Monday, April 22, 2013

movie review: Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of Salem (2013) directed by Rob Zombie.

I'm hesitant to write a review for the film, not for any other reason than I'm not too familiar with the witch subgenre of horror, particularly from the 60s and 70s, and I like to be relatively knowledgable about the history of a subgenre a film I've just seen fits into to give a more well-rounded review. To be honest, I've found most of the witch films I tried to watch laughable. In the 60s and 70s, they were examinations (or exploitations) of the hippie movement and we've since realized that those good old days weren't really all that good. In these increasingly dark times, it seems quaint that Rob Zombie chose to make a 70s style witch film.

If I'm not too big on this particular subgenre, why on earth did I want to watch this?

Five words: Rob Zombie Lady Patricia Quinn

I like Rob Zombie's work...for the most part. I didn't like House of a 1000 Corpses, but I'm thankful for that film because without it, we wouldn't have The Devil's Rejects, a film that cleverly manages to subvert its predecessor and make you care about a family of homicidal sociopaths. I liked about half of his Halloween remake (all of the prequel stuff was great, though cliche. Once he got the film into Haddonfield, I was bored.) I didn't bother with the sequel. And when I saw the trailer for Lords of Salem, I saw instantly that he was trying to do something completely different from his usual fare, something that pushed him artistically and story-wise.

As for the other three words, Lady Patricia Quinn (she married into the title and the Lord has since passed on, may he Rest in Peace, but I think her name flows better with it...Lady Patricia Quinn), you should know that I love her because of Rocky Horror and especially Shock Treatment (I'm one of those freaks who loves Shocky almost as much as she loves Rocky.) When I heard the announcement that she was going to be in this, I already knew my butt was going to be in the seat opening day (we tried, but couldn't do it so opening weekend will have to do.) I was not disappointed.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes of my review, a synopsis: Heidi (Sherri Moon-Zombie) is a rock D.J. in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives a mysterious package from a band called The Lords with a record inside that plays a disturbing (really, more like annoying as hell) series of notes that effects her in both a physical and mental way, and resurrects the town's morbid past.

I'll start off by saying that I really liked the film, but I can't for the life of me figure out exactly why and this review is going to be very contrary and may meander a bit because of it. The film is deeply flawed and unnecessarily slow at times, but there's no denying that Zombie has affection for his material. A lot of the imagery, though beautiful, doesn't feel fully thought through in terms of what it means to the internal logic of the film...if they were meant to mean anything at all, a point to which I concede readily. And there are times where his imagery gets hamfisted and, now that I think about it, kind of felt like images that would be best inside CD liner notes. I would not be surprised to find them in the liner notes for the Lords of Salem soundtrack.

All of that said, the cinematography was gorgeous (even when it got repetitive) and the acting, for the most part, was spectacular. It's the older women in this film who really make it work...Meg Foster was fearless and brilliant as the main witch, Margaret Morgan, and Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Lady Patricia Quinn were phenomenal as sisters Lacy, Sonny, and Megan. These four roles were great, fun parts for older women and these ladies were damn good in them. I dare say that without them, the film would have fallen completely flat.

Sherri Moon-Zombie was...Sherri Moon-Zombie. At times, her readings were believable and at other times, they were laboured and false. Personally, I don't really care if Rob Zombie wants to keep casting her in his stuff. She's not horrible, and she was damn good as Michael Myers' mother in Zombie's Halloween, but this did kind of feel like a step back for her in terms of her talent. I say keep at it, Mrs. Zombie. You'll get there.

As far as the witches are concerned, Zombie didn't go the usual route and have them all be nubile young models. All of the witches are women of varying ages and body types and for a film concerning the birth of Satan into the physical world, the nudity wasn't gratuitous or sexualized. Actually, the only nudity I thought was gratuitous was that of his wife.

While Lords of Salem doesn't really do anything new for the witch movie, this is entirely new territory for Rob Zombie as a director. Yes, the film is highly derivative - if you're going to knock him for that, you must not have seen House of 1000 Corpses or Halloween - but it shows a growth that's leaps and bounds beyond what he's done in the past; however, I think he might have leapt over himself just a bit. He didn't make his lead character likable, which is necessary for the audience to connect to this story. We don't care that she's going through all of this strange stuff. There's a subplot that, if he'd brought it up earlier in the film may have helped to make Heidi a more sympathetic character and added more mystery to the proceedings. Alas, putting it later in the film made the subplot feel contrived.

So...with so many negatives, why do I want to see it again, like, right now? And why will I be buying it when it comes out? Because the positives I listed are, for me, exactly that strong, and I feel like I can learn something from what I consider to be missteps.

I look forward to the next one, Mr. Zombie.

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