Witches scream and cackle as they strip themselves bare to the flesh and conspire in acts of ungodly debauchery. Yes The Lords of Salem is a film with witches, not broomstick flying ones, but none the less. Think more along the lines of The Wicker Man or even in some cases The Town that Dreaded Sundown. So if the whole cauldrons and Satanism isn’t your thing, then you may wish to avoid this one. Thankfully old school horror had something that the modern medium is often missing, atmosphere; thankfully this is not one of those films. Nostalgia literally oozes from every interior and into each frame of film. We’re taken for a ride that is also decidedly old school as we get to experience not jumps scares or shock tactics but a legitimate building of tension; as to whether that pays off is up to you and your opinion.
We follow Heidi (Sherri Moon Zombie), a now reformed drug addict working on a late night Howard Stern style radio station. Rob’s other half Sherri is not the best actress in the world and struggles at times to make her character work. That said it’s a horror film of the late night type so I don’t expect little golden midget winning performances here. A vinyl (yes vinyl, not MP3 thank f**k) is sent to her workplace with no information other than it’s for her to check out. After some taunts and jokes from her workmates she takes the record home to give it a spin. After some drinks and late night listening we begin a dark and twisted journey. It’s a crazy ride with abstract visions, uncomfortable locations and even weirder people. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go with story though, as part of the fun is seeing how out of the norm this film really can be, particularly compared to say Rob’s Halloween remakes.
It’s amazing how simple the skewed angle of a shot or the uncomfortable droning of the soundtrack can affect you when you’re not being force fed queues like ‘Jump scare here’ or ‘must kill this person’. It’s refreshing to see a Director move from the completely violent to the abstractly barren. Honestly a lot of the discomfort comes from how long, Rob and cinematographer Brandon Trost (the dude shot Crank, The FP, MacGruber need I say more), choose to hold a shot and when to finally make that decisive cut call. John 5 also provides a score that is more than a little unsettling and gives that extra discomfort that a tale such as Lords requires. That said the sound design in this film is impeccable and really helps add that weight of dread to many scenes.
Rob Zombie has suffered from a mixed bag over the last decade while trying to break from his musical trappings into the world of cinema. Many find his films too odd, or confronting to be seen as a commercial let alone watchable film style. His new one will be no different, as he yet again makes some changes to his formula and just lets the ball roll. Now before you go into the film remember this… it’s not a ten million dollar horror film, this doesn’t have earth shattering scares or effects, but it does have atmosphere in spades and a rather old school appearance. This is a creature of nostalgia as much as it is a tribute. Every frame glows with a sense that Rob’s appreciation for all things John Carpenter (In the Mouth of Madness comes to mind) and Stephen King (specifically The Shining) is the centre piece of this film.
– Col B