Rob Zombie is back with a slow burn psychological supernatural trip straight to the depths of hell. A melange of Kubrick, Polanski, Fulci and Argento Lords of Salem takes the deliberate pace of 70’s occult horror, layers on a thick coat of dread, and peppers everything with the dreamlike flow and outlandish imagery of the best of the euro-and in particular Italian- genre films.
The film deliberately leaves questions open about what is real and what is not as Zombie’s wife and muse Sherri Moon Zombie takes on the lead role of Heidi, a late night DJ at a local radio station. When she receives a strange new album from a band called the Lords, she decides to play it on the air unleashing terrifying visions upon her while capturing the attention of many of Salem’s residents. Does all of this link back to the burning of supposed satanic witch Margaret Morgan and her coven way back in the town’s dark days in the 1600’s? Much like the new Evil Dead remake, Lords of Salem presents its heroine as a somewhat broken substance abuse victim. In Evil Dead this caused plausibility in the rest of the cast doubting the protagonist’s claims. In Lords of Salem the effect is different. Since much of the film is presented from Heidi’s perspective we are left unsure of the reliability of the sights presented before us. Are we seeing supernatural revenge take its course, or witnessing the decline of a drug addled brain’s grip on reality?
The desolate haunted hallways of Heidi’s apartment building, shown in confusing odd angle shots that leave us questioning the geography, are a character of the film almost to the extent that the hotel is in Kubrick’s The Shining. In addition, the dizzying camerawork and richly detailed sets, right down to the odd wallpaper, recall the supernatural dread of Argento’s Suspiria. Those familiar with Zombie’s earlier films will find him veering away from the gruff trashy dialogue he is known for and this restraint works in the film’s favor. It still maintains the feeling of being of a Zombie work, but there is a more mature deliberate style at play here.
Zombie also being a succesful musician, it makes sense that the story hinges on a record album. Early on the film makes reference to the drama of the black metal scene and all the associated Norwegian melodrama. However this thread is soon turned on its head as the real orchestra of the damned turns out to something else entirely. Or does it? In the end, are we left with mass murders wrought of delusion, mass suicides encouraged through the power of suggestion, or true diabolical manifestation? Lords of Salem leaves no easy answers.
Lords of Salem is definitely a film that puts mood and atmosphere ahead of linear logic and narrative. As such it can be a difficult film to discuss in a linear manner and this review may seem more a stream of conscious flow. However, I believe that is the correct response to the film. It has been three days since I saw it and its imagery and ideas are still swirling in my mind. If you like horror that leaves you thinking and also leaves you with that deep-seated sense of unease, Lords of Salem is for you.