Rob Zombie is the filmmaking equivalent of marmite, you either love him or you hate him, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. So let me tell you where I stand. The Devils Rejects is – in my humble opinion – one of the best American horror movies of the last ten years, and I quite liked his take on Halloween as well.
Fans of Zombie’s music will know that The Lords of Salem is a song from his third solo album, Educated Horses. The song is based on the Salem witchcraft trials of the 17th century and was nominated for a Grammy, despite never being released as a single. The movie is written, produced and directed by Zombie himself, starring off-screen wife Sheri Moon Zombie, whose naked ass he so clearly adores. Followers of Sheri’s backside will be happy to know it gets plenty of screen time here.
Sheri and her ass-ets play Heidi, a popular DJ at the local radio station in Salem. She receives a mysterious wooden box containing a vinyl record, addressed as ‘a gift from the Lords’. Assuming it’s a new rock band trying to get their music heard, Heidi and her co DJ’s – Whitney and Munster Herman – decide to give the record a spin. The song starts playing backwards and Heidi experiences haunting flashbacks of past traumas. When Whitney plays the record again it proves to be a massive hit with listeners. A second box heralds the arrival of a gig headlined by the Lords, and this time, it’s not just the bats that are making their way out of hell.
Sheri’s ass offers sturdy support but it’s certainly not alone, horror favourite Dee Wallace makes a welcome appearance too. Quite why we don’t see more of her these days is a mystery to me, she has appeared in some of our favourite horror movies after all, including Cujo, Critters, The Frighteners and The Howling. Elliott’s doting mom has arguably the most striking eyes in horror, and she puts them to good use here.
As well as Wallace, The Lords of Salem welcomes back the haunting presence of Meg Foster. She scared the hell out of me as a child, and that was in a PG rated movie adaptation of a popular toy line, so it’s safe to say she had my full attention here. Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn complete a bewitching line-up; call them double, double, toil and trouble, rewarding us with four pitch-perfect performances that truly resonate.
The Lords of Salem isn’t quite as full on as recent Zombie offerings, opting for a moodier, measured approach rather than blunt force efficiency. For that reason alone it shares more in common with Ti West’s The Innkeepers, one of two notable slow-burners that focus on atmosphere and tension, which proved far more memorable as a result. The Lords of Salem might not live up to either one of these movies – the other being The House of the Devil – but it’s a commendable change of pace for Zombie all the same.
Haunting musical arrangements have always played a part in memorable horror movies and The Lords of Salem is no exception. Zombie’s regular guitarist John 5 provides the score and succeeds in his attempts to “create material that wouldn’t distract audiences but also wouldn’t be easily forgotten”. It’s a fitting arrangement that suits the mood of the piece perfectly; creating a sinister tone that helps to sustain a steady sense of unease throughout.
Zombie cranks up the crazy as the film gathers pace, with his defenceless heroine (and her ass) falling prey to all manner of madness. The Lords of Salem is a little hit and miss at times, and the final act fails to capitalise on a captivating build up, but it’s certainly not the disaster some critics would have you believe. The payoff is under whelming for sure, but the signs suggest that Zombie might yet have his day. A masterpiece of modern horror will seem unlikely to some but you’d be a fool to bet against it.
With a solid lead turn, memorable support (ass included), and an eerie sense of dread, Zombie has produced his most grown up work to date. It doesn’t surpass the devilish charm of Rejects, and fans of Zombie’s early work might feel cheated by the change of emphasis, but The Lords of Salem is a welcome change of pace for Zombie, even if the outcome is about as appetising as a toe of frog and tongue of dog. Tastes do change though, except when it comes to marmite. AW