A near-catatonic woman stares with vacant eyes at the glorious architecture of the priory before her. The walls, their details and paintings stand illuminated by the garish glow of a blue neon light which reads, "Jesus Saves" in large, pulsing letters. Without warning, a collection of nude, animal-masked bodies enter her chamber as the maws of hell seem to open. One and all fall victim to the Hades gnashing before them as it hungrily devours each and every soul. Flashes of horror strike the eyes while the ears are gouged by the cries of beasts. . . And dwelling near it all. . . Is a dildo. Did I mention that before? Oh yeah, because there is one. . . A sort-of red dildo. . . Two actually. If nothing but that last phallic object stuck out to you then, by all means, keep readin', you're in the right place!
Heidi (Sheri-Moon Zombie) is a DJ. She's a DJ that likes classic rock, heavy-metal and shooting the shit with her buddies. She's also haunted. . . Quite haunted. Y'see, after she receives and plays a strange record from a band simply dubbed, "The Lords", she begins to hallucinate and experience otherworldly entities and shocks. Is it her drug-filled past coming back for her or is it something far worse? What follows is an homage to horror's directorial icons like Dario Argento and other cult-classics like THE SENTINEL, that seeks to emulate what they accomplished while attributing its own twisted ideas into the mix. Sadly, for all it does right, LORDS OF SALEM is ultimately undone by its own filmmaker's lapse into incompetence.
While LORDS OF SALEM is a far more sustained effort than Zombie's previous efforts, it nonetheless retains a plethora of the director's staple maneuvers such as surreal, off-kilter visuals; explicitly disturbing content; and of course, Sheri-Moon Zombie and her even more famous ass. However, the biggest change herein is the director's focus on atmosphere over graphic violence. Initially, the film builds a foundation on slow-burn storytelling with a smattering of ghostly horror and subtle shocks that successfully smother the narrative in a thick layer of dread. The epilogue's coven of nude women left me skeptical for sure, but what Zombie began cooking in this demonic stew definitely had me enthralled to see where it would all ultimately go. The juxtaposition between the dimly-lit corridors of Heidi's home and that of the glorious domestics of classically-styled abattoirs and cathedrals make for some genuinely intense sequences, aided all the more by the monstrosities which creep out from their dark corners.
Furthering the palpable apprehension is the truly unsettling sound design and music on display. Unlike his previous forays into horror, Zombie seemed to actually want the audience to pity the protagonist and care for her plight. The original score parallels her internal conflicts with solemn melodies before shaking the viewer into a state of fear with the Lord's theme itself. . . A dissonant, ear-prying track of queasiness. Every time the throbbing drum beat and screeching slides of a violin bow struck, I knew I was in for something lurid, macabre and cringe-inducing. It's fantastic to say the least; a horror film that genuinely makes you feel as though you're experiencing terror and abhorrence rather than simply watching it. Unlike, gore-fueled endeavors like SAW 3-7 or cash-ins like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2-4, THE LORDS OF SALEM is a classically structured tale of terror that obsesses over establishing mood rather than forcing obvious, red-stained slog down the viewer's throat. For the first and second acts, LORDS OF SALEM is a work of art-house horror that saturates each frame in a thick coat of apprehension. I picked up what Zombie was putting down and dug the hell out of it. . .
And then the last act happened. . . And shattered every positive going for it. . .
During the final sprint to the finish, LORDS OF SALEM becomes so slapdash and ridiculous with its content and imagery that I couldn't help but turn around and look at the audience around me with a stunned expression. I thought, "Was I the only person seeing this!?" At several points across the final thirty minutes I literally laughed out-loud at the unbelievably hilarious conventions laid before me. I mean, I'm not a dick, nor was I trying to ruin anyone's time, but I genuinely found it all fucking comedic. It's nearly impossible for me to describe the situations that had me slack-jawed and guffawing, but let's just say that, from the point the midget-baby-monster thrashes tentacles about before matching the musical beats to each step he takes--I simply couldn't stop belting out laughs. And that's not even considering the last five minutes which feature--wait for it--mummy-esque priests stroking dildos. . . I shit you not. In complete seriousness, I felt as though I was watching Rob Zombie by way of TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW GREAT JOB! I'm sorry, but I could take none of the "WTF" imagery serious whatsoever. Priests and dildos are not scary. A girl riding on top of a stuffed ram is not scary. A girl bumping and grinding a Marylin-Manson look-alike is not scary--nor is any of it weird. Well, it is weird, but not in a significant and compelling way. It's all just weird in a, "Who fucking thought any of this was interesting, frightening, button-pushing or good!?" Honestly, I'd push everyone to watch the last fifteen or so minutes just so you can stare in awe at the profoundly stupid way in which this movie comes crashing down. This hysterical hysteria buckles THE LORDS' knees; the plot-holes and unexplained coincidences deliver the death blow. It's one thing to confuse the viewer with self-indulgent imagery and themes; it's another to drag them along for an hour and a half before foregoing all logical structure. By the last few shots, Zombie had turned all of my interest violently against me with a broken, ill-written story that abandons all reason with the kind of pretentious tripe that ONLY the person who created it would understand. Making a film for yourself is a great thing, but when you purposefully develop something for the masses but craft it in an impenetrable way--that's an injustice of the medium. Don't get me wrong, I "get" where the story went, but the "why" was completely missing from the puzzle.
After the film's premiere ended, Rob Zombie took his throne and performed a brief Q/A for the crowd. What followed were fanatics jerking off on his "art"; asking the typical question any fan-boy would ask for fear their master might beat them if they didn't. In an ostentatious manner, Zombie addressed the questions by dancing around answers instead of, y'know, actually just answering them. Not a soul asked what the hell he was thinking of when he thought it was alright to plaster misinformed imagery across the screen; why the last act was a hole-ridden affair; why nothing came of the apocalyptic stakes. . . Knowing my questions would remain unanswered and understanding I'd be viewed as a "villain" with my vituperative standpoints, I left.
While I'm still looking forward to his next project, I can't help but be disappointed with LORDS OF SALEM as it was a cinematic event oozing with potential. Zombie was given full-reign over his material, Sheri-Moon finally began getting into her role for once and the visuals and audio were downright fantastic. . . Until the end, that is. From the last act onward, LORDS is simply a short-film for Zombie himself. It's permissive and so self-entitled that it comes off as cheap, absurd and absolutely comical. There was a great movie in here, but it was buried under the weight of Zombie's own hubris.