The Lords of Salem (2012)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #150

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 10 September 2012 (Toronto International Film Festival), 19 April 2013 (US)
Sub Genre: Supernatural/Occult
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $2,500,000
Box Office: $1,163,508 (USA)
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Rob Zombie
Producer: Rob Zombie, Andy Gould, Jason Blum, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
Special Make-Up Effects: Wayne Toth, Jared Guenther
Special Effects: Ron Trost
Visual Effects: Craig A. Mumma
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Score: Griffin Boice, John 5
Editing: Glenn Garland
Studio: Entertainment One, Automatik Entertainment, Haunted Films, IM Global, Blumhouse Productions
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Stars:  Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn, Ken Foree, Dee Wallace, María Conchita Alonso, Richard Fancy, Andrew Prine, Michael Berryman,  Sid Haig, Bonita Friedericy, Torsten Voges, Julian Acosta, Lisa Marie, Michael Shamus Wiles, Gabriel Pimentel, Roger W. Morrissey, John 5 and Piggy D as Butcher Olaf

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Suggested Audio Candy:

John 5 & Griffin Boice The Lords Theme

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Rob Zombie can’t seem to buy a break nowadays. Horror aficionados appear to enjoy nothing more than finding fault with his work while so-called ‘critics’ have long since become immune to his obvious charms as an auteur. It seems that he has been a victim of his own success, The Devil’s Rejects earned him plaudits but he then went on to tackle one of horror cinema’s most beloved franchises with his reboot of Halloween and consequent sequel.

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This is where Zombie’s luck began to change and not for the better. Whilst not entirely convinced of his treatment of Carpenter’s archetypal slasher, I am actually reasonably fond of his take. Clearly it had its work cut out and, on some levels, it didn’t quite cut the mustard but at least he tried to revamp its ailing fortunes. After the abysmal Halloween Resurrection the only way was up and, if nothing else, he gave The Shape a degree of credibility once more.

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Nevertheless it exposed certain frailties in his film-making style, most notably his refusal to budge from his own rigid stylings although one could argue that at least he showed the courage of his convictions, rather than compromising his style just to deliver what was expected of him. On many levels his reenactment worked, particularly in the first act where he provided us with back-story to Michael’s character.

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Was it necessary? In a recent tête-à-tête with a friend, she raised a rather relevant point. The whole allure of Myers was the fact that there was no real trigger for his psychosis and instead it was purely in his genetics so, by fleshing him out and giving him motive, his ambiguity was compromised somewhat. Fair point indeed and on some levels I’m in total agreement but the fact remains that he took a series which had long since run out of legs and gave it a fresh pair.

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His first outing since (excluding animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto) was always going to be met with a large slice of trepidation and indeed the knives were sharpened in some quarters before it even saw the light of day. The response was largely mixed although many found it clever to pick at his cinematic bones like vultures. These cock-slaves weren’t half as savvy as they thought as they missed the whole point of the exercise, delivering their damning indictment and consigning Zombie to their filmmakers blacklist in the process. Chump change the lot of ’em.

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The Lords of Salem is a far more thoughtful and measured movie than given credit for. It harks back to the Hammer and Amicus films of old and wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Witchery has been a mainstay of the genre for decades and stems back as far as 1922’s Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages by Benjamin Christensen. In that time there have been numerous approaches taken, from the equivocal to the downright blatant, and with massively varying degrees of success.

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Personally, witches get my dick hard most when remaining ambiguous, The Blair Witch Project being the perfect example of this approach at its most persuasive. There were no cackling wart-nosed cronies or CGI broomsticks and not even the faintest whiff of Mog. Our minds are the most robust tool when calculating the macabre and there is something about necromancy which strikes a chord. Zombie cottons onto that and the result is a piece of art which slithers underneath your epidermis and itches for some time afterwards.

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The opening scene sets the tone handsomely and remembers the lessons taught by 70s chase movie Race With The Devil, that being the ability to make witches scary as hell simply by getting them to prance deliriously around a blazing fire. One could be forgiven for presuming they are watching a film from 50 years passed, albeit with more naked flesh on parade (something which has become synonymous to his features). full marks for his introduction then and, as always, his credits are slick and memorable, but what of the remainder of his feature?

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It takes its sweet time building the mood and this is a correct decision on Zombie’s part. Showing his hand too soon would invariably have neutered the experience but he resists and restrains whilst his fable steadily unfurls before us. As is expected of his works the brazen audio and visual styles compliment one another like slugs and snails, creating an unease which he effortlessly maintains throughout.

