Movie Review: "The Lords of Salem" by Ben Foutch

Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dee Wallace, and Ken Foree
Rated: R
Run Time: 101 min

Aside from the unforgettable and brilliantly twisted The Devils Rejects, Rob Zombie hasn't really delivered anything of true value to the horror community besides a signature aesthetic and respect for the genre. This might change with his newest vision, The Lords of Salem. Surely to be misinterpreted or even considered a confusing waste of time, this surreal nightmare has the potential to pull a Prince of Darkness by becoming an underrated cult gem that slowly gains credibility with time. His most artistically ambitious offering to date is also the most challenging, much like the influences lurking within the frames.

Heidi (SMZ) is DJ for a local radio station in Salem and is a recovering drug addict. One night after work she receives a wooden box containing a vinyl record as a "gift from the lords" and when she plays it in her apartment the strange music/incantation puts her in a delirious state. The record eventually gets played on a the radio which instantly has the same effect on the women in town, and gets the attention of local author (Davison) who wrote a novel on the Salem witch trials. The music deeply unsettles him and expresses concern with the name of the group, The Lords.

After some research he finds that The Lords is in reference to a coven of witches (The Lords of Salem) who use music to possess the souls of women, one of whom will be the vessel for the birth of Satan's child. Meanwhile, Heidi continues to suffer from delirious visions which include surgical nightmares, tentacled midget demons, and bloody-penis masturbating demonic priests.

The intriguing premise soon fails miserably at being consistently engaging, mostly due to a lethargic pace that doesn't quite build as much suspense as might be intended. It's also weighed down by the main character who is easily the least interesting in the whole run time, but I can't decide if that is because of Sheri Moon Zombie or the seemingly dull script (maybe both). It appears as if Rob became so involved with creating a style that narrative responsibility was completely abandoned. He also seems more determined to show off his wife's naked body rather than pulling a memorable performance out of her. Other than walking around in a trance-like state and having some bloody coughs, her character doesn't seem too phased by the invasive supernatural presence.  

Many might argue to the lack of scares or thrills, but I don't really think this was meant to frighten in the conventional sense nor be narratively captivating. The satanic theme and barrage of abstract bizarre visuals seem to work at creating mood and atmosphere, and the brooding score certainly adds to the doom and gloom vibe he's clearly going for. Some of the shots are immaculately framed with bursts of color which scream early Argento, that when combined with the underlying operatic qualities, leads me to believe that this is supposed to make you feel rather than strictly entertain. And it does make you feel...disgusted. Like a parasite slithering its way into your brain, Zombie wants to infiltrate your subconscious rather than make you jump.

What will surely go down in history as a cinematic oddity is yet another tragic example for aspiring filmmakers in the balance of style and substance. With its many shortcomings aside, The Lords of Salem recklessly defies modern horror standards and hints at Zombie's potential as a film-maker. Even though this is supposedly his last horror film, I like to think that this is his overture of the grotesque.