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Lords of Salem, The (Blu-ray / DVD)

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The Lords of Salem (Blu-ray/DVD)Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn, Maria Conchita Alonso

Directed by Rob Zombie

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment


I’m a fan of Rob Zombie’s filmmaking.

There. I said it. And that’s a fairly dangerous thing to do in horror fandom, where hate can run high for the man while vitriolic comments on his work generally prevail on genre site message boards. This writer genuinely enjoyed Zombie’s writing/directing debut, the garishly hued Texas Chainsaw pastiche House of 1000 Corpses, a fun film which paled greatly in comparison to its follow-up – the brilliant, grindhousey 70s throwback The Devil’s Rejects (a film I still consider to be one of the best the aughts had to offer).

Then there were his Halloween films. Remaking Carpenter’s classic would’ve been a thankless task for any filmmaker but was especially so for Zombie, whose outside-the-box approach to the material infuriated fanboy purists and casual fans alike. And while I’ll agree that his initial installment was undoubtedly flawed, I found his 2009 sequel to be a minor triumph – a stylistic take on the Boogeyman that eschewed the franchise’s conventions and boasted as much heart as it did horror. And, while we’re talking, I pretty much dug his batshit animated film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, too.

And all that brings us up-to-date with The Lords of Salem, the shock rocker’s newest film concerning witchcraft, Satanism, and a centuries-old curse being revisited on modern-day Massachusetts. But while the movie possesses some truly distressing moments and often striking images, it sadly ranks as the filmmaker’s weakest offering to date.

Opening with an incredibly fucked-up introduction to a coven of Satan-worshiping witches in 1697 Salem, the film leaps ahead to the present day, where we are introduced to radio DJ Heidi Laroc (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who shares a show with fellow hosts Herman Salvador and Herman Jackson (Phillips and Foree, respectively). When a vinyl record featuring a single from a band known only as “The Lords” arrives at the station, Heidi gives it a spin – triggering bizarre behavior in herself and various women throughout the town. Heidi herself begins having nightmares of both the dreaming and waking variety, as she retreats back to drug use to help her cope with her crumbling sanity.

A secondary plot finds author and witch trial enthusiast Francis Matthias (Davison, great here) discovering a link between The Lords’ tune and the coven of witches featured at the film’s start. As the two tales eventually converge, blood is shed as the story gives way to nightmarish imagery, leading to a conclusion that…

…hell, I don’t really know.

Y’see, while the plot of the film is somewhat threadbare to begin with, it might have sustained this reviewer’s interest had it focused more on Matthias’ investigation rather than Heidi’s disintegrating grip on reality (which really only seems to be an excuse to ladle on hallucination after hallucination – imagine if American Werewolf had been mostly comprised of the Nazi mutant dream sequence). Still, the film did have a story, such as it was, and it did beg for a conclusion. What the film ultimately gives us is a montage of stylistic masturbation – a Rob Zombie music video, sans Zombie’s music.

That’s right. In lieu of an actual wrap-up, the film merely presents us with all manner of crazy vignettes, as if to say:

”Here’s a gaggle of nude, animal mask-wearing witches stalking towards the camera slowly!”
“Here’s a group of desiccated priests jerking off!”
“Here’s Sheri Moon Zombie riding a goat in a bathroom!”
“Here’s a writhing tentacle beast baby torn from its screaming mother’s womb!”
“All of this is better than a proper climax to the narrative, right?! Hell yeah!!!”

What a shame, because the movie had so much potential. The basic story (again, while thin) is interesting enough. As always, Zombie has a great eye and is pretty fantastic at crafting the film’s doom-laden atmosphere, while the score by John 5 and Griffin Boice is genuinely haunting and terrifying in equal measure.

Likewise, the acting is all fairly solid here as well. Davison makes for a likable, should-have-been lead; Phillips is an endearingly goofy presence; and Meg Foster is utterly nightmare-inducing as the evil coven’s head witch, Margaret Morgan. Strong supporting turns are turned in by Maria Conchita Alonso, Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn, and Judy Geeson as well. And Sheri Moon Zombie acquits herself well here as the film’s lead. Her performance as a recovering addict descending into madness is commendable and marks a leap forward for the actress’ onscreen talent. If it feels as though she cannot shoulder the weight of carrying the film at times, I’d argue that it’s due less to Moon Zombie’s abilities than the underwritten character she’s saddled with.

And therein lies the biggest problem with the film – the writing. The screenplays are generally the weakest aspects of each of Zombie’s outings, and that’s certainly the case with Lords. But that weakness has never before been as crippling to the filmmaker as it is here. The script seems to exist solely to act as a clothesline on which to hang any number of shocking setpieces. And while Zombie’s assured direction keeps the film tense and stylish, the meandering story often forces one to lose interest in the unfolding events more often than not. Pity.

Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray boasts a sharp image with solid blacks, with loads of noticeable grain at times (intentional, no doubt, as the film looked much the same in theatres this past April). The audio track is strong and clear and will likely jolt you from your seat on more than one occasion. The disc’s sole bonus feature is an audio commentary with Zombie. It’s a worthwhile listen, with the filmmaker recounting numerous anecdotes regarding the film’s production. He discusses the passing of actor and Lords cast member Richard Lynch and how it affected the film’s story, tension between some of the film’s actresses, and the chaotic shooting conditions he and the cast/crew had to endure (freezing locations, lost hours, sets being built at the last possible minute). It’s just a shame that all of the deleted material Zombie mentions couldn’t be thrown in as supplements on the Blu. Ah, well.

While The Lords of Salem is ultimately an unsatisfying watch, the style, scares, score, and acting are all of a high enough quality to make it essential viewing for Zombie fans, regardless of its faults. If you count yourself as one of the man’s detractors, give this flick a wide berth. But for those who enjoy Zombie’s unique brand of horror, go ahead and give Lords a shot. Just be sure to keep your expectations firmly in check.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Rob Zombie

    Film:

    2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    1 out of 5

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    AHS: Cult Review: Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4 (3 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 3.86 (7 votes)
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    The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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    Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

    Directed by Alan Lougher


    The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

    When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

    Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Ultimately chilling in nature!

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    User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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