Damn you, Rob Zombie, damn you. It's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to fall while stretching beyond your normal reach, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating when the end result is such a mess. I always think that a discussion of any Rob Zombie movie somehow requires an opening statement making clear exactly where I stand on the filmography of the man. I loved House Of 1000 Corpses and I loved The Devil's Rejects, and then it started to slip and slide downhill. I actually enjoyed the Halloween remake and I thought The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto was as hilarious as it was juvenile. It all started to go wrong with Halloween II (which I still gave a respectable 6/10). The Lords Of Salem is, without a doubt, his worst movie. The fact that it's so unoriginal isn't a problem. The other movies that he's done have all allowed Zombie to wear his influences on his sleeve. It's the fact that is so unoriginal without his own twist on the material, the fact that it's so visually inept and ugly and the fact that it's just inexcusably dull from start to finish. Zombie shows no progression whatsoever as an artist, and has actually gone backwards since his fantastic debut feature.
The story is all about a radio DJ named Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who receives a record from a mystery band, simply calling themselves "the lords". When she plays the record she starts to feel funny, eventually experiencing strange visions that may be flashbacks to more violent time in Salem's dark history. Her colleagues (played by Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree) don't really notice anything unusual initially, but as things get worse they start to worry that Heidi has gone back to a drug habit after a long period of being clean. The one person who starts to piece things together is Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), a bit of an expert in the local history. Unfortunately, Heidi is soon being "looked after" by three women (Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn) and she seems to be heading towards some big trouble.
There are some individual, good moments in The Lords Of Salem. It's not an irredeemable disaster, and it's not something that I'll refuse to ever rewatch, but those overlooking the many major flaws to praise it as Rob Zombie's homage to Euro-horrors are setting a lot of future newcomers up for a big fall. Zombie himself described it (in this clip) "as if Ken Russell directed The Shining" and mentions Polanski as another influence. He's not actually far off the mark, but none of those filmmakers would have a transition quite as clumsy as the sequence that introduces Heidi's place of work and colleagues and treats the audience like hyperactive children. Frustratingly, he shows in some other shots that he can do much better. Some moments do have a nice, controlled approach to both the shot composition and camera movement, but it's usually not long until he slips back into his old habits.
A lot of detractors of the film, or Zombie in general, have been quick to criticise Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role. She's not that bad. Indeed, none of the actors (many of whom are firm favourites among horror fans, surprise surprise) do a bad job. Geeson, Wallace and Quinn, in particular, provide the most fun and seem to attack their roles with relish. Meg Foster also appears in a small, but vital, role and Sid Haig and Michael Berryman put in cameo appearances.
The soundtrack is pretty good, with one or two standout tracks, and the quality of the sound design serves as a reminder that this is a film from a man who knows what he's doing by now (in terms of the basic technical aspects, at least).
I enjoyed a few scenes, I was impressed by one or two creepy moments and in the first half hour of the film I was hoping that it would improve and build to something truly memorable. That didn't happen. The fact that it all came so completely undone didn't make me angry, it just left me disappointed. Other people already gave up on Rob Zombie a few years ago, but I keep giving him one more chance. I know that he's capable of some great stuff. The Lords Of Salem sees him trying hard to refute that.