Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 3, 2013)
After a moderately successful career as a rock musician, Rob Zombie embarked on a change of pace: he became a moderately successful movie director. Actually, “moderately successful” might be a stretch, as Zombie’s movies tend to fare poorly at the box office. His résumé boasts one decent gross: 2007’s Halloween remake took in $58 million, which is more than respectable for a low-budget horror flick. Its sequel managed $33 million; again, that’s not a lot by Hollywood standards, but I’m sure the movie made a profit.
On the other end of the spectrum comes Zombie’s latest flick, 2013’s The Lords of Salem, which earned a microscopic $1.1 million in the US. Since the film cost only $1.5 million to make, it didn’t turn into a disaster; heck, after home video, the film might even find its way to a profit. But it’s still not what you call a promising development for Zombie’s career.
Halloween represents my sole screening of a Zombie film, so despite the poor reception given to Lords, I figured it was time to give him another look. In a prologue, we see a Satanic ritual from Ye Olden Dayes before we hop to the present time. We meet Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a DJ for a rock radio station where she pairs with Herman Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree). At the job, she receives a mysterious wooden box with a vinyl record in it.
Apparently from a band called “The Lords”, Heidi and Salvador spin the album and it produces a strange reaction from her, as it makes her disoriented and tired. She and the Hermans play it on the air the next day and inspire similar unusual behaviors among the women who hear it. From there we slowly learn more about “The Lords” and how their plan impacts Heidi.
Given that I thought Zombie’s Halloween was a pretty terrible film, I can’t say I came into Lords with high expectations. Nonetheless, I anticipated something better than this messy, sloppy, pointless excursion into genre idiocy.
Apparently Zombie took in many viewings of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, as he steals from them quite a bit. We see numerous stylistic rip-offs and other elements that reveal a substantial influence from those efforts.
Unfortunately, visual choices don’t make one Kubrick or Polanski. While I’m not a huge fan of The Shining, I’d take it eight days a week over this inane tripe. At his worst, Kubrick remained pretty good, while at his best, Zombie apparently can’t make anything better than “Z”-level schlock.
Lords starts poorly, as the Satanic ritual delivers no scares or chills; instead, it brings us campy laughs that signal the ridiculous journey we’ll soon take. Once that ends, we find seemingly endless shots of Heidi as she starts her day. Granted, I don’t particularly mind the long, lingering image of Heidi’s bare backside, but that shot – and subsequent visions of Heidi puttering around her apartment – serve no narrative purpose.
Zombie demonstrated this trait in Halloween as well. He apparently doesn’t possess a basic understanding of editing or pacing, as he likes scenes that run too long and offer nothing of value. Perhaps Zombie thinks these moments of quiet add to the shock of later scenes, but they don’t; instead, these lulls just come across as slow and pointless.
As also occurred during Halloween, Zombie produces large lapses in logic. For instance, why does Heidi’s rather mainstream radio station play the Lords’ atonal music? I get that its first airing exists as a joke, but then they continue to feature the album - and they even promote a concert from the band! Zombie likes his plot contrivances, as he’s happy to stretch logic to suit whatever overall narrative he hopes to advance.
None of this produces a coherent or even vaguely interesting movie. Indeed, Lords often plays like a parody, and maybe Zombie intended some of that, but I don’t often get that impression. I think Zombie believes he creates tales of eerie terror, not cringe-worthy laughfests.
Whatever Zombie’s intentions may have been, Lords winds up as a terrible movie. It wastes a cast with some interesting genre stalwarts like Foree and Dee Wallace, and it trashes a premise that came with theoretical promise. Outside of a quick and appealing nude shot of a woman about to shower, nothing good comes of this stinker.