Rob Zombie is one of horror’s most contentious directors. Critics (and many horror fans) deplore him for cheapening the genre to the level of crass exploitation, while his admirers love him for exactly the same reason.
Whatever your opinion, you might be surprised by The Lords Of Salem. It is another dark story in which Zombie’s love of modern classics (ranging from Eighties splatter films to Sixties Hammer horror flicks) shines through. Many of the familiar visual motifs are present (burning crucifixes, sacrificial goats, a cast of veteran scream queens). However – in a move that might disappoint his fans – The Lords Of Salem gives the impression that Zombie is starting to mature as a filmmaker.
The gruesome and fast-paced violence of his 2007 Halloween remake and its sequel is replaced by a slow, controlled thriller in which it takes an hour before someone is finally killed. It is less Wes Craven, and more Dario Argento and, to an extent, David Lynch.
The story (and yes, story plays a bigger role than before) is set in Salem, Massachusetts, where a coven of witches is burned alive by a lynch mob. 300 years later, Heidi (played by Zombie’s wife and regular leading lady, Sheri Moon Zombie) is a DJ at a local rock station who receives a strange wooden box containing a vinyl record by a group called the Lords.
Though it initially plays backwards, mysteriously making her suffer previous traumas, it later becomes a hit with listeners. The town is basically hypnotised, with the womenfolk seemingly being taken over by demonic forces, and the witches are awakened.
While it’s a relatively slow burn and the storyline is both confusing and contrived (complete with shades of everything from Rosemary’s Baby to the Bette Midler comedy Hocus Pocus), this is perhaps Zombie’s most chilling movie so far, if not his most horrific. Sorry, Zombie fans, but this suggests a new direction.
His next movie (an ice hockey biopic!) might remove any lingering doubt.