Film Review: “The Lords of Salem”

Merging “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Suspiria,” Zombie captures the look and tone of 70s era witch flicks.


“Witchcraft is nothing but a psychotic belief brought upon by a delusional state of mind.”

Review by David Feltman

In many ways, Rob Zombie’s fifth film does not feel anything like a Rob Zombie film. There’s no excessive profanity or gratuitous violence. There’s no witty one-liners or a blaring classic rock soundtrack. In fact, for the most part, one word could be used to describe “The Lords of Salem” that could never be used for any other Rob Zombie film: understated.

Sheri Moon Zombie plays an ex-junkie radio DJ of the wacky variety who only seems to discuss satanically themed books and music with her co-hosts. She receives a mysterious record by The Lords that, when played on air, has a strange effect on the local women.

The eponymous Lords, while evil looking, do nothing more criminal or sinister than express their love of Satan with late night naked bonfire jamborees, basically hosting an early version of the Burning Man Festival. The Lords are thus rather benign except for a curse the head witch placed on Moon Zombie’s bloodline to make her the devil’s baby mamma. Like the recent “Evil Dead” remake, the film draws a parallel between the curse and Moon Zombie’s struggle with sobriety. As the curse strengthens her resolve begins to fail.

Merging “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Suspiria,” Zombie captures the look and tone of 70s era witch flicks. Far more restrained than his past work, Zombie keeps the film at a slow burn. Instead of the typical raving maniacs, something as subtle as a single, slowly swinging lamp is used to build suspense. There are undeniable hints of Kubrick, Argento and even a little Raimi. Static, off-kilter camera angles and ploddingly slow tracking shots add to the unsettling mood. And the lighting buzzes and snaps in moments of high tension. The atmosphere is consistently thick with menace.

Zombie adopts the Giallo approach of style over substance, employing surrealistic images that are meant to be more impressionistic than to have any real significance to the plot. This ploy is often used to great effect, but the imagery is occasionally just absurd like the rubber midget fetus monster, the flopping lobster baby and the silhouetted sasquatch demon. The bulk of this goofiness doesn’t hit until the third act and may have been avoided entirely with tighter editing. But despite running out of gas at the finish line, “The Lords of Salem,” is an intriguing film that’s far more interesting than Zombie’s last album.

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