The most impressive thing about Rob Zombie is that he’s always been able to operate outside of the studio mentality on a low budget. No matter what the film, he makes what he wants to make (sans the Halloween remake). After using Halloween 2 as a way out of his Dimension deal, he’s stripped it down to the bare minimum with his 1970’s inspired The Lords of Salem (his incredibly low budget indie horror that premiered to a sold out crowd at TIFF’s Midnight Madness). Budget appeared to be little bother but, once again, Zombie pens his own screenplay. And that’s littered with problems. The Lords of Salem is definitely cool to watch, and actually pretty entertaining (at times), but let’s be honest here (Rob Zombie fans sat there with a look of shock and disappointment on their faces, displaying the most fake smile you’ve ever seen), it’s not good.
I know Zombie loves his wife and enjoys putting her on screen, but Sheri Moon Zombie cannot carry a film. Again, this shows that Zombie just does whatever he wants, which is totally cool and all, but it does hurt his product. The Lords of Salem could have just been called the Sheri Moon Zombie show. Nearly every shot is of her walking, her in bed, her playing with her dog, and her kind of-sort of naked. The problem is that it doesn’t really propel the story anywhere and makes the film progress at a snail’s pace. But the biggest issue is that, with all of the striking imagery, Rob doesn’t have Sheri react to any of it; nearly everything that happens is either a vision or off in the corner. Yes, a lot of it is extremely cool, but then some of it is shockingly bizarre (like the tiny Devil-God who looked like a cross between Station from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and God in “South Park”).
Some of the best stuff is the flashbacks of the Salem 6 performing rituals and getting burned at the stake. The constant expectation was that these witches would be resurrected and create chaos among the women of Salem, and that would have been dope. Instead, the audience gets slapped in the back of the head (with what feels like a log) with an overly artistic, bizarre and unfulfilling performance by the “Lords of Salem.” This must have been due to one of the following: budgetary constraints, Zombie has surround himself with “yes” men, or he just didn’t give a fuck. I suspect it’s the latter, and for Lords, he didn’t even care about his viewers (I think by now he understands that his fans will like anything he does…they are the supreme “yes” men.)
It would be easy to give Lords a pass. It has genuinely creepy imagery, cool scares, super crazy sound design, and even more mind blowing set designs. But there will be no pass, mainly because of the awkwardly unfulfilling ending and the fact that much of the “cool” doesn’t interact with the characters or plot. Rob Zombie sympathizers are going to eat this up, and will spend their night analyzing the finale as if it were some revelation of brilliance. It’s not. It’s just bad. The Lords of Salem could only be recommended as background visuals while you’re jamming to old school White Zombie.