When it reaches momentum, the film’s main antagonist–leader of a coven whose blasphemous music brings inescapable doom (very timely, huh?)–named Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster), emerges, bare-naked, calling upon the film’s protagonist. “Bleed us a king,” she drones in her retched voice. It’s a silly (and perhaps a merely tired) thing to perceive, and with it you start to allow the idea that “The Lords of Salem” is one of those films merely designed to épater les bourgoeis. You’ll give it a few moments, which it earned, until you reach the otherwise dissatisfying climax, where symbolic if disorienting imagery shake you into consciousness, and you change your mind (full disclosure: I admit to experiencing this). It’s actually a great film, its minor faults aside.
“Bleed us a king,” Satan’s minion repeats in greater intensity; perhaps in greater hate, perhaps in sheer devilry. Our protagonist just stands there frozen, her wooden expression accentuated to excesses. She’s not a great actress, Ms. Sheri Moon Zombie, but enough to get us somewhere. Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”) has always had a knack of obligating both the audience and his spouse to meet from either sides of the screen, and frankly, it’s not much of an issue. After all, she’s not the film’s main attraction. It’s Rob Zombie himself.
“The Lords of Salem,” barrowing distinguished tones from Dario Argento, William Friedkin, Stanley Kubrick and Roland Polanski, becomes his ticket to being a recognized auteur. His critically dismissed “Halloween” remakes didn’t bring him much since his original works “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” which, both shared incoherence, and thus, were also (though only fairly) negatively received. Since then, it has been the typical case of “like him or don’t” for directors; Zombie drawing a considerable following from the ocean-deep of genre fans. I stress that this film will turn things for the better for him; it’s the kind that you–should you be in its intended audience–have been waiting Zombie to make, and that you–should you be otherwise–will convert you to being the former.
His atmospherics have also improved (hints of “Paranormal Activity”-creator Oren Peli are present here) along with his overall work. There are, of course, the putrid sneaky shocks, (it’s a genre staple, I guess?), littering mostly the former half of the film, but Zombie knew better now: there has actually been refined, on-the-spine chill-moments toward the film’s latter half. Much of this sense of fraught is engendered by his technically proficient sound design and his great use of music. Of course, to those who have seen “Rosemary’s Baby” will predict the film’s conclude, and perhaps, “The Lords of Salem” can’t even the scores, but then, it doesn’t seem to exist for that purpose.
Rob Zombie, you see, merely brings a Tarantino-like horror picture–an exercise of skill and homage to the films we all love.
RATING: 3 stars (out of 4)