The Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of Salem is a bit of a mess. Containing a solid central idea that could’ve made for a fascinating, terrifying film, writer / director Rob Zombie delivers a one-note journey into a witchery apocalypse with no sense of direction. There are some brilliant elements, images and ideas here, but it’s an undisciplined mess that will leave you cold.

When DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) plays a mysterious vinyl record by ‘The Lords’ her life changes forever. The music is hypnotic and Heidi experiences violent flashbacks to Salem’s dark and witch-laden past. But is she going insane or is a more powerful force at work?

It’s a more powerful force at work. What? That’s not a spoiler. In fact, you can’t really ’spoil’ The Lords of Salem as the plot is scarily simple and without a single twist or turn. It is set up to go in a certain direction and literally follows that route, leading you exactly where you’d expect… with some added Rob Zombie madness (seemingly chucked about at random!)!

Instead of being a tense and terrifying fight against the Lords / Witches of Salem, we literally just witness it happening. Never do you expect anything but an unhappy, witches-win ending. Which is precisely what you receive. It’s like Rosemary just accepting her fate after five minutes…

Much like the majority of Zombie’s work, The Lords of Salem is a cluttered, messy film which bounces off the walls like a mad ferret. Naked old witches, crazy DJ sessions, nutty rapey vicars, goat-riding, melted masks, a mad tentacle-midget and at one point Bigfoot seems to turns up.

Where this bonkers off-the-wall craziness works in the anarchic, self-knowing insanity of The Devil’s Rejects, this latest foray into ‘original horror’ slips between the darkly foreboding and the flippantly silly, changing from giving us amazing imagery to ridiculously over-the-top witching around in a matter of seconds.

The ‘Lords’ themselves are the major problem, and Zombie plucks every one of them from the Penguin Book of Clichéd Witches, giving us a plethora of cackling old crones, who dance naked around fires and hail Satan’s name.

The problem with our protagonist Heidi – the one we’re routing for – is that it never feels like she’s in control. She merely reacts to events; getting hypnotised by Satan’s music, hooked on hard drugs and basically just bumbles along, accepting all the madness.

Although shameless nepotism in the vein (or should that be vain?) of Paul W.S. Anderson and Tim  Burton, Rob Zombie’s casting of his wife massively backfires here as she just isn’t a compelling performer. Lacking the nuanced performance abilities of Milla Jovovich and Helena Bonham Carter, she mopes through the movie thinking ‘epic sad face’ equals drama, when her forte is the map-capped, violently insane characters she usually plays (her performance as ‘Baby’ in The Devil’s Rejects is excellent). Here she is just a blank space covered in greasy dreads. Whether anyone else could’ve coped with the poor script is another question entirely…

The Lords of Salem is filled with a collection of excellent actors and genre icons, all of which flounder in the ridiculous script and awful characterisations, with only Bruce Davison coming out with a decent performance, albeit a underwhelmingly pointless one. Zombie wastes the talents of Ken Foree, Michael Berryman, Judy Gleeson, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace. It’s almost embarrassing.

Perhaps Zombie was going for an Argento vibe, but even Argento has the common courtesy to imbue his films with a sense of mystery as well as a psychedelic explosion of haunting images and sounds. I have been waiting for Rob Zombie to unleash another film on par with The Devil’s Rejects, but after the Halloween re-fucking and this latest piece… my hopes are dwindling rapidly.

Only watch The Lords of Salem if you’re a die-hard Rob Zombie fan, you love naked old women and you hate mystery. Visually insane, this is a giant mess that squanders a great idea.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.