With The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie returns to original horror for the first time in over seven years and has created an intentionally different type of horror film from his past efforts. In what is clearly an homage to 70's horror movies like Rosemary's Baby, Zombie gives us a visually stunning and mesmerizing film that will also polarize audiences with its focus on style over substance.
The Lords of Salem follows a radio DJ named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), who receives a mysterious record with hypnotizing effects. This sets off a chain of events that are somehow related to Heidi and a group of witches that were executed during the time of the Salem Witch Trials.
Rob Zombie loaded the film with a supporting cast of genre stars, including Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison, Patricia Quinn, Ken Foree, and Sig Haig. The standouts for me are Patricia Quinn and Meg Foster, who really sink their teeth into these roles, even with limited screen time. It is worth noting that many of the earlier casting announcements are now outdated. While scenes were filmed with Richard Lynch, Clint Howard, Christopher Knight, and others, their roles were not included in the final film.
Although this has a very different pace from his other movies, Rob Zombie still packs it with enough of his signature style and vision, including multiple sequences that will shock the casual moviegoer. Combined with some fantastic work from cinematographer Brandon Trost and John 5's score, there is plenty to hold your interest for the majority of the film. Had this movie been released in the 1970's, it would likely be an instant classic with its disturbing imagery and a very trippy feel throughout the entire film.
However, audiences today have higher expectations and this story isn't breaking any new ground. While the visuals are impressive, what really hurts The Lords of Salem is the lack of character development and an ending that doesn't pack the kind of punch that a film like this needs. With a slow building film like this, it's important to care for or at least understand the characters. In this case, we're watching events unfold, but aren't given the chance to really know Heidi or the other characters we are introduced to. The Lords of Salem takes plenty of cues from The Shining and Rosemary's Baby, until it makes a left turn on the ending and shies away from an interesting and escalated resolution. The movie and ending will certainly leave people talking, but it doesn't have a satisfying enough conclusion to place The Lords of Salem among the films it's emulating.
Even with those criticisms, I find myself still thinking about the movie. It certainly held the attention of most of the audience at the screening with the visuals and music alone. This is a movie that demands your attention and provides a sensory overload on the big screen. Although this may not have been what I was expecting or a flawless film, it stays with you and I feel like it's a movie that would be appreciated more after multiple viewings.
I'll often recommend a film to certain types of horror fans, however this will be a very polarizing movie. Not only will casual and hardcore horror fans be divided on this film, but so will diehard fans of Rob Zombie's previous efforts. This comes off as more of an art house movie and I'm not sure it will screen in 3000+ theaters across the country. If you're really interested in this film, I suggest seeing it in a theater as it won't have the same effect on a small screen without your undivided attention.
As opposed to the final cut of his Halloween movies, The Lords of Salem is one hundred percent the movie that Rob Zombie wanted to make and he didn't make it for everyone. Some will fall in love with the visual style and hypnotic qualities of the movie, while many will find it lacking character development and a satisfying conclusion. At the very least, this is a film destined to gather a cult following and people will be discussing it for years to come.
Film Score: 3/5