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The Lords of Salem (2013)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/3/2013

All Ratings out of 
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/30/2013

There was a running gag on 30 Rock which dealt with Tracy Morgan's character wanting to be an "EGOT", that is, someone who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. While this was funny for that character, there are definitely people in the entertainment industry who want to be hyphenates, or even multi-hyphenates. While most are focused on honing their craft, these individuals want to be recognized for their achievements in more than one realm. Rob Zombie first gained notoriety as the leader of the rock outfit White Zombie, before he began a solo music career. In 2003, he transitioned into the world of movies as he directed House of 1000 Corpses. Since that time, he has split his career between the two. However, his latest outing, The Lords of Salem, shows that it may be time to head back to music for good.

Sheri Moon Zombie (I wonder how she got the part) stars in The Lords of Salem as Heidi, a DJ at a rock station in Salem, Massachusetts. She does a night-time show with Herman "Whitey" Salvador (Jeffrey Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree) which mixes music and comedy. Heidi lives alone in an apartment and is friendly with her landlord, Lacy (Judy Geeson). One day, a box addressed to Heidi arrives at the radio station. It is from "The Lords" and it contains a record. Heidi takes the record home and plays it, causing her to have visions and suffer a headache. So, she decides to play it on the air. The music has an effect on every woman in the audience. As it turns out, local with researcher Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) is in the studio that day, and he begins to research the music. As it turns out, this is no ordinary record -- It is all part of a curse set forth by Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster) (who I thought was Brad Dourif at first), a witch who was burned in Salem in the 1600s.

Before The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie was batting .500 as a director. House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel, The Devil's Rejects, were clearly informed by violent movies of the 70s, especially The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Zombie was able to create tension and a response from the audience in both movies, with the latter film being especially harrowing. His remake of Halloween and its sequel also got a reaction of the audience -- one of revulsion at someone not only taking on a classic of the genre, but also making two really, really bad movies. So, the question was, where would Zombie go with his fifth film? Would it be something misguided like the Halloween movies, or something where he was trying to once again establish his own voice?

The good news is that Zombie is trying something somewhat new with The Lords of Salem, but the bad news is that it fails on nearly every front. He has shied away from the rural "white trash" feel of this previous movies and gone for a story which is set in a city and has a more modern feel. Having said that, Zombie clearly wants to evoke early Roman Polanski and 70 EuroHorror here, most notably in the production design and with some elements of the story.

To his credit, Zombie does an OK job with some of the visuals here, but when it comes to the narrative, the movie is a complete mess. As news about the film began to trickle out, there were stories which addressed how some actors were cut from the movie. Once one sees The Lords of Salem, these kind of stories aren't surprising, as the movie has the feel of something which has been edited again and again in order to find some kind of flow. Clearly Zombie is going for an artsy, dreamlike feel, but that doesn't excuse how disjointed many scenes feel. As for the story, it makes no sense. Maybe I'm nitpicking here, but how did dead witches press a record? Do they have a studio in their basement? And do you know how many promotional copies of albums go to radio stations which are never heard on the air? (Yes, I realize that Heidi fell under the spell of the music and this compelled her to broadcast it, but come on.) In the third act, it's announced that the station is giving away tickets to a performance by The Lords. What, to the 10th caller? Lacy's sister's, Megan (Patricia Quinn) and Sonny (Dee Wallace), arrive and this begins a Rosemary's Baby like subplot where they coax Heidi into something evil. (Here, something evil equals random shots of weird things which don't gel.) So, we have an evil record and a mini-coven which are all somehow doing the bidding of a dead witch, but none of it is tied together in any meaningful fashion. Zombie attempts some character development with Heidi, but it falls flat. As for Bruce Davison, what in the world is he doing in this movie?

No one's ever accused Zombie's films of being original, but The Lords of Salem is simply a mixture of Trick or Treat and the Scooby Doo, Where are You! episode "To Switch a Witch". To spice things up, it also appears that Zombie asked a 13-year old boy what his idea of blasphemous imagery would be, and so we get a monster dressed a the Pope. Having heard that The Lords of Salem was a throwback to artsy horror, I had high hopes for the film, but I was bored throughout and the lack of cohesiveness meant that I was never pulled into the movie. And I know that Zombie likes to cast actors from older horror movies (and his wife), but at this point in his career, he should have outgrown this. The Lords of Salem is a giant step backwards for Zombie, as it has a very amateurish feel and doesn't play like something from a director who is growing in his craft. So, I guess this means that Woolite commercial is the best thing that Zombie has made lately.

The Lords of Salem does us the favor of not having apartment #6 be cursed on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. This is one of those movies where the transfer is somewhat difficult to judge. Zombie has given the film a dark look, but he's also used a lot of soft focus which creates haloes around lights. Thus, we get an image which carries less detail than to what we are accustomed. The level of grain is kept to a minimum and the colors look good, most notably reds and greens. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Many scenes carry a low frequency hum which is well-handled by the subwoofer. The stereo effects show good separation. The surround effects are prevalent during certain scenes and they are nicely detailed.

The lone extra on The Lords of Salem Blu-ray Disc is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Rob Zombie, who is pretty frank about reshoots and re-editing. Given the amount of editing and the reported list of actors who were cut out of the movie, I know that some were hoping for a Director's Cut or at least deleted scenes, but we don't get that here.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.