If I only had one sentence to review Lords of Salem, I would say the film is all atmosphere and no bite. I like Rob Zombie’s movies usually, but this one simply didn’t grab me. We follow Heidi Hawthorne (played by Sheri Moon Zombie in perhaps her best acting role) who is a young DJ at a local radio station. Heidi is given a mysterious record that seems to hypnotize women from (or related to) descendants of the original people in Salem. An ancient curse is coming to fruition in this slow-burner of a horror film.
The film does do some interesting things. It is perhaps the most restrained of Zombie’s films, and it lacks the grindhouse aspects featured in most of his other movies. The smoldering fuse at the start of this movie shows a lot of growth as a director and a writer. The film plays more like a mystery for the first 45 minutes or so, and while it is a slow start, it was a refreshing difference.
The movie becomes more psychedelic and bizarre as the story continues. Some of the imagery is interesting, but I just got bored. Heidi’s landlady and two sisters (who are possibly the most obvious villains ever) cheesed up most of their scenes instead of adding any additional layers of creep. The weird nightmares and images, despite some being interesting, also get kind of stupid at several points.
A film based purely on visual pleasure can work. A consistent series of beautiful or disturbing (or both) shots can make for a very enjoyable experience for the viewer. Lords of Salem tries to transition to this type of film at around the halfway mark. Instead of prioritizing narrative closure, it wants to force a reaction from the viewer. The mix didn’t work for me. I wish the film would have gone all in on one or the other.
Witches coming back from beyond the grave to cause havoc is a bit overdone, in my opinion. The film barely distinguishes itself from the countless others in this subgenre of horror. I felt the entire story was mired in mediocrity, and this feeling never dissipated throughout.
One thing that is odd to me is to see a film from a metal musician that argues music can cause bad behavior. The idea that the metal genre is somehow dangerous has been around probably about as long as the genre itself. I know a lot of musicians have made a lot of money exploiting the fears of stupid people, but it still struck a bad nerve with me. We have seen this genre of music blamed for suicides, depression, and even school shootings. The film does nothing to divert from this trope, and if it was trying to poke fun at the construct, it did a piss poor job of it.
Overall for me, the film simply didn’t work. At best, it was boring. At worst, it was lazy. Of all of Zombie’s films, this might be the weak link. 4/10