offs masquerading as homages.
Endless shots of slowly creeping up hallways to mysterious doors and the story being framed with the days of the week slamming up on-screen when you least expect it strongly suggests The Shining, while the feeling of something not being quite right in the apartment next door evokes Rosemary’s Baby among others. Like those this is a film that’s more about atmosphere than it is pushing forward with the plot but that only goes so far and Zombie’s accompanying visual flourishes distract and confound in a detrimental way. All it does is remind you just how amazing those horrors masterpieces were and how, in its attempts to evoke them, Zombie’s empty bag of tricks severely pales in comparison.
You have to give Zombie some sort of credit; he knows damn well how to make a film that will divide audiences and The Lords of Salem is no different. Fans of his work will lap up every second while those unconvinced in the past will likely remain so. Despite its relentless attempts this isn’t the disturbing horror masterpiece it thinks it is and while it’s an admittedly well made film (if nothing else Zombie knows how to frame a shot), any potential is squandered. It’s a film that goes nowhere interesting, ending up in a frenzy of self-indulgent white noise.
This review was also published in The Journal.