This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is writer/director Rob Zombie‘s Lords of Salem.
Rob Zombie’s work is hit or miss for me. I enjoyed House of 1000 Corpses and loved The Devil’s Rejects. However I hated both of his Halloween films, despite the noble efforts of Malcolm McDowell. I think a big part of this is the shift in focus from the psychos and maniacs to the victims and heroes. Zombie’s strengths as a writer veer away from normalcy and the more he embraces crazy, over-the-top characters and situations, the more comfortable he is. But when he starts writing “normal” people, it loses something.
I’d love to see him direct a script written by someone else.
And maybe not cast Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead.
But that is not to be. Lords of Salem, Zombie’s latest, stars his wife as an annoying DJ – part of a team of annoying DJs actually – who becomes the target of a modern coven of witches (the impeccably cast Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace) bent on fulfilling the curse of Margaret Morgan (played with gusto by Meg Foster). The film faithfully captures the 60s/70s aesthetic of classic occult films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or To the Devil a Daughter (1976) (with a touch of The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) thrown into the mix), but the script may be a little too ambitious.
The film is 101 minutes and apparently there were quite a few cuts made to get it down to even that. I’m afraid that maybe in the desire to cut the film more impressionistically, Zombie lost some of the story details that would have helped us care about Heidi (Sheri Zombie). Because, there’s not a lot there for an audience to grab on to and unfortunately Zombie’s performance isn’t really up to the task, especially as she backslides into heroin addiction to deal with the madness she’s experiencing.
Which isn’t a bad idea at all. It’s a great idea, actually; one that’s ripe for exploitation, and the more experienced cast members do an amazing job of capturing a subtle horror underlying their seemingly normal exteriors. And once the madness begins, they all nail their landings.
Rob Zombie’s direction, unfortunately, falls back on clichéd shock scares, tossing in cheap computer graphics more at home in a music video than on film (seriously, what is up with that ridiculous final hallucinogenic montage?), and lingering shots of his admittedly super-hot wife.
But these troubles are offset by the rest of the performances of cast, the graphic nature of the flashbacks to the witch’s Sabbath and their subsequent executions, Brandon Trost‘s cinematography, and the music by Griffin Boice and John 5. When the film is grounded in reality, it’s beautiful. Trost manages to make every shot a work of art. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelmed with the set dressings, as Heidi’s apartment has every single surface cluttered with pop culture debris. Boice and John 5’s score for this film is also fairly breathtaking, from the genuinely frightening Lords of Salem witch music to the more ambient soundscape that build tension much more effectively than Zombie’s shock cuts.
So I’m at a bit of a loss. The film is definitely worth a look, if only for the film making and the performances of the veteran cast. But the Zombies do everything they can to make Lords of Salem an unwatchable bore and a jumbled mess.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.