Rob Zombie films have a way of polarizing fans. His first features, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects were incredibly violent and graphic entries in the horror genre that are either loved or loathed depending on the company. His takes on the Halloween series was well appreciated, but many still thought the films to be dark, dreary and drab.
Still, there is no denying that Rob Zombie is an important cog in the horror genre wheel. Zombie and fellow writer/directors Eli Roth and Ti West are all but carrying the genre on their backs while Hollywood either reboots old classics or stretches franchises long beyond their ‘best before’ dates (I’m looking at you Paranormal Activity!). Their collective projects still have an aura of originality about them and having their name on a movie poster can all but guarantee you are going to see something fresh, or at worst interesting to watch.
Rob Zombie is back in the director’s chair for The Lords of Salem that had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness Selection Series. The film surrounds a radio station DJ named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who receives a mysterious box with a vinyl record and a note stating, “A gift from the Lords”. When Heidi listens to the record, it awakens an evil in her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts and she begins to experience flashbacks and dreams that interweave with her reality as the spirits of the renowned Witch Town attempt to puncture our world to seek revenge on an atrocity that occurred over 300 years ago.
Heidi will be haunted and tormented by visions and dreams of the past or of an alternate reality that will drive her literally mad. A trio of old women living in her building, who have their own secrets, will offer her comfort but their alterative motive will hardly come as a big surprise to general intelligent movie fans.
With Heidi’s life spiraling out of control and with her friends powerless in either understanding or resolve, it is up to Heidi to fight the evil that has now surrounded her and hopefully ensure that the old witches of 1696 Salem are not resurrected.
Rob Zombie has some familiar B to C-List actors to help bring his tale to the big screen. Richard Lynch (The Sword and the Sorcerer), Meg Foster (They Live), Bruce Davison (X-Men), Maria Conchita Alonso (The Running Man) and Dee Wallace (The Howling) all have roles in this strange and very polarizing film. Of course, Zombie staples such as Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) and real life wife Sheri Moon Zombie appear in roles which must have made script readings feel like a family reunion.
Rob Zombie stays true to the style that has made Zombie a name familiar outside of the music industry. You won’t find any cyans or turquoise color schemes in any of Zombie’s films. Everything is dark and devoid of neutral colors. Even the blood spilled in The Lords of Salem looks more like black tar at times that it does a river of red.
But this is also Rob Zombie’s best work. And in writing that, I expect that it will be loathed by the Zombie fan base. I was never a fan of House of 1,000 Corpses and I never understood the fans reaction (which was just short of throwing palm leaves in front of the director) for the two Halloween remakes. I short, while everyone was putting Rob Zombie on a pedestal, I was still chasing squirrels.
But The Lords of Salem is more of a polished piece. The body count is incredibly low and throughout most of the film, nothing really happens other than the trip down the rabbit hole that befells the poor Heidi. The screening audience that filled our sold out theatre seemed to laugh at scenes that were not intended for humor (we did not). And restless fans without any gore to quench their bloodlust routinely left for washroom breaks or extra concessionary artery blockers – something that is not common in high expectation horror films.
The Lords of Salem did come off the rails just a bit in the final chapter. There is a mutant/reptilian type baby that is birthed followed by the final scene of Heidi on top of a heap of bodies and the ‘Directed by Rob Zombie’ title card. It was an unworthy finish to what was an involving movie prior to its reveal.