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The Lords of Salem Review: Lurid, Unimpeded Rob Zombie for Better or Worse

Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem isn’t a film I can recommend to anyone. That’s not to say this lurid demonic tale doesn’t have its twisted merits and examples of strong filmmaking from the heavy metal rocker, but I simply don’t personally know a single individual who wouldn’t be either repulsed by what’s on display, generally confused or put off by what Zombie’s dishing out. Personally an avid horror fan and even an admirer of some of the director’s early projects (note: Halloween II was not one of them) The Lords of Salem is the man at his most uninhibited and as such the result is equally deranged.  Contrary to anything I would have expected, the strongest aspect outside of the sinister and ashen visuals is Zombie’s screenplay, particularly the dialogue and the immensely natural interactions the characters share. As things escalate, even the arrival of the oft-seen cliché of the expert/priest/exorcist (played here by the great Bruce Davidson) seems natural, and furthermore the things he has to say are actually interesting instead of contrived and silly. Though still a plot device to further the story, Zombie’s approach is worthy of a bow. The interplay between the main female protagonist (played by staple Sheri Moon Zombie) and the other two radio show DJ’s where she works are similarly smart and as such even when we’re not experiencing ghastly aesthetics, it’s all fairly involving. I felt similarly about the way Kevin Smith handled the dialogue in the criminally overlooked Red State. Furthermore, this is Moon’s most accomplished work as an actress, showing that her atrocious work in theaHall Halloween sequel was indeed just a fluke. She exudes sympathy and air of sadness and when things intensify we care what ultimately happens.  So with strong acting at its core, it was up to Zombie to deliver on the more artful aspects and he delivers unequivocally. From the colour schemes employed to the camera angles to how some of the more fiendish aspects are handled, it’s the work of an accomplished filmmaker. Whatever you think of the man and his films, it is impossible to state that The Lords of Salem isn’t well made. Exploitation yes, but well made exploitation. And as one would expect from a musician, the score is correspondingly excellent – restrained by piercingly eerie.  Also intriguing at a more subversive level is where, at one juncture, the aforementioned radio station plays host to a Goth metal head whose music is garbage to put it lightly. His ranting claims that he is "forwarding the devils music" among other things, seems to be both an exclamation by Zombie regarding his own love of the metal genre, and a jab at how commercial and artificially embraced the once niche brand has become (not to mention mainstream music in general). It’s a subtle touch that works organically when paired with another string of notes that play a more insidious role. Zombie also seems to giving a nod to the movies universally, with the inclusion of a poster for A Trip to the Moon being one of the most overt touches, all the way to the carpeting and colour scheme in our heroin’s apartment building playing direct homage to The Shining. He doesn’t seem like the type of filmmaker to pander, adding in flourishes and tributes merely to lend himself credence, but rather a director with passion to rival many of today’s most famous auteurs.  All that being said, The Lords of Salem is simply a hard film to like universally. Its ambition is admirable but the marriage of grotesque imagery and low key exchanges doesn’t always pay off. It does play out a bit the opposite of most horror films in that it goes from silly to creepy instead of the other way around, but lending any kind of plausibility to cackling, chanting witches is a burden all its own. So while the pace and themes may get the best of Zombie on more than one occasion, The Lords of Salem is perhaps his most accomplished work, even if is too obtuse to provide much of a lingering impact.


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