Tuesday, October 22, 2013

REVIEW: The Lords of Salem

The Lords of Salem
Director: Rob Zombie
Year 2012

The Lords of Salem is a powerfully atmospheric horror film which takes the lore and legends of witchcraft in both Salem Massachusetts and Europe, and turns it on its head in a modern and rather disturbing twist. Heavily foreboding and constantly dire, this unique tale is drenched in stylistic imagery and unsettling moments, all adding up to a classically approached horror tale that wisely relies on its outstanding tone and morbid mood to tell its intriguing story. With its spectacular cast and superb locations, The Lords of Salem is without a doubt a delightfully disturbing film, one which absorbs you into a world all of its own and never lets you go.

The film follows a Salem Massachusetts radio DJ named Heidi Hawthorne, who inexplicably receives a mysterious package containing a record by a band who calls themselves “The Lords”. After sampling the record on the air, Heidi begins to have strange visions and haunting premonitions of a coven of witches from Salem's past. Escalating to a feverish pitch, Heidi begins to succumb to this unexplained madness as an ancient evil vies to enter into our world and take bloody revenge.

Sheri Moon Zombie takes on the role of Heidi Hawthorne, the radio DJ who unwittingly finds herself caught in a sinister coven's plot. As far as her past performances go, I've never really been a huge fan of Moon's work. Sure I've enjoyed her bat shit crazy roles in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects and the two modern takes on Halloween, but they were always so one note and vile. In retrospect, she was never really given a chance in her film career to showcase a different side of her acting personality. That all changes with The Lords of Salem, because against the grain she portrays an extremely likeable and sympathetic heroine. Low key and shockingly restrained, Moon gives a gentle approach to Heidi Hawthorne.

Sure her looks are as in your face and abrasive as her previous character iterations have been, but underneath that rocker chick facade is a soft spoken and surprisingly timid person. Moon beautifully allows us to see multiple facets of her character, giving us a fully realized study of who she is in this cinematic world, while also leaving a bit of a mystery about her sordid past. It's intriguing and highly welcoming, and it allows us to get sucked up in the story and follow her into whatever hell she finds herself in. Without a doubt, this is my favorite performance from Moon, as she finally gets her chance to show us what she's made of, aside from the one note psycho in Rob Zombie's other directorial efforts.

Outside of Sheri Moon Zombie's outstanding central performance, we have an equally abundant outcropping of scene stealing actors and actresses. First and foremost is Meg Foster who plays the role of Margaret Morgan, the most ghastly witch ever portrayed in horror cinema. Going above and beyond in stark boldness, Foster bares it all and literally projects pure evil unto the audience, in one of the most bravest performances in recent memory. She's grotesque, frightening and wholly believable, and the film thrives because of her fearless portrayal of the wickedest of witches. Another interesting addition to the cast is the impressive trifecta of Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace. Their roles in the film are something of a mystery, but their palpable presence is without a doubt substantial. They each bring their own personal style to the role, yet the chemistry between the three is terrific and genuinely terrifying.

Though they ultimately take a back seat to the majority of the cast, the male actors of the production are excellently handpicked to bring out memorable performances. Bruce Davison as Francis Matthias is a real treat while Ken Foree is always a delight to see on screen. The most surprising of the bunch though is Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman Salvador, friend to Moon's Heidi. He brings a lot of heart and feeling to his role and that helps the film find some solid ground underneath its feet while things gradually begin to delve into the unusual.

Outstanding characters aside, the film has an abundance of assets to boast about. For one, the build up of the story is akin to the stylistic approach of late 60's and early 70's era horror films. Like Rosemary's Baby or The Omen, The Lords of Salem allow us to gel into the world before things begin to fall into despair, and in that approach the film comes off as a more classic piece then we are normally used to in this day in age. The patience behind this is astounding and the gradual progression of the story into insanity is unquestionably effective. Once things really go off the wall and off the rails, we are subjected to a plethora of weird moments and horrific scenarios, all lambasted with harsh fluorescent hues and abrasive lighting that would make even Dario Argento in his prime ecstatic. In its most simplistic moments and in its most complex of times, The Lords of Salem is a beautifully crafted film which has enough power to make you believe in the vile nature of the story at hand, and to me that is what great films should strive to do.

The Lords of Salem is a genuine force to be reckoned with. It has a vibrant style and a grounded edge that often flashes into absurd fits of rage, yet it always maintains that dire tone that makes it so captivating. Sustained by a pitch perfect cast and an array of iconic performances, this is one horror film that remembers its roots and establishes itself as a worthy successor to the more artistically crafted of the genre. Sheri Moon Zombie is sensational as the afflicted Heidi Hawthorne and her performance proves that she can play a likeable character as well as a sociopath.

The rest of the cast fill out this wild world with extreme validity, with Meg Foster leading the pack alongside veteran actors Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, and Dee Wallace. As essential as all of these actors are to the final piece, it would be nothing without director Rob Zombie's keen expressive eye and his tremendous restraint in keeping the pace on a leash and gradually introducing us into the obscure. Of course I can't forget the wonderful locations around Salem Massachusetts, which Zombie filmed with great affection. One of the most appealing things for me in the movie was to witness places that I've visited before and to feel that same ominous feeling when walking the cobblestone streets or passing through an unsettling cemetery in Salem. There is just such a prevalent atmosphere in the quiet town of Salem, and Zombie captured it perfectly. If you are in the mood for a modern take on the slow-burn horror classics of the late 60's and early 70's, then give this one a try. Rob Zombie has struck magic with this combination of subtle character study and full blown shock art, and it is one that is extremely powerful. The Lords of Salem is a.....

King Diamond?

Peek a boo! I see you!

These guys rock!

Look out! It's a Stink-Ape!

Meg Foster you blue-eyed sexy devil, you.

Dear Lord! Even the crosses in this flick are weird!

It's nice to see that Comet from Full House is still getting steady work.

Sweet coat dude, but the face has got to go.

Say Cheese! That's going to be a good one!

Bruce Davison.... Man about town.

Let me guess.... It ends badly.

Hold on... Can I call you back? There are a few freaky-ass doctors behind me.

The gang's all here.

What the hell is going on?!?!?!

Keep your roaming hands to yourself Dee!

Red Rover... Red Rover... Let Satan come over!

Well ain't you something Mrs. Rocker Chick.

Naked 'King of the Mountain' is so much fun! Yippie!!!

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