The Lords of Salem (2012)
★ / ★★★★
After signing off from the air, Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a night DJ, is informed by the receptionist that there is a package waiting for her. It is a wooden box that contains a record. There is a note saying that it is from “The Lords” which Heidi and her co-worker, Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips), assume to be a band. Back in her apartment, the record is played. Heidi begins to feel tired and sick to her stomach just as the song starts playing. Despite this, the next night the song is broadcasted for everyone to hear and a handful of women are induced into some sort of catatonic state.
Written and directed by Rob Zombie, “The Lords of Salem” is a trial to sit through. While the first few minutes hint at a possible decent horror movie about witches and satanic rituals, there is not enough material in the screenplay to produce a full-length picture that is worthy of our time. A lot of the scenes run for too long which diminishes some of the tension generated by disgusting and disturbing images.
The writer-director has an eye for capturing snapshots that demand attention, from masked figures holding a woman down and putting a creature with tentacles inside of her to the darkly lit hallways of an old apartment complex. Because what we see on screen range from subtle less-is-more approach to ’70s drive-in gorefest, it is like peering into a house of horrors. Some of the camera angles employed are eye-catching, too. They complement Heidi’s increasing out-of-body experiences.
However, story-wise, though it tries, it fails to take off. As Heidi’s mind and body start to give into the effects of the record, two subplots arise. First, there is an author, Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), who has recently published a book about the infamous witch trials. He is convinced that there is something evil about the song and so he investigates. Second, Whitey suspects that the decline in Heidi’s health has something to do with her taking drugs again. As a friend, possibly more, he wishes to help her through it.
These two strands are underwritten and so when they are front and center, they feel forced. Neither Francis nor Whitey are interesting enough to be worth rooting for. Their subplots function pretty much like band-aids on and around an increasingly leaky story. The film might have been better without any subplot.
It is not short of overacting especially during the final twenty minutes. There is a lot of anger expressed through screeching, praying to Satan, characters looking directly to camera, and things of that sort. It felt silly, like I was watching a rehearsal for a play that is fated to bomb. And then the movie just ends.
“The Lords of Salem” is a music video stretched long enough to resemble a movie. Though it has some level of artistry when it comes to the visuals, the screenplay is a tired jambalaya of influences that were executed much better, bolder, and with more creativity in other work.