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Lords of Salem, The (2012)

Cover art:

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The Lords of Salem (2012)Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree,

Directed by Rob Zombie


The usually hyped-up and rambunctious Midnight Madness crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival fell into an eerily silent, spellbound state as they witnessed the premiere of Rob Zombie’s latest project, The Lords of Salem, and it’s safe to say this will be Zombie’s most-talked about horror film to date as it is certainly the most polarizing project of his career.

The Lords of Salem tells the story of late-night hipster radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her slow-burning descent into madness in Salem after she receives a random LP from a group simply coined “The Lords” enclosed in a simple wooden box. While interviewing a benevolent author (Bruce Davison) about his novel on the Salem witch trials on the radio show with her co-hosts Herman and Herman (Ken Foree and up-and-coming actor Jeff Daniel Phillips), Heidi makes the mistake of playing the bizarre record on air; and for the next seven days she is plagued with nightmarish phantasms by a coven of primordial witches who are hell-bent on exacting revenge on the Hawthorne ancestral line through Heidi in a horrifying way. Bizarre satanic rituals, old naked witches, demonic tentacle creatures and a WTF finale that won’t soon be forgotten ensue.

Those expecting Suspiria on crack will be deeply disenchanted for Zombie’s narrative-lacking indie on witches is not the gory, fast-paced horror flick fans of his previous efforts will be expecting. In fact, it is the polar opposite and is a movie that needs to be slowly digested rather than being quickly dismissed as schlocky art-house fare – which unfortunately will be the first initial reaction of avid fans of Zombie’s compromised mainstream films.

The Lords of Salem is quite difficult to describe because it is a movie that relies on salient visceral impact rather than following a coherent narrative, and doing so makes this a brazenly bizarre work of art. It exerts a riveting fascination in its imagery, and it’s the film’s blaring score (composed by John 5) that cues the attentive audience to squirm in their seats by the haunting atmosphere.

Unfortunately, by the third act the film becomes so disjointed and can be argued that it is weird for weirdness’ sake. Many viewers will feel cheated by the abstract finale and will most likely feel the urge to blast it in any online forum they possibly can.

Many have already deemed The Lords of Salem as being Zombie’s most restrained film; however, it is quite the opposite as this time around he is making the film he has always wanted to do, rather than directing something that has been expected from him. Although the movie features familiar faces and a stellar soundtrack, it is completely different from anything he has ever done before, and it will most likely take time to fully appreciate his ambitious intentions.

3 1/2 out of 5

Discuss The Lords of Salem in the comments section below!

Serena Whitney

12 Comments

  1. If it’s more imagery like the surreal dream stuff in Halloween 2 then I’m all for it. It’ll be nice to see that in a film that it makes sense in and when it’s not fucking over my favorite franchise. I think that, when Zombie is making something original that he wants to make, he can do a good job. He just needs to stay away from remakes. Definitely on my to-see list.

    • See, that’s the expectation I had going in as well. What the review doesn’t seem to mention was the unintenional laughter in the theater, the patronizing applause from the audience during the end credits, or the exasperated sighs of the fans exiting as they tried to rationalize the film with their friends while coming up with nothing.

      It seemed like Rob corrected a lot of his earlier mistakes as a filmmaker by replacing them with new ones. The acting started off alright, but by the middle of the film a great majority of it was unbearable. The third act might as well have been a slideshow, because everyone was posing for a macabre photograph that no one ever took. When the embarrassingly long pauses ended, everything went back to being utterly ridiculous. Were we supposed to be laughing at Sheri Moon shaking her head about while grasping the creatures tentacles? Or the hammy scene where Bruce Davison learns of Heidi’s (Sheri Moon Zombie) lineage as he researches it on the internet? Or laugh out of embarrassment every time the music was dictating us to be afraid? I can list perhaps seven other instances where the crowd erupted into snickering because of the inadvertently amusing moments.

      I enjoy a breakdown of the narrative structure into a phantasmagorical nightmare, but again, this felt more like a string of ideas for a demonically themed photo shoot than an actual film. And there was the potential to explore interesting themes that felt glossed over by the time the film reached its conclusion. I didn’t bother with the Q&A, so perhaps Rob explained away some of my problems with the film. Even so, it’s the only film I have walked out of during the festival feeling like I was cheated out of $15. This film managed to evaporate the enthusiasm of the Midnight Madness crowd.

      I didn’t hate it. It didn’t strike a nerve like the Zombieween movies. Overall though, it was a film that felt like it was seeking pretension and coming up empty. I do applaud Rob in moving away from white trash and the superfluous use of the word ‘fuck’, but that doesn’t help a movie stand on its own. Maybe the next one will stick?

      • Very well put.

        You forgot to mention how lazy the writing is, in general. Why is a coven of witches (ie. women) called the LORDS of Salem? Why was Heidi baffled that someone could find out her real name when it is POSTED ON THE RADIO STATION’S WEBSITE? Why did Davison find out her last name but then need a (very convenient) family lineage site to deduce that she’s a decendent of the witch hunter? Why did Davison tell his wife that the book he had contained the last five pages of Hawthorne’s diary, then ask the author of the book what came after those pages in his diary?

        Nitpicky? Yeah, maybe, but the devil is in the details and hell, if he had gotten the broadstrokes right and not been so damn boring, it might be easier to gloss over the nitpicks.

  2. “…Sheri Moon Zombie’s slow-burning descent into madness…”

    Oh, Christ. Sounds like Zombie’s ‘Halloween 2′ all over again, only with Scout Taylor-Crumpet’s shouting, screeching and swearing replaced with that of Sheri Moon Zombie. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck dicklickers!”

    Naked old witches are the new white ponies.

  3. As difficult as it is to see a Rob Zombie film without a predetermined negative bias, it looks like I’m going to have to give this one a chance.

  4. I’m willing to give it a try. Even though it’s hard to forget how his last Halloween movies was one of the worst big screen horror flicks of the last 10 years.

  5. I’m looking forward to this after this review.

    Really enjoyed Rob’s first two flicks, and despised the second two. This sounds like it could be fun though.

  6. Wow. I don’t know what to think now – definitely can’t wait to check this one out to see which camp I fall in.

    I do have a question, though – how is Sheri’s acting here? Hopefully better than what we’ve seen from her before!

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