MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Supernatural Horror/ Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, María Conchita Alonso, Andrew Prine, Richard Fancy, Camille Keaton, Bonita Friedericy, Nancy Linehan Charles, Barbara Crampton, Torsten Voges, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig, Ernest Lee Thomas, Lisa Marie, Clint Howard, Michael Shamus Wiles, Brandon Cruz, Daniel Roebuck, Udo Kier, Christopher Knight, John 5, Piggy D, Julian Acosta/ Runtime: 101 minutes
I think it is quite safe to say that for a while there it really did look like the iconic genre of cinema that is the horror genre is one that had started to all but crumble away. This is because for a period of time the genre had really started to make an genuinely terrifying transition as far away as it possibly could from the visceral, unnerving, and genuinely scary movies that audiences were treated to in both the 70s and beginning of the 80s and headed towards becoming something that for a lot of veterans of the genre was just something they completely and utterly could not for the life of them identify. Indeed it really did seem like horror cinema was trying to accept both sides of the spectrum whilst hugely forgetting how crucial it was to make a genuinely visceral and capable of sending repeated chills down the spine horror film. As a result of this highly misguided philosophy, we got movies that were gory just to be gory a’la the Saws and Hostels of the world and then we also got ones that wanted to try and capture a wider audience and to do so slapped themselves with a PG-13 rating only to wind up being downright stupid.
Thankfully, I can say that iconic in certain circles film helmer Rob Zombie wants movies to remember their roots. I mean say what I have in my previous review of one of his other movies, but at least his original movies like Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses do feel like loving throwback movies to when horror films were a lot more bleak and visceral whilst his stabs (pun intended) at the Halloween franchise from 2007 and 2009 respectively do try to take the franchise in a much darker and, especially in the case of the second one, fairly distinct direction. It is with that in mind that I now come to a slice of cinematic pie that Zombie made in 2013 known as The Lords of Salem and I think it should be said that this is not only a movie that has a lot more in common with the early movies that Zombie made, but it’s also not that bad of a movie either. Indeed this ominous, dirty, visceral, and astonishingly well sculpted little tale of an old wickedness oozing its way into the present might just be Zombie’s most unnerving and well put together movie. Yet more than that though, The Lords of Salem really truly is a genuine tribute to when Horror cinema was both unnerving yet also undeniably riveting and is a film that chooses to trade the typical tropes we see in a lot of present day horror films and instead give us a fairly spooky blend that will let you sit back and really remember what it’s like to immerse yourself in a movie, be chilled by the vibe that the film conjures up, and ultimately feel a legit degree of horror begin to form within yourself by the time the screen cuts to black and the credits begin to roll….
The plot is as follows: Taking you the viewer to, where else, Salem, Massachusetts, the movie gets underway as we see that the radios in town are usually abuzz late at night due to a radio station in town delivering both enjoyably head banging modern entries in Heavy Metal as well as the wonderful back and forth between the station’s DJ trinity consisting of Whitey Salvador, Herman Jackson, and Heidi Hawthorne. Things soon take a turn for the sinister however when one night at work a mysterious package arrives for Heidi. A package that is soon revealed to contain an unusual record from a band known plain and simply as “The Lords”. Upon playing the record, the music contained on it is quite…..unnerving to say the least whilst also proving to be quite the bad influence on both Heidi as well as other women living in town. To that end, we see Heidi starts hallucinating really bad as well as relapsing into a long-buried addiction as she tries to figure out a wickedness that might be residing in an empty apartment in the complex where she resides all while a guy slowly but surely starts to get to the bottom of the horrific truth about the record she was sent as well as a possible link to the murder of alleged witches in town a long long time ago…
Now with The Lords of Salem, I think it can safely be said that Rob Zombie with this particular slice of cinematic pie has managed to sculpt a perilous, riveting, and quite ominous look at a slow elevator ride down to hell that manages to merge both historical fact and religious myth together with a quite restrained present day vibe that gets rid of anything it feels which will interfere with the slowly rising level of horror. This especially goes for computers, cell phones, and people running all over the place screaming their heads off looking like complete idiots. Rather, Zombie chooses to conjure up a slow and dim locale where the pinnacle of technology is in the form of radio broadcasts and recorded music with the latter only showing up in terms of vinyl discs and cassette tapes and not on the cloud. Thus every single ingredient in this slice of cinematic pie is there to strengthen this high degree of level of grittiness and the slower temp and lack of things that would interfere on a modern level permits you, the movie goer to be enveloped by this film’s atmosphere in a genuine throwback mood that feels a lot like the more visceral horror entries that audiences last saw a few decades ago.
Indeed this slice of cinematic pie’s riveting vibe and atmosphere are really just as much due to both how Zombie makes movies as well as a fairly immersive comprehension of the genre that he chooses to operate in as much as the various ingredients that go into making a movie of this ilk. Suffice it to say that Zombie has made a horror film in a way that really does feel like something you’d see out of a slice of arthouse cinema with its gloomy thematic nuances and also courtesy of the riveting and atmosphere-molding photography work Zombie does in this. Indeed Zombie manages to make this movie one that is subtle on a visual department, but is still quite satisfying on quite a few other levels. Indeed this is a movie that views horror as an art form. A very odd and ghastly art form in all fairness, but one that is definitely a welcome U-turn from a lot of the run of the mill horror movies that make their way to either movie theaters, streaming services, or on DVD/Blu-Ray nowadays. Thus I think it’s fairly safe to say that whilst this movie won’t placate someone who is more used to engaging on horror fare that is shoddily made and then released to theaters so a studio can make a quick buck or 10, those who love old school horror and who are looking for a film that deviates from the modern day run of the mill dreck whilst also showcasing a throwback vibe that does quite the number on your nerves will find this movie fairly satisfying.
Indeed there are not that many moments in this movie that don’t, to some degree or another, unnerve or ruffle a feather or 2 be it through the ominous narrative, gloomy visuals on display, or the utilization of anti-religious imagery to further propel forward its sinister saga. Indeed this slice of horror cinema comes equipped with wonderfully chilling, and soul-grabbing music that does a brilliant job of accentuating the thematic concepts at play as well as further molding the narrative. It’s also worth noting that this movie does a brilliant job at really making it hard to distinguish between what is really going on or what is a product of the terror-stricken imagination. Indeed it’s never quite obvious which is which be it when things are the most, for lack of a better word, normal and especially when the movie is at its oddest or ominous. Suffice it to say that Zombie’s movie is filled to the brim with metaphors you can’t be sure on, befuddlement that is key to every minute of the film’s runtime, and all other breeds of negativity which aid in increasing the terror in the movie immensely. Suffice it to say that The Lords of Salem is able to avoid becoming yet another run of the mill horror movie due to working with a very contrary attitude that helps to support rather than undo the other positives this movie has going for it.
All in all I think it can be said that at the end of the day, the slice of horror cinema that is 2013’s The Lords of Salem is a very ominous yet also alluring in terms of both what an audience member will see and also what they will feel movie. Sure it might not construct the best of the best in terms of narrative, but where this slice of cinematic pie is void in terms of coherence, it is stronger in terms of mood and operating as a wonderful tribute to an era when horror cinema could be counted on to be genuinely scary, quite ominous, and masterfully crafted. Suffice it to say that not only is this by and large perhaps Rob Zombie’s most intriguing slice of cinematic pie he has conjured up for audiences, but it also is perhaps one of the better made movies that he has helmed as well. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Lords of Salem “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.