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Review: ‘The Lords of Salem’

Look To The Supporting Cast For Fun

Above: Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, and Judy Geeson are by far the best part of Rob Zombie's "The Lords of Salem."

Rob Zombie makes me so mad. He teased me with “The Devil’s Rejects” but has failed to live up to the potential of that film with anything since. “The Lords of Salem” (opened April 19 throughout San Diego) is his latest.

Horror is not an easy genre. People think it is. That’s why we get a lot of bad horror. But to actually make a good horror film -- one that scares you or disturbs you or takes you someplace dark – that is rare. Zombie made that rare film with “The Devil’s Rejects” in 2005. It was a throwback to 70s indie horror with a decidedly anti-establishment and nihilistic tone. It was unapologetic and dark. But with each new Zombie film I see, I am beginning to feel that was just a fluke.

“The Lords of Salem” is a disappointment although I will give it credit for failing in more interesting ways than the “Halloween” films he’s been doing. The story revolves around Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie, don’t get me started), a DJ who gets what she thinks is an album from an indie band called The Lords. Of course it’s evil and once played it awakens a coven of witches and all hell breaks loose. Well sort of. It’s a very quiet and kind of boring hell. The film feels like Zombie’s attempt to make an art house horror film that borrows the slow tracking shots and zooms of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” to create an antidote to his frenzied “Halloween” gorefests.

So I credit him for trying something different. But the script goes nowhere and focusing on his wife Sheri Moon Zombie is a mistake (she’s okay in supporting roles as in “The Devil’s Rejects” but she CANNOT carry a film). The film looks like a bad music video for one of his songs. It never develops a story or characters that hook us and it never delivers scares or horror of any kind.

My one compliment, though, is that Zombie seems to be a true fan of genre films and that comes through at odd moments. There’s a giant image from the Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon” as well as some Luchadors, clips from old Universal horror films play on the TV, and his casting for supporting roles is a clever who’s who of cult cinema. You can find Sid Haig (“Spiderbaby”), the late Richard Lynch (“Scarecrow”), Udo Kier (of Andy Warhol fame), Meg Foster (“They Live,” “Masters of the Universe”), Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator”), Judy Geeson (“To Sir, With Love”), Dee Wallace (“The Howling”), Bruce Davison (“Willard”), Patricia Quinn (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), and of course Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”). And the casting is often inspired. Having the adorable Dee Wallace (remember what a cute werewolf she made in “The Howling” and she was the sweet mom in “E.T.”) teamed with Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn as the revived coven of witches was great. If the film had been about them, the film might have been good. The actresses tackles their roles with gusto, probably enjoying a chance to be bad. As with Quentin Tarantino, Zombie reveals an affection and appreciation for genre and exploitation cinema and reminds us of those great traditions by coming up with clever casting.

“The Lords of Salem” (rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use) is utterly ho-hum. And that might be the most offensive thing you can be if you are making a horror film outside of Hollywood. Zombie claims this will be his last horror film. His next project will be about sports. Here’s what he said in an recent interview with Gold Derby: ““Horror movies are so looked down upon, it’s almost insane. Not by the people who love them, but by the studios, and by the actors. Sometimes you’ll see an actor who’ll be in a horror movie on some talk show, and they keep trying to change the subject. They’re so embarrassed by it. That’s why I use some of the same people: they love it, whereas sometimes the agents won’t even tell their clients about it.” Too bad he has given up so easily on a genre he seems to love and seems to have had the gift for at least once.

Companion viewing: “The Devil’s Rejects,” “Curse of the Demon,” “Haxan,” “Suspiria,” “Black Sunday” (1960)

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