THE LORDS OF SALEM
After finishing Halloween II, Zombie vacillated between a number of projects including a film called Tyrannosaurs Rex and a remake of The Blob (1958) but eventually settled on The Lords of Salem. Here Zombie comes with the backing of Oren Peli, the director of Paranormal Activity (2007) who has become a considerable force within horror in recent years, acting as producer on a number of other horror projects, including Insidious (2010), The Bay (2012), Chernobyl Diaries (2012) and a host of Paranormal Activity sequels, as well as Jason Blum who formed Blumhouse, which has become a ubiquitous name in horror in the 2010s, producing the Paranormal Activity sequels, and the Insidious and The Purge series, among a great many others.
The Lords of Salem comes as a surprise. It feels like Rob Zombie has made a concerted effort to trim back on the lunging in-your-face rawness and determination to shock of his earlier films and go for something unexpected (at least as far as his oeuvre is concerned) namely, atmosphere. He takes his time in the build-up. Zombies wife Sherri Moon Zombie plays the lead and gives us a reasonable portrait of a rock chick. Zombie slowly takes in the things happening around her and develops a modestly sinister atmosphere the unoccupied apartment down the end of the hall, dead figures appearing unnoticed in Sherris apartment, unnaturally moving light fittings in the hallway, the friendly sinister neighbours. It is the fact that Rob Zombie needs to perk proceedings up with shock effects like pulling back to reveal a scene is a dream like a priest in a church forcing Sherri Moon Zombie to give him a blowjob in a pew or she having nightmares of giving birth that show just how bloodless and quiet the proceedings here are in comparison to anything else Rob Zombie has done.
There are several ways that The Lords of Salem could have gone the goings-on at the apartment give the impression of a haunted house story for a time; the reappearances of the witches and the curse suggest a witchs retribution film along the lines of City of the Dead (1959), Black Sunday (1960) and sundry 1970s tv movies; while the conspiring cabal of peoples remind one of Rosemarys Baby (1968) and a host of early 1970s occult copies. The problem with The Lords of Salem is that after a reasonable build-up, Rob Zombie only reveals that he has a weak hand of cards. What The Lords of Salem eventually transpires as is another Rosemarys Baby copy, where it feels like the slim and ordinary basics have been amplified by Zombies pretensions to making something more significant. In any other story say something like The Devils Daughter (1971), To the Devil a Daughter (1976) or Alisons Birthday (1979), which feature heroines pegged for occult sacrifice the basics would be pumped up with more in the way of sinister and ambiguous happenings, ancillary deaths, doubts about the people around the heroine. By contrast here, very little ends up happening. We get a handful of the old staples an occult piece of music, the character of the expert uncovering obscure information, a few sinister visions and apparitions and not much else. Certainly, what must be said is that one of the best aspects of the film is the trio of old dears who are Sherris neighbours, played by Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace who mix upper-class British accents and an obsession with manners and cups of tea with a sharply tart threat of considerable impact. Yet having created a film that seems posed to go somewhere, Rob Zombie instead peters out to a non-ending where Sherri Moon is claimed in a transcendent ceremony, followed by the coda of a news report that tells how everybody present has been killed and she is missing. It feels like a film that constantly promises to do something horrific but falters in ever opening the box.
The one thing that Rob Zombies films manage is an amazing cast of genre veterans and forgotten actors with a genre history. Included here are Bruce Davison, famous as the title character in Willard (1971) and a respectable character actor in the last couple of decades; Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead (1979) as one of Sherris co-djs; Meg Foster, from films like They Live (1988), Stepfather II (1989) and Shrunken Heads (1994) as the principal witch; Judy Geeson, the British actress from films like Berserk (1967), 10 Rillington Place (1971), Hammers Fear in the Night (1972) and the ultra-schlocky Inseminoid (1981); Patricia Quinn, alias Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975); Dee Wallace who has a long genre career in films like The Howling (1980), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Cujo (1983), among many others; Andrew Prine who appeared in a number of 1970s horror films such as Simon, King of the Witches (1971), Barn of the Naked Dead (1974), Grizzly (1976), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and The Evil (1978) as the prosecuting reverend in the flashbacks; Maria Conchita Alonso from The Running Man (1987) and Total Recall (1990) as Bruce Davisons wife; as well as Zombie regular Sid Haig and Michael Berryman, the strange bald guy from The Hills Have Eyes (1977) in parts that one was unable to identify.