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New Release Review - The Lords of Salem

A radio host receives a mysterious record which seems to cast a spell on her.

Directed by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn, Ken Foree, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonsa, Andrew Prine, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig

Radio host Heidi (Zombie) spots a figure in a darkened doorway at the end of her apartment corridor but is confused when her landlady (Geeson) insists that nobody occupies the room. At her workplace, a rock radio station in Salem, Massachusetts, she receives a record in the mail from a band called 'The Lords of Salem'. Heidi takes the record home and, when she plays it, has visions of a group of witches murdering a newborn baby. The next night, she plays it over the radio, causing several women in the town to go into a trance. It would seem the record has woken an evil which has rested in Salem for centuries.
Rob Zombie is one of American cinema's most reviled directors, thanks mainly to his unwatchably bad 'Halloween' remake and sequel. Previously, he demonstrated no evidence that he knew the slightest thing about film-making, giving us a string of repugnant movies, ugly in both tone and aesthetic. I'm delighted to say he seems to have taken the criticism on board, as 'The Lords of Salem' contains few of the elements which made his previous directorial work so unbearable. Gone is the shakey-cam and poor composition, the constant immature swearing, and the juvenile gore. I can't believe I'm saying this but Zombie has made a stunning looking film, he and cinematographer Brandon Trost composing their shots in a manner so immaculate as to make Kubrick look like Paul Greengrass.
He also seems to have learnt a thing or two about creating mood, with the movie's first half genuinely atmospheric, thanks to an efficient use of long takes and extended silence. Sadly, for all his progress as a director, his writing is still awful. Halfway into the film you realize it's all going nowhere, as Zombie seems to be making things up as he goes along, ending in a twenty minute sequence that resembles a Monty Python parody of a Jodorowsky film. He also still insists on casting his wife, here in the lead role. She's not the worst actress I've ever seen but she simply doesn't have the charisma to carry a film by herself.
'The Lords of Salem' certainly isn't one I'd recommend but it is nice to see a film-maker learn from past mistakes.
4/10

Eric Hillis