Director: Rob Zombie
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 3/10
In Rob Zombie’s latest feature he appears to be exercising a rather surprising level of restraint. For a time the film evoked ‘70s supernatural thrillers where it was all about atmosphere and characters with the occasional zinger here and there. The stories would gradually unfold revealing just enough to keep you intrigued or uneasy. Think of films like the original Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now or The Omen and for a time The Lords of Salem is unfolding in this fashion. But then Rob Zombie happens and it’s all down hill from there.
The film opens in the 1600s during the gathering of a coven of witches. Stripping bare they renounce God and declare their undying devotion to Satan. The story jumps ahead to the present where Heidi Hawthorne, a radio DJ for a popular late night radio show in Salem, Massachusetts, receives an album from a band called “The Lords of Salem.” Upon playing the album she begins to feel ill. She, along with her fellow co-hosts, decides to play the album on the air. The album once again affects her, as well as women listening, but has no impact on the men. One of the men listening is Francis Matthias, a local historian, who is intrigued by this recording and decides to do some research on it. That is the set up for Zombie’s film where he appeared to show a level of maturity not yet seen. Gone are the gratuitous, over-the-top violent moments as well as the “shock cinema” he is best known for. It was quite refreshing but then he unleashes his inner-Zombie and it becomes unintentionally funny and features a poorly executed finale.
For a good portion of the film Zombie keeps a nice leisurely pace. There are moments where it looks like Zombie is doing his thing but then we discover all is not what it seems and it works within the context of the feature. Quite literally the film was working because you were able to begrudge him the first two moments that elicit unintentionally laughter. After that it appeared to be settling in again that is until the conclusion where it all goes bat-shit crazy and numerous threads are either abandoned or not properly explained. He unleashes plenty of crazy imagery that is presumably meant to shock but instead causes one to shake their head or cry out “what the hell am I watching?’
Zombie has assembled a decent cast of character actors many of whom he’s worked with before. Sherri Moon Zombie is very good as Heidi. Meg Foster, Dee Wallace and Judy Geeson are particularly memorable as the Morgan sisters. The rest of the cast features the likes of Bruce Davison, Ken Foree, Sid Haig, Andrew Prine, Maria Conchita Alonzo and Jeff Daniel Phillips.
If Zombie had resisted the desire to kowtow to his target audience he may have created a pretty effective supernatural thriller. Instead we get a film with an ending so annoyingly dumb that you forget all the good that came before it.