Review: 'The Lords of Salem'

This guest review comes from friend and fan of VDA, Mike Dobrzelecki, who saw Rob Zombie's latest and was kind enough to share his thoughts here. 

By: Mike Dobrzelecki

Rob Zombie is by and away one of the most controversial filmmakers in the past decade. Not so much for the content of his films, but for how his films have a way of splitting audiences. From his Firefly clan films to his remake/re-imagining of the Halloween franchise, audiences have been on opposite ends of the taste spectrum. Now it appears that trend is continuing with his new film The Lords of Salem, and who could blame them? It is easily one of the strangest American films to debut on the horror scene in the past few years.

Sherri Moon Zombie stars as radio host Heidi Laroc on Salem’s local station along with her co-hosts Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree. Heidi lives alone with her dog in a foreboding apartment complex run by the wonderfully creepy Judy Geeson. Things are fairly normal in Heidi's life (except for recovering from a drug problem and chance encounters with the mysterious new tenant at the end of the hall) until she receives a wooden box at the station from “The Lords.” It contains a record that seems to have the ability to cast a spell over the women of Salem. From there, Heidi begins having flashbacks to the Salem witch trailers and the Lords of Salem, a coven of witches headed up by the show-stopping Meg Foster. She also begins experiencing a strange sickness and even stranger hallucinations. 

There isn’t a whole lot more to the plot. Zombie keeps things relatively simple in terms of framework and is more concerned with visuals here, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is a subplot involving Bruce Davison in which he has uncovered a strange connection between Salem’s founders and Heidi but the importance of this thread, as well as how it affects the story, is never really realized. It is kind of a shame because there could have been a really interesting story here but again, Zombie himself has said that visuals hold sway in this outing.

And he wasn’t kidding. Lords of Salem is a mash-up of terrifying images that range from body horror to acid trip nightmare. There are some genuine scares here but it's mostly a collection of “what the fuck am I seeing” moments. One of the things that I appreciated about the film is that, aesthetically anyway, it felt like a departure for Zombie. It’s a fairly subdued film in comparison to the balls-to-the-wall gore and violence of all of his other films, and even at its most insane, there is a certain finesse to it. 


There was only one moment (lasting about a minute and a half) where I was taken out of the film by some psycho-billy, satanic redneck imagery and that comes very late in the game. It’s an odd sequence that doesn’t tonally fit with the rest of the film and you’ll know it when you see it. Otherwise, I really dug the insanity that unfolded on-screen. It’s clear that there is a strong European influence here but I don’t feel like it detracts from the film as much as I had been led to believe. It is a movie about madness and being taken by a dark force and the images reflect that. 

I was genuinely surprised by the amount of really strong performances in the film as well. Sherri holds her own and carries the film pretty well, only stumbling a few times and is genuinely likeable even if we’re not exactly rooting for her. Geeson and her sisters (Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn) are all magnetic on screen and play really well off each other. Although, after meeting Dee Wallace in the past, I found myself asking:

Meg Foster is the real standout though. She’s only in a handful of scenes but she’s absolutely mesmerizing. She’s wicked and alluring and her voice alone will send chills up your spine. I really hope more filmmakers see this role and continue to give her work because she proves that she’s still got it. Aside from Bruce Davison, however, I felt the male roles were lacking. I thought Jeff Daniel Phillips character was pretty annoying and useless, and Ken Foree’s role was fluff at best.

Personally, this flick worked for me. I dug most of the imagery, and the story - while sparse - was solid. I would actually wager that there is more to the story than meets the eye. There are a ton of nods to horror and cinema and much of what Heidi sees in her hallucinations are reflections of those images. One could wager that perhaps she is actually sick (both mentally and physically) and that the images are a product of that. Things don’t really go off the rails until a relapse into drug use, so could these things not be caused by the delusional mind of a junkie? 

Also, the film begins with several short images of Sherri fighting sleep in a car. They’re really out of place and I feel like they mean something more. Could the film be a premonitory nightmare? All of this is obviously conjecture but I refuse to believe that Zombie, who himself has described the film as “If Ken Russell directed The Shining”, is telling a simple story here. 

All in all, this is a film that you need to see for yourself. I fully expected to hate it due to the recent flood of negative reviews but ended up digging the heck out of it. It’s not a perfect film by any means but it shows that Zombie can take a softer approach to what has often  been ham-fisted material. 

Please visit the Facebook page for Mike Dobrzelecki's feature film, Die, Develkok, Die!

And if you'd like to help out, or nab tickets to the May 15th premiere, do so here.

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