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Spouse Sheri Moon-Zombie is offered leading role duties as Heidi Hawthorne and this polarized the so-called experts. Some misinformed muppets presumed this was a case of favoritism and this provokes a level of bitterness rarely seen in Keeper. Apologies in advance to those of a more velvety disposition but this outburst needs stating.

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To all those obtuse cunting whores disillusioned enough to believe your own hype, fuck you. Fuck you all right in those clenched assholes with the cock of a goat. You sour-faced infidels, may you awaken in cauldrons of boar-phlegm with your eyes callously plucked out by glutenous ravens. Punk-assed bitches.

 

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There I’ve said it, how very dare they find fault which simply doesn’t exist, purely through bias and the sourest of grapes. Needless to say, Sheri provides an excellent turn as the late-night radio DJ who, along with co-hosts Whitey and Herman, uncovers a piece of vinyl from a bizarre cult named The Lords and commences to play the living hell out of it.

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Her sidekicks are played by the immensely promising Jeff Daniel Phillips and screen legend Ken Foree and, not for the first time, Zombie gets the chemistry spot-on. Their banter is totally organic and the resulting connection forged pooh-poohs any negativity slung its way. As Heidi, Moon-Zombie supplies us a protagonist we care for and her decline into madness is adeptly handled via both a smart script and her unequivocal acting chops.

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Veteran Bruce Davison also lends credence to proceedings as philanthropic author Francis Matthias who, sensing that Beelzebub may well be The Lords’ agent, takes it upon himself to prod around for breadcrumbs. Genuinely affable, his character is aided by a warm supporting turn by Maria Conchita Alonso as his doting wife.

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Stalwarts Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn are devilishly good as a gaggle of interfering neighbors whose intentions become clearer as events play out. Meg ‘Peepers’ Foster and Barbara Crampton also make welcome appearances, whilst Zombie regulars Sid Haig and Michael Berryman enjoy small cameos. Once again this proves his clout as both a filmmaker and resurrector of fading careers. Make no error however, Sheri  is the center-point here and she takes this sturdy weight upon her shoulders with great aplomb.

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There are a number of anti-celestial phantasms throughout and they are handled with the deft touch of a safe pair of feelers. There is an air of foreboding which splurges through every frame in these instances, with the effective use of color, particularly deep red, lending to crafting some really oppressive hell-visions. There is also a marvelous scene in a chapel which highlights the magnitude of Heidi’s plight ferociously.

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Anybody expectant of wide-scale cataclysm will come away disappointed. Keeper however, did not. It plays on a small, intimate scale and never once attempts to be anything other than a parable of humble leanings. This, in itself, should be applauded as it shows that Zombie makes films primarily that he desires to make rather than bowing to expectation. Salem’s modest theatrical run shows that this is not a movie for mass-audiences and more a labor of love.

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So how does it fare against Rejects? It is preposterous to even attempt a comparison as doing so would be to pit a polio-ridden David against a posse of gnarling Goliaths. The more astute approach would be to consider this an entirely different entity and consider its own merit. There have been murmurs of this being the last horror flick Zombie makes (for the foreseeable at least) and this would sadden my soul. Truth is, his vitality has not flickered and there are few more dependable Horror filmmakers on the contemporary circuit.

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I’m even willing to overlook Halloween II’s Loomis abomination as he has more than made up for any foibles after gifting us another stellar example of a man with a well-worked plan. The Lords of Salem may or may not rock your world but if you enter with realistic expectations you’re unlikely to rue giving it the time of day.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Not the all-out splatter-fest some may be expectant of, there is no real requisite for visceral lashings of grue and dread is the name of the game here. Having said that, there are moments of grotesque imagery which more than leave their mark.

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Read House of 1000 Corpses Appraisal

Read The Devil’s Rejects Appraisal

Read Halloween (2007) Appraisal

Read Halloween II (2009) Appraisal

 

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8 Comments

  1. It didn’t always work, but it definitely did keep a strange, freaky atmosphere to it and for that, worked a lot better than most of what Zombie’s done in the past. Good review.

  2. It was a very interesting watch. I think I need to watch it again to get a full understanding (if that is possible) of what Zombie was trying to get across but I did find it captivating the first time I watched it. I love his movies aren’t really obvious, there is an under layer to everything. When the movie first started I was like “not Sherie again” but by 20 minutes in I knew no one else could have experienced the role like she did. I truly hope this isn’t his last horror endeavor 🙁

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