27th Apr2013

‘The Lords of Salem’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie,  Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Bruce Davison, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig | Written and Directed by Rob Zombie

LOS_screen

Darling (or deviant, depending on who you ask) of the horror genre, rock-star-turned-director Rob Zombie is back with his fifth live-action feature film, The Lords of Salem, a story of witchcraft and satanism in modern-day Boston.

Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) works as a DJ at a local Boston radio station along with fellow DJs, Herman Whitey Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (played by the legendary Ken Foree). Following one of their late night shows, Heidi receives a square wooden box containing a vinyl record addressed only to her, with only a note proclaiming “A gift from the Lords” to identify it. Assuming it is merely a PR stunt by an ambitious band, Heidi gives the record a spin and becomes haunted by ghouls and suffers from bizarre flashbacks to a past, long-forgotten trauma triggered by the haunting sounds contained on the record…

Rob Zombie is without a doubt the most divisive director working in horror today, some calling him a genius and some a schlock, but what you cannot deny is Zombie’s eye for the phantasmagorical – the man can really tell a story visually, even if his scripts are often less than stellar. Known for what many would call a grindhouse style of filmmaking, Zombie abandons the tropes of the sub-genre to craft a tale that sits more with the European sensibilities of Roman Polanski, Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg and fellow American Stanley Kubrick; sharing much more in common with the likes of The Shining, Don’t Look Now, The Devil Rides Out, The Wicker Man, Race With the Devil and Rosemary’s Baby - all classics of horror cinema.

It’s safe to say that The Lords of Salem is Zombie’s most accomplished work to date. He, like Ti West did before him with House of the Devil, has taken the inspiration from horror cinema of the 70s and crafted a film that both harkens back to that era, yet still feels new and fresh. And only Rob Zombie could get a cast like this to star in a “schlocky” horror film!

Casting his wife in the lead was a bold decision by Zombie but whilst she gives a tremendous performance, easily her best yet, she’s sadly outshone left, right and centre by the esoteric cast that makes up The Lords of Salem. If it’s not Ken Foree just being damn cool it’s the pleasure of seeing Judy Geeson making a return to the genre (despite it cheesiness I love Inseminoid) in a tremendous role, showing she’s still got the goods all these years later. Or it’s the joy in seeing 80s movie stalwarts Dee Wallace and Maria Conchita Alonso in one more film. However special mention must go to Meg Foster. One of the most familiar faces (or should that be eyes) of the 80s and 90s, Foster’s portrayal of witch Margaret Morgan is a barnstorming and brave performance that is both stunning and downright scary. Respect to both Zombie for casting her in the role and to Foster for letting go of any inhibitions and leaving it all on the screen.

But, of course, this is a Rob Zombie film and where would one of his films be without some striking imagery? Thankfully he doesn’t disappoint here, with scenes of witches burning at the stake, freakishly masked doctors and nuns, demonic dwarves and much more. Plus kudos to Zombie for turning that familiar urban legend of evil messages hidden in LPs into a plot point!

I was not the biggest fan of Zombie’s previous work but The Lords of Salem is a director working on a whole new level. Stunning and surprising in equal measure, it’s easily his best film to date and one of the best horror films of the year so far.

***** 5/5

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