Monday, 11 March 2013

The Lords of Salem: Coming to Haunt Your Nightmares


I have been posting on here an awful lot about Rob Zombie's latest original effort, The Lords of Salem, not just for the past week, but for about a year and a half, since before it went in to production. The other night I gave my one word review, and now I will attempt to scratch the surface on this intense modern day macabre masterpiece.


Sheri Moon Zombie plays a radio DJ who unintentionally exposes the masses of Salem, Massachusetts (of the Salem witch trials fame) to an ancient curse when she plays a mysterious record on air. Sheri herself is affected and experiences strange hallucinations. It really is a simple story of an ancient curse accidentally being unleashed, and the modern day townsfolk being haunted by the mistakes of their ancestors. 

Let me tell you, it is a film you will either love or hate. There is no middle ground. Me? I think it is the best horror film of the year so far.


There was an audible divergence in audience opinion when the lights came up at the end, but I couldn't even stand up for a moment. It was just such a mind-blowingly fulfilling experience. So many films I was looking forward to recently have been complete letdowns, but if like me, you like the work of Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci, watch this film. Obviously intentionally, The Lords of Salem hearkens back to the classic Italian films that took a simple idea, convoluted it, and complimented it with stunning images. Some people have complained that The Lords of Salem is difficult to follow. It's not. It's just so unusual that a film can be so good without having to resort to Rube Goldberg-style plots (see pretty much every big film of the last decade). Films like Suspiria, The Beyond or House by the Cemetery have shockingly simple plots when you boil it all down, but the filmmakers went to different, visual areas to excite the audience, something of a lost art these days. 


Essentially, The Lords of Salem is a modern day expressionist horror film under the guise of exploitation (just like all the classic Italian) and for anyone who is into that world, this is unmissable. Does it make sense? To anyone who has ever had a nightmare, yes. Yes it does. Are you the sort who is building up their Arrow Video or Blue Underground collection? This film was made for you. Many lesser Italian horrors, like Michele Soavi's The Church, had stunningly visceral images, but narrative-wise, always felt muddled. The Lords of Salem is the film that delivers on those films promises that they could never fulfill.

My cohort, Living Dead Girl (who wrote a great review here) said she could see fanboy excitement (not THAT kind of excitement, you sicko) on my face while I watched the film. I'm not surprised. The film was a wet dream come to life. I didn't think I'd see a film like it again, where horror is becoming more and more bland. But this film worked for me on every level. Sure, it drags a bit at one point (how many times do we need to track down the hallway, eh?) but that is a minor quibble. I have never been a fan of Sheri Moon's acting, but she pulls off the character so well, and my heart broke for her as she went further into the descent. I had also been worried the witches performances would seem silly in context, but again, no. They were great. I sold the film to my girlfriend as something akin to Ken Russell's The Devils (how many girlfriends would take that as a good thing??), and she enjoyed the heck out of it too. 


It is an intense film, not for the popcorn crowd. The first reel of the film had me on edge to the extent I was worried it might all be too much, but it is in total control, playing off your nerves. There are some memorable, but borderline ridiculous images, and it is the kind of film that if you go in ready to mock, you won't enjoy it. You have to be ready to let it take you for the ride, and let me tell you, it is a trip worth taking. The world feels real, it looks like a painting, and John 5's work on the score and the witches song are just perfect (channeling the work of composer Fabio Frizzi). Too often, music is very of its time. Not here. This score will give people the willies decades from now.

And let me be frank, this film will be watched decades from now. 

It is going to divide audiences now, but just like people now look back at Fulci with reverence, so will people look back at Rob Zombie and The Lords of Salem and say 'now THAT was a horror film'.