Released close to Rob Zombie's absurdly titled new album, called Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, this latest film from Mr Zombie sounds rather tame in comparison, and that's because, for the most part, it is. Drawing heavily on older horror movies, most notably Rosemary's Baby, which shares an almost identical plot to The Lords of Salem, there's no denying Zombie's enthusiasm for horror, it's just the execution he struggles with.
This is exacerbated by the fact that he happens to be a much more accomplished director than he is a writer. The film stars Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, as Heidi, a DJ for a hard-rock/metal radio station in Salem, who is also a recovering drug addict. And there's not much more to say about her because she's essentially a non-entity. You'll already guess what's going to happen since it's been done before and the characters are so bland, and deliver lines of exposition in such a humdrum way that it's hard to stay interested. The vast majority of the acting is poor, laughable even, as characters attempt to earnestly have a conversation about Satan, destiny and fate. Still, you do get to play "spot the actor" as numerous B-movie horror icons turn up for cameo roles, such as Michael Berryman, from Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes.
If that was all there was to The Lords of Salem then it'd be pretty poor film, fortunately it's not. Get through the dull parts and you'll get to see Zombie let his imagination run wild. There's no denying the guy knows how to compose a shot. It's more along the lines of Jacob's Ladder than anything else; a mix of creepy atmospheric noises and Francis Bacon style rubber faces. The problem lies in getting to those sequences, which are too few and far between, in an already trim movie at around 90 minutes long.
In fact, the film ends up feeling a bit like the Star Wars prequels, where you had to suffer through duff dialogue just to get to the next lightsaber fight. In this case you're suffering through it to get to the next acid trip.
By the end of the movie, Zombie forgets any pretence of a plot and the film just goes off the rails, showing you weird sequence after weird sequence just for the hell of it. Some don't always hit the mark mind, and can come across as though he's trying a little too hard to be weird, but for the most part it makes for a visually engaging bit of cinema. It almost seems as if he'd have been better off just cutting the best five minutes of the movie out and using it as a music video for one of his new songs.
The attempts at horror are a bit hit and miss. While the sheer weirdness of some parts of the movie, and the admittedly effective sound design adds to the unnerving atmosphere, the actual attempts to scare the audience feel rather weak. There's still a sense of earnestness and well-meaning though. You do get the impression that Zombie is making this movie as a fan of the genre, setting him apart from the likes of Eli Roth and his string of shoddy horror films, most notably the Hostel series.
If Zombie had gone full on crazy from the beginning, rather than make us suffering from the poorly acted and predictable plot, then the film would have been much more effective. As some kind of avant-garde/art house horror movie, The Lords of Salem would have been much more engaging. There's even some hints of this already with the Anti-Christ style title cards as the story progresses over the course of a week.
There are plenty worse horror movies out there than Rob Zombie's effort, what's frustrating here is that the film shows genuine promise but fails at the execution.