Director Rob Zombie is taking another stab into the soiree of filmmaking with Lords of Salem. With his wife as the leading lady and a story that feels like it was lifted directly out of the fantasies of cult movie fanatics, there is a lot here to be enjoyed with the right mindset.
Lords of Salem stars DJ Heidi Hawthorne, played by Sheri Moon Zombie. She is the leading lady of a trio of the most successful radio show in town. One night/early morning, she receives a package from someone simply known as “The Lords.” It seems to be only a simple record; but when she listens to it in private, the music seems to have a weird spell over her that doesn’t affect her friend and co-worker, Herman, played by Jeff Phillips. They play the record the next night on their show, and that spell also seems to affect nearly every female in range. All the while, there are strange occurrences from down the hall in the next apartment. As the connection of events begins to unfold, Heidi is in a struggle for her sanity from the mysterious “Lords.”
One of the film’s greatest strength is also a source for dividing the audience. The pacing, structure and effects of the movie are quite indicative of a 1970s cult horror movie; complete with a great soundtrack, some cheesy one-liners and excessive gratuitous female nudity. The budget seems only slightly higher than The Blair Witch Project, and yet it never feels cheap. The complete absence of computer effects and its reliance of practical, camera and lighting effects give it a very gritty, natural feel that most films lack. The downside being that there are times when it is apparent that what the audience is seeing is a character in a costume. The music, and even the lack thereof from time to time, truly adds to the ambience of each setting.
Rob Zombie made his career as a musician long before being a filmmaker, and he uses that expertise to his full advantage. Whether it’s being completely chilled to the bone or legitimately terrified, the setting, pacing and complete feel of each is utilized to their fullest.One of the universal problems with Hollywood films is their lack of story; whether it’s a series of contrivances that weaken the flow, an inciting action that should be easily over-ridden or a complete lack of a catharsis. None of these is a factor with Lords of Salem. Sure, the phrase “what the hell was that” will cross your mind, but it is still a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. It may not be a perfect story, but it won’t leave you wanting.
The biggest issue with film comes from the ambiguity of its ending. There is a news read voiced-over the credits of the film that distinctly feels tacked on; as though the filmmakers knew that the ending was weak as it was. There is still a definitive sense of catharsis as a result of the voice over, but without it, the ending feels rushed and overly artistic
Looking at this film completely objectively, the legitimate problems are actually few and far between. It is, however, not for everyone. There is a reason that movies become cult classics; they aren’t appreciated in their own time, and only after adamant fans through repeated viewing it, typically in dive theaters or at their own homes, does it achieve its status. This will invariably prove to be no exception. There aren’t enough universal strengths through character development, story arc or any particularly memorable moments that will etch this into the fabric of the American public. It is, however, an interesting and intriguing film that challenges ones perception of linear thinking and sanity.
As Heidi continually battles the forces that are pulling against her, the unraveling of her very soul is both subtle yet apparent. When even her very fate seems sealed, the amount of despair she undergoes is both palpable and significant. The main purpose of movies as well as any art form is to elicit a significant emotional response from the audience. Given the opportunity, Lords of Salem will do just that; it just won’t do it for everyone. Two and a half stars out of four.
In theaters April 26th. Watch the trailer here.