First off, let me get the whole Rob Zombie thing out of the way right now. I like Rob Zombie. I have no problem whatsoever with him. In fact, I may even love him. Some of this stems from the fact that I respect him for being a major fan-boy of horror. If you doubt this fact, you only need check out this video from several years ago from MTV's Cribs (which is a little shaky because I had to link the UK version since I could not find the US clip on MTV since they are too busy plugging Miley Cyrus's latest teddy bear adventure or what have you) in which Zombie gives a little tour of his own home, rife with all kinds of horror memorabilia, and I can guarantee he has more than you. The man is a true fan, and so I admire his adoration for the genre we share a love of.
That said, I'm not saying he's David Cronenberg or even John Carpenter. But I think his films can certainly be characterized as being passionately crafted, whether or not they win the esteem of his peers or the admiration of horror fans the world over. They bring a specialized vision: sometimes of gritty, white-trash violence; other times of gory, music-video-type storytelling with a grind-house style like no other director I've seen. Sometimes, it's a combination of both. And I'm so damn tired of horror fans knocking his dick in the dirt. The majority of people that blast his talent or say he's a hack couldn't find their way out of a paper bag, let alone direct a film. I'm sick of so-called horror purists and their condescending banter. Blah blah blah whatever.
But something bad DID happen there. As we all know, in 1692 twenty people were convicted of witchcraft and put to death. 140 people were accused of the crime and an additional dozen or so (besides the known 20) probably died in prison. When you visit Salem, you can go to all the kitschy tourist traps - but I recommend checking out the more valid historical sites while there. On that note, I'd love to tell you about the strange thing that happened to me in the Jonathan Corwin house (known simply as The Witch House because Corwin was a judge and conducted trials in the home), but we really must get to the review here.....
The first scenes of the film leave no doubt that we are dealing with witchcraft here. It's 1696 and a coven of witches is getting naked and getting in touch with their inner demon while the local reverend, Jonathan Hawthorne, details his plans to put an end to the evil in Salem.
We quickly learn Heidi is a recovering drug addict, as we see her at a NA meeting before work. When she receives an unusual wooden box addressed to her at work that has a vinyl record in it simply entitled The Lords, she and co-worker/lover Whitey take it home and play it at her apartment. The bizarre tune seemingly puts Heidi into a trance in which she has visions of the coven of witches killing a newborn child. She is snapped out of the daze when Whitey turns off the music. Naturally, it's easy to see why Whitey and later Herman think Heidi may be relapsing into drug use, with her getting all hinky with a tune on the record player. If only.
At home later, Matthias is disturbed by the record - both the chanting tune and the mysterious band, The Lords of Salem. He finds some music written in a book he recalled and has his wife play the small refrain of notes written down. It is the same tune as the Lords' record. He sets about to get to the bottom of the mystery, and soon discovers Heidi's family tree extends all the way back to the witch trials.
I found myself, after watching it, lying in bed trying to get to sleep and all I could think about were the visuals in the film, and I could only hear that bizarre ear-worm of a tune ringing in my ears.
As per usual, the film has a lot of elements that seem pulled from one of Zombie's psychedelic-style music videos. But this time, it's much less like House of 1000 Corpses and much more akin with a Dario Argento film. The use of color and style are nearly flawless here, even though it does veer off in the last ten minutes or so into rock-opera style that though mesmerizing did kind of fall off a bit for me. But it didn't stop me from being utterly enamored with the whole thing. Like I said, it really crossed over into an Italian horror theme for me, with the style-over-substance approach so familiar from directors like Argento and Bava.
The soundtrack, as in most of Zombie's films, is excellent. With a great score by John 5 and several well-placed tunes by bands like Rush, Manfred Mann and Velvet Underground (from them comes two of the signature songs - and they are perfect), it's another fine example of Zombie's song-choosing prowess. Even Mozart's Requiem makes a rather appropriate appearance. Who'd have thought it? Mozart in a Rob Zombie film?
The Lords of Salem is a strange, dark film with a very ominous theme and disquieting symbolism. Zombie has made a memorable piece that will stick in the viewer's head, hesitant to allow your mind to clear. And any time a film can make me feel that way, I have no choice but to recommend it - and to give it another watch myself. It won't be long until I do.