Rob Zombie seems to be in an artistic death spiral. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects were flawed movies, but those productions had their charms.
Halloween was one of a hundred unnecessary remakes, but it was fun to see what someone else would do with John Carpenter’s classic series premise. While I had my criticisms for Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the work he did on Halloween 2 was simply awful.
Despite seeing a trend, I had some hope The Lords of Salem would be an entertaining return to form. I figured Mr. Zombie had complete control of a project and didn’t need to tell someone else’s story. I even liked the basic premise of The Lords of Salem. This movie was just awful, though.
Heidi works as a radio DJ, along with Whitey and Herman. They seem to have a good time reviewing the latest metal tunes, until they hear The Lords of Salem tape. It’s not very catchy, but it has the magical power to entrance those who hear it. The song gets a special hold on Heidi, who begins to imagine someone mysterious is living in the apartment down the hall. Heidi’s landlady and her two sisters seem mundane, yet vaguely strange.
Meanwhile, an author who came on the radio show becomes interested in The Lords of Salem. If it weren’t for Bruce Davison’s character, we might never learn anything about the story. He goes around town picking up pieces of exposition.
The fact he’s the only (somewhat) active character in the story for most of the film made me like the guy, but even he was a bit lackadaisical about the investigation.
Meanwhile, we’re treated to scenes of the past. These scenes depict witches performing ghastly rites, and subsequently being punished for their foulness.
God Equals Oppression
I noticed that all the cultists in this film, spread over several generations, seem to have the same complaints against the God, Jesus, and the Christian faith. Maybe I missed the point and these are incantations. Whatever, their wording is pretty much the same.
You kind of get the idea this is the author speaking through his characters, because they all bark out the same complaints. Mind you–I’m not saying I don’t agree with some of the charges. It’s just that the writing was so forced and repetitive that I started to roll my eyes the third time the Devil worshipers started to talk about how bad “God” was.
Another big problem is: The Lords of Salem really don’t seem to get much out of all this evil-doing. If the people leading the cult seem to sit around the apartment sipping coffee all day, what’s the point?
I mean, I can do that and I don’t have to murder anybody. Starbucks might charge you $4 a cup, but that’s still easier to come by than a fresh sacrifice.
That’s one of the big problems in this movie: this evil doesn’t seem very glamorous. Sure, the scene where Mozart’s Requiem is playing has a certain panache, but it’s a hackneyed kind of glamor. Most of the time, the evil people seem to live drab lives, just like the rest of the characters. That’s a problem, not just in this movie, but in many stories depicting modern evil.
Third Rate Evil
I have another question. Why is it that all cultists end up being a shabby kind of evil?
I guess cultists are sort of the low rent villains of the horror world. If they really had their act together, they’d be sorcerers or cult leaders. But that means it’s hard to take them seriously, because they’re making a really one-sided bargain.
The way I see it, if they have to rely on human sacrifice, it’s because they don’t have the chops to wield refined magic or captivate a crowd of people. Luckily, in most movies, cultists tend to have a certain element of attraction to them. Either they or their victims are good looking, so it’s hard to look away. Even if it’s just the victims who catch your eye, someone is young and hot. Not in The Lords of Salem.
Mind Numbing Performances
All of this might be surmounted (but probably not) if these veteran witches were played by top notch actresses. Instead, Rob Zombie rolls out B-movie queens of the past to give a B-movie performance. There’s nothing worse than bad writing being mouthed by indifferent actors.
I get the idea the witches are supposed to run counter to our expectations, to be a clever twist because they come across so mundane for the first half of the film, sitting around and sipping tea. Instead, they come across as dull and stodgy villains–which is the worst thing an antagonist can be.
They act slightly sinister. They sometimes intimidate our hapless protagonists. They complain (a lot) about the Christian church. They even cackle, which is a bit much. All in all, the whole thing seems faded out.
Hallucinations Are Lazy
Because Rob Zombie needed to trick up the plot and add some visuals to keep our attention, Heidi begins having hallucinations.
Frankly, she seems like a junkie in the second half of the film. No joke: that’s what Heidi’s concerned friends assume. Her stupor makes her even less active and less interesting as the story stretches on, though it gives the director a chance to play around with visual shocks.
Which reminds me of something: it seems to me hallucinations are the desperate filmmaker’s crutch. If you’ve got nothing else to shock the audience, throw in some hallucinations. The surreal covers up lack of plot. Well, it didn’t work here.
I’ll say the poster on Heidi’s walls was neat looking. When the poster started to bleed, that looked pretty cool. But when the wall art is he coolest thing in a film, it has major problems.
Rob’s in a Rut
All of this bring me back to Rob Zombie’s artistic death spiral. It seems his creativity has left him. One of the things which is so disappointing is his film’s have moments where they look pretty or capture a nice feeling, but they can’t sustain it. Zombie even seems to study other directors, but all that means is he ends up borrowing from better films.
It doesn’t help that he feels the need to include a bunch of B-movie actors in the production. While I admire his wish to give them work, I get the idea he wants to connect to the past and show his reverence for the horror films from his youth. It comes off like he’s going through the motions of showing that he knows the old films, but he misses the point. He doesn’t take what made those movies interesting: good characters.
Whether horror or action, comedy or drama, every good story is a character study.
This film has one other major issue, and there’s no polite way to say it. Don’t get me wrong here…I’m as romantic as the next guy…but I think I know what a big part of the problem is. I hate to say it, but Rob’s too much in love with his wife.
Rob Zombie is obsessed with his wife’s tookus. That’s an admirable trait in a husband, but a bit odd with a director.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: Sheri Moon Zombie is an attractive woman. (I probably should have included her in our post about sexy scream queens, now that I think about it.) She was incredibly attractive way back in 2003 when she was in House of 1000 Corpses–very striking. But, you know what they say about these things…no matter how good looking she is, some guy somewhere is tired of her. Well, that’s kind of how I feel about Sheri Moon Zombie. She’s been shown in so many of these movies, I’m kind of tired of seeing it…fanboys shouldn’t be that way. But it’s kind of like putting too much Miracle Whip on a sandwich–it gets gross at a certain point.
Of course, she’s a goddess-come-to-Earth compared to most of the flesh shown in this film. The witches in the first scene of the movie are a little too much. It’s like watching a production of Macbeth in which the three crones are naked.
Even the Animals Seem Bored
Even the dog seems clueless in this film. Most of the time, dogs and cats seem to have a preternatural sense about danger/evil in movies. They always know when someone’s evil. They always know when to start barking. At the very least, you can depend on them to know an evil spirit is in the room.
Not in Lords of Salem. Heidi’s dog walks into the kitchen with an evil spirit obviously hovering in the room, yet seems just as oblivious to this danger as Heidi. You kind of expect it with the self-involved protagonists who populate horror movies. You don’t expect it of the pets. It’s almost like the dog is a bad actor, too.
Dull Me to Death
I get the idea part of The Lords of Salem‘s plan is to bore people to death. This is a very slow moving film. Unless the haunt hovering about the main character is going to frighten you every one of the three or four times it appears, you won’t get a whole lot in the way of action or frights.
I’m not saying I need a whole lot of action, but some suspense would help. You just don’t get a whole lot of that in this movie.
Ultimately, The Lords of Salem didn’t have enough plot to support an hour and forty minutes of running time. This would have made a good 4-minute music video…maybe.
Here’s the movie trailer for Lords of Salem: