Over the years I've had a pretty ridiculous love/hate relationship with Rob Zombie the filmmaker. Although more than a little derivative, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES thrilled me with its muck, violence, Dr. Satan "mythos," and nostalgic nods to decades past. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was a fun enough ride, but I'm still one of the few who favors its predecessor. His two attempts at the HALLOWEEN franchise did next to nothing for me, however, both are suitably brutal and (with the volume down to zero) make for wonderfully horrific eye candy. So when the filmmaker (thankfully) opted out of a BLOB remake and instead chose to adapt one of his "original" ideas, I was hopeful. It can't be denied that Zombie has a brilliant eye as well as a deep reverence for the films (and performers) he grew up frothing over; the bigger question is whether or not the man can build an interesting narrative that doesn't crib from too many places and has the desire to cobble together non-wince inducing dialogue (and a cast that can effectively deliver it). And for the record: I don't think Sheri Moon is an awful actress. Maybe she just lacks the range to carry bigger, more seriously emotive, roles. So, with those caveats in place, some trepidation also existed when THE LORDS OF SALEM found its way to my doorstep.
The film opens in 1696 with one Reverend Hawthorne writing in his journal about his desire to rid Salem of a group of witches. We're then shown said witches performing their satanic rituals before being transported to modern day Salem, Massachusetts. This is where the viewer is introduced to a woman named Heidi. As one third of a local radio gang she's a pretty groovy chick with an unfortunate drug addicted past. Once an old box from "The Lords" arrives at her radio station (addressed to her), things get freaky. Inside lies a record that when played (some pretty creepy ass music by the way) causes Heidi to see, hear, and feel some pretty, well, freaky things. To complicate matters, the DJ is also pretty sure that something strange lies in wait beyond apartment door number five (just down the hall from her home), which means her whole life is about to get a heck of a lot more complicated. Enter a mysterious landlady and her two "sisters," a writer well versed in the "Salem witches," and assorted ominously disfigured "figures" and we're off and running on a tale that puts the witches of 1696 Salem on a crash course with the Salem women of that today.
So, what was I looking for in THE LORDS OF SALEM? Haunting visuals, a semi-original spin on the whole Salem witch "thing," and a few knock out performances. What did I get? A few pseudo-haunting visuals, a "heart was in the right place" (yet) rather monotonous narrative, two very good performances, and a couple not so very bad. Yes, I know, I'm nitpicking. However, at this point, I want all this and so very much more from Zombie (a director who I honestly believe has "it," but just can't harness "it"). I'll be labeled a "hater," or worse, but THE LORDS OF SALEM did nothing for me. It was neither well, nor poorly, executed. It's total disregard for a coherent timeline, lack tension, absence of fear, or drama was balanced nicely at points by Bruce Davison (super believable), Meg Foster (creepy as all get out), and Jeff Daniel Phillips (a heartening anchor). And get this: Sheri Moon was pretty good throughout, until called upon to get too "serious." Yes, I rolled my eyes a few times during (what I felt were) some of the more self indulgent visual choices made and actually found the (much bitched and moaned about) ending to be quite apt. However, whether I'm expecting too much or simply not investing enough of myself, Zombie's steady decline in the genre continues. LORDS is by no means an awful film, it does, however, reinforce my suspicions that Zombie can certainly show us something cool, but is wholly incapable of doing any "telling." [5/10]
Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison