It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses was released. Since that time Rob Zombie has released four other films of varying quality. It’s because of the flaws of those films that a critical backlash has erupted towards Zombie’s film work. As much as I love his first two movies, I have to admit, the writing is severely limited. All of them have suffered from white-trash characters spouting obscenities. Seemingly, this film is a rebuttal to those critics who said Rob Zombie was limited to hicksploitation.
The Lords of Salem is about a radio DJ named Heidi La Rock (Sherri Moon Zombie) who is a recovering drug addict trying to piece her life back together. Unfortunately for her, she’s been cursed by a coven of witches who were put to death during the Salem Witch Trails and have come calling for her in the present. She is driven slowly to the brink of madness by their presence and starts to pick back up her old habits as a way to deal with what is happening. Over the course of the film we watch her slowly break down until the films stellar denouement.
It is a damned shame that this film only received a limited release. And at the same time, it’s fittingly appropriate. What Rob is going for is something very different from what we’ve seen from him before. He has attempted to do things in an underground film type vein before, but this is his first truly independent feature. It’s a low-budget film that harkens back to a 70’s style of demonic horror in which the plot is secondary to the mood, and it is not something the masses would enjoy. I left the bleak proceedings of the film feeling as though I needed to be re-baptized, and wanting to see the film again very soon.
Quite a few people have compared it to Argento’s Suspiria and it’s sequel Inferno but it’s not like either at all. It’s more like a David Lynch film than anything else, but Rob actually has a coherent story to tell here to compliment the hallucinatory visuals. However, the bleached white color palate of the film did remind me of Argento’s Tenebrae, while the ending credits will call to mind the early works of George Romero. You can also see nods to Kubrick in Heidi’s awesome apartment, whom my fiancee said she wished to procure.
Remember my review of the novel adaptation? Evidently, a lot of stuff was cut out of this film to fit the vision Rob has for it. This shows a lot of restraint and growth on Rob’s part as a film maker. In his past works, he seemed to want to cram as much into the films as humanly possible. There is a made up film within the film called “Frankenstein vs. the Witchfinder”, which evidently was actually filmed with Udo Kier as the lead but was left out of Lords of Salem. It looks like an awesome bit of silliness, but would not fit in with the tone of Lords of Salem (though it will make a kick-ass extra on the blu-ray). As much as I disliked the writing style of the book, it does offer a different take on the story, while filling in some gaps left in the movie. The film deals in surrealism, the book is more straightforward. Also there are scenes in the book that show the affect the music of the Lords has on the Salem women that would have been fun to see in the film but I understand why they were cut. Rob has grown up enough to focus the film solely on Heidi’s plight and gives little reprieve from her breakdown.
There have been a lot of complaints about Sherri Moon Zombie’s acting in this film. But you know what? I think she did a good job. She has a natural sweetness and vulnerability that brings it to life. I’ve always thought she’d do better as a victim rather than a villain and I was not proven wrong in my theory. The real revelation here though is former Geico caveman Jeff Daniel Phillips as Whitey Herman, Heidi’s co-worker and love interest. Through the film we see him trying to reach out to an increasingly distant Heidi, trying to pull her out from what he believes to be a returning drug addiction. He is a bit out of his element and doesn’t know what to do to help his friend, and there is a part near the end where he gives her a phone call to tell her how much he cares that shows not only how good of an actor he is but how much Rob Zombie has matured over his film making career.
And then there is the coven: Meg (Hera from Hercules: The Legendary Adventures, and Holly from They Live) Foster, Judy (To Sir With Love) Geeson, and Patricia (Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show) Quinn. The three bring an elegance to the proceedings that it really needs to pull off what it’s trying to achieve. I can imagine the temptation by the director and the three veteran actresses to chew the the absolute hell out of the scenery but they manage to keep it to a minimum.
It’s a really cool dirty lil movie that shows Zombie’s growth and potential for film-making. It will be cool to see what the future holds for him. He’s branching out as a director with his next venture about the Philadelphia Flyers, called Broadstreeet Bullies. Zombie’s first decade of film making has ended with arguably his greatest work, and here’s hoping the next decade brings even more awesomeness from the metal legend.