20 September 2013

THE LORDS OF SALEM/2013/ROB ZOMBIE

Before going too deeply into what I thought of Rob Zombie’s new film The Lords of Salem I think I should preface things a little. Overall I like Rob Zombie as a musician and filmmaker. I love his stuff with White Zombie and here and there as far as his post White Zombie music goes, but for the most part no big issues with me there. I also liked his video work and could tell from the music videos he directed he had an eye for setting up shots. Then he went on to making movies and things got a little more blurry for me. I had to wait a long time here in China to find a copy of House of 1000 Corpses and can’t say I disliked the film at all. I think I have watched it 3 or 4 times. It has all of the kitschy hillbilly horror references and sordid underbelly of America gags I would have expected from Zombie. However I just did not like Devil’s Rejects and the last part where the Firefly family or whoever they are go charging on forever in their convertible while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird plays alllll the way to end was simply unenjoyable to say the least. I was never a fan of the Halloween films to begin with so I went into the Zombie prequels with a negative bias. I am not here to review those films but one day may give them a go. They were not that bad really. In the end though I just don’t know if I needed to know about Michael Myer’s twisted childhood and if knowing anything about it now makes me any more interested in his character. I just never liked those films all that much and Zombie did not help me to cuddle up them any more. So a couple years back I began reading about a possible Rob Zombie remake of The Blob and my ears pricked up a bit. I just felt he could have done something with that, but suddenly there is not a blob film and instead we have a slow paced take on those old Satan films of the late 60’s and 70’s. And the problem is those old Satan films were simply some of the worst films ever made in terms of stories, direction and acting. They are for the most part all considered camp films at best and while they certainly had their time in the sun, and let me just say I have seen my fair share and just watched a couple old Satan flicks during the last couple weeks here, the sun has long since set on those movies. They are more something to be explored (and no doubt ruined) by somebody like Quentin Tarantino. 

The reviews on The Lords of Salem seem to divide the masses a little, with many people hating it for no other reason than Rob Zombie’s names is attached to it and others claiming Zombie has matured and come of age as a filmmaker. I have no issue with Rob Zombie being the film’s creator and it is the sole reason I sought the film out. I guess I am not really a film critic in any real sense and so I may not be able to see any techical maturity going on here. There are obvious references to filmmakers like Polanski, Kubrick and even Ken Russell but does that mean Zombie can tell a story or work a camera in the same fashion as those guys? I would not say it would be fair to compare but the praises the film is getting is for the fact that those influences are so apparent. But in the end Zombie just does not pull off an engaging or convincing story. Rosemary’s baby is a slow burn of a film but is never boring and I have seen that film near a dozen times I am sure. Once was more than enough with The Lords of Salem. And now I must  touch on a particular problem with the film before I go any further. It is a serious prejudice I have and its presence in the film makes it hard for me to accept the film. In fact this little problem crops up in every single Rob Zombie film and the problem has a name, and that name is Sheri Moon Zombie. I thought she was sort of cute and trashy in 1000 Corpses and I had no idea who she was at the time. But that was about it for me and her. She lost the cute part and I soon realized the trashy aspect was not acting. In Lords of Salem she is utterly covered in grotesque tattoos, is emaciated and unhealthy looking and sports a mane of grungy dread locks that look infested with lice and cigarette smoke.  I don’t care if her acting has improved or not, I just can’t stand her. Maybe as a supporting actress that is killed off in the first reel (like in the Tobe Hooper version of The Tool Box Murders) but in the lead role of a film she is a distraction for me.

In the film she play radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne who co-hosts a late night rock show in Salem Massachusetts with the two Herman’s, played by Jeff Daniel Phillips and the ageless Ken Foree (of immortal Dawn of the Dead fame). Guests on the show include people like a bearded Bruce Davison playing Salem witch trial skeptic Francis Matthias. We all know what happens to skeptics in horror films by now don’t we?  Heidi receives a slice of vinyl by a group calling themselves the Lords of Salem and when the music is played she basically zones out. She is soon getting pulled into something wicked and evil but I am not sure what. It all happens so slowly and confusingly I began feeling like Heidi when she hears the Lords of Salem music most of the time.  Her landlady and the landlady’s sisters (including a still lovely Dee Wallace Stone) are all up to no good and like to sit around sipping fresh tea and blurting out words like “fuck” and “cocksucker” all of the time for shock value. Something is up with the “vacant” room number five, but I never did get what it was, and soon (well, okay, not too soon really) a connection is made between Heidi and the old Reverend Hawthorne who presided over the original witch trial and… and… what the hell did I watch? Some old AIP Vincent Price movie or what? In the end the film is nothing but an old Satan film done up with slick modern editing and a cool score by John 5 (of Rob’s band and formally of Marilyn Manson) and some nasty words by old ladies and lingering shots of Sheri Moon’s ass. Lots of stereotype old hags praising Satan or the dark one or somebody, and hardly any violence to speak of. And that is about it. Things seem to build to nothing and the last scenes add no closure to the film whatsoever. One reviewer, who loved the film, praised it for the how it left him thinking after it was over. It left me thinking too. Thinking about what a boring ass turd of a film I just sat through hoping something was going to eventually happen to make it worth my while. Just like all those old Satan flicks basically sucked, so does this one. Honestly, the only Satan film that rose above the muck was Rosemary’s Baby. It is simply a good movie, period. The Satan touch didn’t hurt it and every Satan film since then has tried to do Rosemary’s Baby and none have ever come close, including The Exorcist.

One thing may simply about the time in which Rosemary’s Baby was made. It was 1968 and while not the most innocent of times there was still enough naïveté and belief in something decent and sacred left in the American populace to be shocked by scenes of sweet little Mia Farrow wanting to nurture the Devil’s child at the film’s end. And look at the dark, decaying world we live in now and then try to be shocked by Sheri Moon Zombie riding a goat towards the end of The Lords of Salem. It is more likely Rob Zombie just spliced in some home movie footage here to add a personal touch to the movie. For me the whole Satanism thing, as it is represented in movies and music, has never been that scary. It is not scary because it is obviously trying so hard to be scary, like Goth people. "Ooh, look at me, look, look! I'm all scary and dark and can't even hold down a minimum wage job! Ooh, now that's scary!" It's all campy at best, in an EC Comic sort of way,  and pretentious at worst. All of that Black Metal stuff out of Norway and Sweden is simply goofy really. That many of the people making that music actually have a philosophy around it all and believe in what they are doing only makes it worse, not better. And then again I like some of that stuff by Emperor, Mayhem, Ulver and Burzum. Some of it I said. It has its time and place, as do Satan movies. And that place is in the campy film department. Zombie’s film is not campy really. It falls into the pretentious category (like of a lot of "matured" things do) and I guess that makes it worse in my book. I am not anti-Rob Zombie because of this film at all. I just hope he gets back to what he does a little better. What would that be? Well, killer hillbillies I guess. And for the love of God (not Satan) find a new leading lady dude!

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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I caught Lords on the big screen. I enjoyed the build-up and some of the imagery was definitely striking, but I could have done without all those flashbacks to butt-ugly witches and the poor old Richard LynchThe sound design was awesome, sitting there and hearing the Lord's tune was amazing. The incoherent story did give me a bit of a headache but I still got something out of the experience. All the flaws notwithstanding, I'd say Lords is Zombie's best film since his debut. And I'm generally happy thinking that I got to see a Rob Zombie film at the cinema. Also, really nice of him to cast Ken Foree again.

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