It has become apparent that horror films, independent or not, have had a general stigma in the last several years as being a genre that can only boast retreaded themes and overused clichés. Though this perspective is not accurate, there are many out there still propagating the stereotype. This point brings us to a individual in particular: Rob Zombie. His status as a musician has never been personally questioned (I happen to be a big fan of his work in that regard), but his status as a horror director will always be contested. When the first preview for Zombie’s 2012 feature LORDS OF SALEM premièred it was as if Stanley Kubrick had decided to direct THE WICKER MAN. And though this first impression would return periodically, especially during the film’s resolution, the one thought that was constant was that this again solidifies the fact that Rob Zombie is not a good director, nor a screenwriter.
Ever since his debut with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, Rob Zombie’s name has been a major personal deterrent. Not a single film in his current filmography boasts truly anything either original or competent. This is saddening due to the fact this feature actually had promise. The idea of witches has been played out in cinema since its inception in the late 1890s, however it follows the idea that there are no original ideas. Though this may be true in the overall scope of filmmaking, there is an amendment to the rule that must exist: There are no original ideas, only original adaptations of those ideas. And this is what audiences hoped against hope when sitting down to watch LORDS OF SALEM.
From the very beginning of the film, it was apparent not only that the pacing was going to be excruciatingly jumbled, focus and retention was to be near impossible with the inconsistency of the editing but that this film had no idea what it was supposed to be. There as too much going on at once, simultaneously accomplishing nothing at all. The story constantly jumps back and forth between past events and present day, as well as delusions and reality. Though this is done with masterful hands in scores of other films and television series, this is never pulled off effectively or even remotely understandably in this movie.
The mess of rapid images and convoluted plots make the film not only a confusing, scare-less and annoying sit, the finish of the movie grants no interest to the audience in wanting to understand the warped imagery or the constant montage sequences that seem to struggle for metaphor. And with these surreal elements, we are treated to a film that is told straight forward as a classic ghost or witch-hunt story. This doesn’t work. It is a film that wants the audience to react a certain way, trying every possible route to achieve it, and ends up accomplishing nothing at all.
Though the score is actually quite skilled at crawling under the spectator’s skin (the only constant highlight of the majority of Zombie’s films), and the performances by many of the actors (notably Bruce Davison, Meg Foster and Judy Geeson) are actually pretty convincing and involved, despite the unconvincing and overwrought screenwriting. The art direction is very stylized and intriguing, playing along with the film’s (surprisingly) well-crafted cinematography. It seems that Zombie has a knack for bringing talented people together to work on his films, but does not have the skill nor the insight required into the medium to execute their talents for filmmaking and design effectively.
While the possibilities that could have been quite ripe if given a lot of time to mature, it says to me that Rob Zombie should have taken the George Lucas route with this film; meaning serving as producer and creator of the story on the film, offering creative suggestions and guiding the characterization as the film progressed. If this position was taken with well-grounded people in the medium taking up the writing and directing reigns, it could have been something special. Off the cuff, Panos Cosmatos would have been an ideal director, as this film’s esthetic (if kept a mainly surreal film instead of the mess it is) is very close to the director’s debut effort BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. Anthony DiBlasi would have been a good choice as a writer/director, his films (namely Clive Barker’s DREAD) hold close to the attitude of the subject matter. And to finish with a triad of good genre moviemakers, namely the film MAY and the MASTERS OF HORROR episode “SICK GIRL”, all scream out Lucky McKee as an ideal choice.
Whatever could have become of the film or whatever it currently is, the film is a hodgepodge of spiraling plots (with some leading nowhere at all, or are forgotten entirely), confusing editing (footage and sound) and a decent score. This film is something only for true masochistic horror fans (not even fans of bad movies). Not masochistic for reasons of the film being an endurance test due to its content (such as CANNIBAL HOLOCOUST and A SERBIAN FILM), but in the sense that your brain will be punishing you for sitting through LORDS OF SALEM due it is unbelievable ineptitude to accomplish anything at all.