The Lords of Salem

Featuring All Tomorrow's Parties
"The Lords Are Coming."

Good Morning everyone, it's a new week and a new month, and that means it's time for more movies at The Tagline! I figured since it's now October, I should start the month off right with a movie about witches, the occult, and worshiping Satan, and maybe the birth of the Antichrist. If you're looking for one stop shopping in the satanic bloodbath department, I feel like you can't find a much surer thing than Rob Zombie, so I decided to take a peek at The Lords of Salem, his most recent film, released only in a limited circuit this past April. Starring Sheri Moon Zombie (Rob Zombie's wife, see more of her bare-caboose here in Zombie's remake of Halloween) as Heidi, a recovering smack-head radio DJ who gets a weird wooden box with a record inside it. This insidious sounding music disk is addressed specifically to her, left at her office by a group calling themselves the "Lords of Salem", and starting a chain of events that leads Heidi down a dark, dark path from which she may not return. Also featured prominently in this film is Bruce Davison (who you may remember was the lead in The Lathe of Heaven) who portrays Francis Matthias, a writer and historian who is disturbed and intrigued by the music and the name Lords of Salem, and attempts to unravel the mystery behind the record. Also Sid Haig appears briefly, because I mean really how could he not this movie is directed by Rob Zombie get real. This movie was met with a mixed reaction by critics as well as by fans of Rob Zombie, and why that was became immediately apparent to me after watching this movie for about ten minutes.

Sure they look like nice ladies!
Despite the ridiculous capering of filthy nude hags at a black mass during the opening sequence of the film, it was clear from the start that this movie was going to be a much more restrained and reserved endeavor than Zombie's previous directorial efforts. For instance no one had their throat slit or sprayed blood all over everything in the first 15 minutes of the movie. I felt like that was a substantial departure all by itself (one I did not miss, I've seen enough people spraying blood out of their necks for the year I think). While RZ is still not pulling any punches in the way of the gross and the graphic, there is a much subtler buildup in this movie in terms of plot and dramatic arc. The film isn't quite two hours long (it comes in at around 100 minutes) but it is substantially slower in its pacing and at first exhibits only fleeting glimpses of the supernatural or the horrific (that obviously ratchets up in a big way by the end of the movie, but at first it isn't all faceless bishops jacking off in confessional boxes). You can tell that RZ is trying to do something different with this film, and he is at least partially successful in cultivating the idea and atmosphere of a slower horror. At the same time, like any film I've seen by him, it is clear that whether it is intended or not, RZ is paying homage to the horror films of the past (in this case the occult psychological horror films of the 60s and 70s Rosemary's Baby figured prominently in my mind), but unlike some other directors he doesn't make the movie ABOUT being an homage.

Looks like a normal night at the Zombie household.
Generally speaking, despite it being slow-er I didn't find the pacing of the film to be off. I thought that it struck the right notes where it needed to to build up towards an increasingly confused and frightening conclusion. The growing sense of alienation Heidi feels, the increasing strangeness of her world, and the increasingly apparent inevitability of her fate all work well together to build towards a satisfying end to a grim and grotesque movie. Clearly at home with what he's doing, RZ knows just how to shoot and compose each scene to work towards his goal and his judicious use of ambient soundtrack is present without being intrusive (I find strident soundtracks to be one of the most common issues with a lot of horror films. Nothing is less scary than a movie telling the audience to be scared with AHH SCARY ACTION MUSIC). Long story short, this movie gets top marks when atmosphere is concerned. It does that just right.

Thanksgiving dinner gone so very very wrong.
My real gripe with the movie has to do with where it finishes off. For the most part, the trajectory of the movie's plot seems pretty clear, but I found the ending to be muddled and unclear in its meaning, intent, and impact. I get that the Antichrist being born is the heavily implied consequence of the final scenes of the film, but a lot of other details were really hazy, mostly because we see a lot of the movie through the perspective of Heidi (more or less, leading to a real "is this actually happening" attitude). Are all those dead witches ghosts? Are they resurrected by the birth of the Antichrist? What is the deal with the last scene where she's standing on top of the dead bodies of all the naked ladies? I don't quite get it, is she the mother harlot or what? I guess some of that isn't incredibly important, but I think it makes a difference and I just feel like the ending got caught up in its own grotesqueness, which is hardly new for a RZ movie, just in this case in particular it really muddled the ending. If you like horror I'd still definitely recommend you see The Lords of Salem if you can, i think you will probably get some enjoyment out of it (and in a way I did too) I just also think this could have benefited from some more storyboard editing.

That's it for today folks! Join me again on Thursday, when I review I have no idea what the hell I will review.

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