Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem was almost doomed to fail.
Like him or not, the musician/filmmaker does it his way, and his films display a very distinct style that are usually more compatible to the highest reaches of independent film. Lords, however, is a step in a different direction, which I found myself very excited to see. Putting aside the hand held spontaneous look, Zombie takes time to set up the camera and have it slowly crawl down a hallway, or take in the full space of a huge ballroom.
In doing this, Zombie has crafted his scariest movie so far, easily. Not his best, that still belongs to 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, but this film is branching out on so many levels in comparison to all of his previous work.
-Language: I counted maybe 4 uses of the “f” word in this movie. I very well could have missed them, but usually in the opening scene of a Zombie movie this number is shattered.
-Cinematography: I have already mentioned it but it deserves another, as I will challenge you to name a horror movie shot so well in recent memory. The Shining is too many years old to qualify.
-Gore: I will get to the film’s content in a minute, but instead of being a bloody gore-fest as most of his films are, this one oddly has very little in it. More things are implied and blood is rarely seen… I know, right?
However, this movie has some content in it that makes the viewer pray for the scene to end. What is implied or not shown is something horrible and unsettling. Additionally, the film takes the slow burn approach with moments of dread thrown in at unexpected moments. I think the film will have a hard time finding an audience in the mainstream horror world.
Lord of Salem does something most horror movies fail to do: present something “horrifying” to the viewers. How is watching a bunch of annoying, whiny teenagers doing stupid shit and running from a killer scary? It is not scary if you are waiting for these characters to be killed off. That is not good horror. That is poor writing and execution disguised as a scary movie. The last movie to come out that was good horror was Insideous and despite it being “tame, PG-13” horror, it worked because it knows what makes moments suspenseful, be it darkness, timing, noises or lack-of, etc. Granted, by the end of it, it was typical and kinda stupid. But whatever.
Lords, on the other hand, does not have a typical ending, nor even a clear one, but that’s ok. Without getting into the plot, the ending is faithful to the main character played by Sheri Moon Zombie, who I can only say has gotten better over the years and delivers her best performance yet. The ending is psychological, it is what she is experiencing, at least to me. You have to put your own version to it.
The movie was made at only 1.5 million dollars. Even for Zombie movies, that is cheap. It doesn’t look like an independent film though, and I wouldn’t expect it to. By tackling subjects that are disturbing in thought and display, Zombie has made a film that challenges the most devoted horror fan. Even if the mainstream horror filmmaking world isn’t ready to go into such grisly material, there is still much to be learned and they should be taking notes how to makes movies scary again past the first viewing.