By Matt Fleming. This is RETROGRADING, where we know Satan ain’t no stinkin’ turkey.
THE FILM: The Lords of Salem
THE TIME: 2012. With lazy and uninspired fare dominating the scream-screen, fans of frightening fare desperately retained hope that Rob Zombie could deliver a fully-formed horror masterpiece. That time is still yet to arrive.
RECOLLECTIONS: When previews for The Lords Of Salem first arrived, it looked like the king of horror-rock may have finally found the sweet spot in his filmmaking oeuvre. The visuals were vivid, the concept was fresh (no ghosts or vampires here!), and the whole thing left you with a heaping helping of queasiness. Unfortunately, once audiences were treated to the svelte 71-minutes of witchy-nonsense, it was obvious that something went completely awry between concept and completion. The originality was replaced with buffoonery, and awkward tonal shifts kept the movie from settling into any sort of rhythm. The worst part? The Lords Of Salem is never even close to scary.
Turns out that “total artistic freedom” doesn’t equate to “sensible allocation of resources” or “making a complete or cohesive film.” While Zombie has never been known for making movies that made much sense, it was apparent that Lords needed some more time in the proverbial oven. The film’s script was augmented by a novelization (of all things), which from all accounts still doesn’t make up for the film’s missing plot points and lapses in logic. Visually, the film does boast some moments of pseudo-brilliance, the kind one achieves after watching a Nicolas Winding Refn movie while half-asleep. Rob Zombie needed to prove that he had grown as a filmmaker, but instead merely reaffirmed his love for music videos and his hot wife.
THE DIRECTOR: Robert “Rob Zombie” Cummings has committed to living his life as a full-time horror fan, and that is certainly commendable. So far he has managed to churn out a fun-yet-terrible debut, a markedly-improved follow up, and two pretty terrible Halloween movies, all the while clinging to the musical fame he found in the Nineties singing about haunted cars (or whatever that was). Like Quentin Tarantino before him, he is at heart a fan of genre films, devoting his life to exploring and honoring the stuff that goes slash in the night. Unlike Tarantino, however, he is not especially great at making movies.
While many Fangoria readers will always giddily sit through a double feature of House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s rejects, it seems Zombie has adopted a level of audacity usually reserved for more capable visionaries. The musician-turned-director has a flair for imagery reminiscent of the most colorful and jarring music videos of the last few decades, and if Lords was a long-form, Kenneth Anger-esque audio/visual experiment in Satanic imagery (like the last five minutes of the film) it might have actually worked.
THE CAST: Of all the areas in which Lords missed the mark, the cast might suffer the most. Owing his entire cultural existence to classic horror, the Z-man has unnecessarily loaded this movie with a who’s-who (or maybe who’s that again?) of familiar faces. Woefully miscast, Ken Foree’s recognizable mug is relegated to the role of radio shock jock, portraying the least important of the trio at the center of the film (The Dawn Of The Dead legend deserves more than playing third fiddle to Rob Zombie’s wife and a Geico Caveman). Judy Geeson (Fear In The Night), Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes), and Patricia Quinn (freaking Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show!) are suitable in their roles as the new witches of Salem, but each faces the task of wrestling with Zombie’s unrefined dialogue. Bruce Davison and Meg Foster stand out, capable as they are, but they alone cannot salvage the surrounding mess.
Atop the human mound of bullshit stands Zombie’s muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, the ubiquitous She of the Zombieverse. (There’s something to be said for this couple’s ability to work so closely with each other on so many terrible projects that they still seem to live a charmed and loving life together.) In The Lords Of Salem, Moon Zombie finds her greatest moments are those of least effort. When playing a possessed, empty vessel for the devil or being zonked out on crack, she is wholly effective, but once called upon to converse with other actors she falls dreadfully flat. She is at her best when she is carefree and violent or lifelessly floating into the void. Here she is tasked with being an almost-heroine, and that just ain’t Sheri’s bag.
NOSTALGIA-FEST OR REPRESSED NIGHTMARE? Of all of Rob Zombie’s nightmares, this is one that sadly should remained repressed. While there are many moments in the film that are striking both visually and tonally, the sum of its parts is a hodgepodge that’s missing at least fifteen minutes of material. Seeing how Michael Berryman and Sid Haig both had witch-hunting scenes cut from the flick, it’s clear this witchy mess could have been a hell of a lot closer to mediocre than it actually wound up.
RETROGRADE: 3 out of 10
Before: “‘THE EVIL DEAD’: Made On The Cheap, Changed Cinema Forever,” here.