Rob Zombie is appropriately somewhat of a cult figure himself, crafting films he wants to make outside of his rock-singing career. Among his work has been The House of a 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween (2007) and its 2009 sequel. Some hate his grungy style and repulsive sequences, others praise Zombie as one of this generation’s only directors dedicated to giving horror characters and creatures. Much as Friday the 13th gave us Jason Vorhees, A Nightmare on Elm Street gave us Freddy Krueger and The Wicker Man gave us Lord Sommerisle. That last one is particularly appropriate here, as Zombie’s thankful move away from Halloween, aims for that kind of tone. The Lords of Salem is far superior to H2, thank god and is sporadic trashy fun but Zombie seems to have left the horror and atmosphere at the side of the road.
The Lords of Salem evokes some strong imagery and will offend the religiously inclined. Conjuring up an array of filth and depravity, including tattered and saggy naked bodies and baby licking. As well as this it is all dressed in a sheer dedicated occult visual trapping that gives the film some strong images to absorb. It is a shame then that this film is so motivationally annoying. Zombie’s film is undeniably symbolic and weird but the director goes to excessive and ultimately tiring lengths to get the anti-Catholicism across. Zombie unleashes a current of blasphemy and religious hate that it becomes tiring. There is no need to hammer the message in like a stake to the heart. Audiences are not stupid. You can see religious imagery used to far greater disturbing effect elsewhere.
In addition to this, the story allows for freakiness but is no more than a curio in total because it lacks the atmosphere of some of the best witch cult horrors. The film receives more laughs or blank confused scares than it does intimidation and admittedly it is possible to enjoy some of the bizarre-o-world horror but there is no bite to it. Yes, cult fan bases will be well served by some delightful casting choices (The Howling’s Dee Wallace and Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn turn up) and Sherri-Moon Zombie is very dedicated to the film as Heidi but it seems like efforts are wasted by some ambivalent writing and an abundance of references but no sense of pure dread. Plus the “big revelation” (involving a simple Google search) is laughable.
There is evil to be found here but it does not feel necessary, in fact it feels rather desperate. The film may work in cinematic nods from Georges Méliès to Clive Barker; they sometimes feel more like rips of some good ideas than respectful nods. Credit where credit is due this was almost worth recommending for its commitment to all things occult. It is just sad that everything is so unimpactful, even the end which is like a mind explosion of sickening imagery. Again though it is imagery we don’t really need. Towards the end, it seems that Rob Zombie is creating this strong imagery merely as a more pretentious art piece than a film.