To me, Rob Zombie has always been an enigma when it comes to his films. I initially loved House Of 1000 Corpses, but repeated viewings have had me questioning whether it was a good film, or Rob just masturbating over his references to 70s horror, much to our chagrin. The Devil’s Rejects was better, and while Halloween was brutal, it again felt more like Rob was again just stroking his ego. And the less said about Halloween II, the better (although the Director’s Cut wasn’t that bad). Now Rob has gone the low budget route again with The Lords Of Salem, which made its premiere at the 2012 TIFF to a full house). So, which Rob Zombie film are we getting this time?
Local rock radio DJ and recovering drug addict Heidi Hawthorne co-hosts a show with “the two Hermans” in modern day Salem, Massachusetts. One day, Heidi receives a mysterious wooden box containing a vinyl record from “The Lords”. Heidi and one of the Hermans play the record, which causes Heidi to have flashbacks of torture and witchcraft from Salem’s past. A local historian, Francis Matthias, takes a keen interest in the package, and after investigating, discovers a link between it, an old coven of witches and the Hawthorne bloodline. It seems that the witches who were burned at the stake by Heidi’s ancestor, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne, are trying to return to fulfill a centuries-old curse placed upon the Salem’s women.
Zombie has always had an eye for the look of his films, and The Lords Of Salem is no exception. Grimy, dark and oozing with atmosphere, the film’s cinematography is something to behold. Rob has taken more than a few cues from films like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby with regards to the camera, and has crafted something that is definitely disturbing in its presentation. It also helps that this is a slow burner, building up the unsettling feelings of dread. Gore-wise, there’s certainly less that what you’d expect from Rob, as this time around it’s more of the disturbing visuals and atmosphere. We still do get a bit of the red stuff, so it’s not totally bloodless.
As far as the acting goes, fans of the genre will get a kick out of the horror veterans doing their stuff and loving it. Judy Gleeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace as the trio of modern witches are a treat to see, and are quite eerie. Ken Foree is charming as Whitey, while Jeff Daniel Phillips’ beard does most of the acting for Phillips. Bruce Davison is fine as Matthias, though the guy needs to watch out for frying pans. And any time you have Michael Berryman and Sid Haig doing cameos is a good time. As for Mrs. Zombie, well that’s another issue…
I tiptoed around the issue of Sherri Moon Zombie for a reason. While she’s gorgeous and oft-naked in many of Rob Zombie’s films (The Lords Of Salem is no exception), she’s not what you’d call a great actress. While it’s great that Rob wants to give work to his wife, she definitely isn’t leading actor material. She’s wooden in much of her performance, and much of the time she’s onscreen is spent doing nothing that really moves the story forward.
In the final act of the film, Rob once again goes off the rails with his art-house imagery, throwing weird stuff on the screen for no reason other than it being weird. It’s that masturbation thing of his again. It confuses and disorients more than shocks and disturbs. Honestly, it’s this sort of thing that has had me wondering whether I truly like his stuff. Don’t get me wrong, Zombie has talent. But his need to feed his ego by continually casting his wife and genre vets for the sake of going “Hey! Look what I did!” is not the way to go. He really needs to have someone steer the ship before he ends up pulling this again and again.
So once the credits roll, The Lords Of Salem left me in much the same way I’ve been left with many of Rob’s films: puzzled. While Rob’s eye behind the camera is something I relish along with his scenes of brutality, his other decisions in self-indulgence leave me rolling my eyes and wondering when the film is going to end. I know that there are some of you Rob Zombie fans who love his stuff no matter what we critics say, and that’s fine. Support and love the man. He’s trying his damnedest to give the genre something new. As for myself, I’m just going to sit and wait for Rob to finally get over himself and make a film that doesn’t end up stroking his ego.
Say what you will about Zombie as a director, but the man knows his visuals. In spite of the film’s low budget, The Lords Of Salem looks damn fine. Presented in 2.39:1, the 1080p AVC-encoded transfer has a fair level of intentional grain, but the grain actually helps emphasize the grimy look Zombie aimed for. Details and textures are excellent, with flesh tones looking natural, even with the low light presentation.
As for the audio, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack reflects the grimy visuals with the appropriately rough industrial sounds. Dialogue is clear and free of distortion, while ambient effects help to give a great sense of the environment. Bass is a little on the heavy side, at times, but it kind of goes hand-in-hand with the music. A great compliment to the visuals.
The only extra on the disc is an audio commentary with writer/producer/director Rob Zombie. Like Rob’s other commentaries, he come across as a guy who’s done his homework and is full of information about his films. Rob spends the track going over the story and its characters, locations, cast and performances, music and score, the editing process, cinematography, and more. It’s an entertaining track, though depending on your position on the film, it’s probably not going to change your mind whether you loved or hated it.
The only other extra (aside from the DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film) is a lenticular slipcover replicating the cover art for the Blu-Ray.
Overall, this is a great audio/visual package, but is really lacking in the extras department, in spite of Rob’s excellent commentary.