For many years now I have fought against my desire to enjoy Rob Zombie’s films. When House of 1000 Corpses was released in 2003, I even refused to watch it for quite some time on the precedent that Zombie was a man of the music industry, and couldn’t possibly lend anything interesting to the film industry. Imagine my surprise when I finally saw what he could do! Despite all of its fallbacks, House of 1000 Corpses, at the very least, definitely offered something new with intentionally cornball villain, Dr. Satan, and everyone’s favorite morally indifferent, sideshow chicken selling, gas attendant clown, Captain Spalding. With every film Zombie goes on to direct, despite the fact that he always manages to commit some sort of film sin that pisses me off, I am always surprised with how much I just flat out enjoy watching his work. It has really been a pleasure to watch Rob Zombie mature as a film maker over the years, and I have to say that I hope he continues to do what he does in making perverse, gory, films, and continuing to improve with each proverbial reel of celluloid.
So, the reviews, which I’ll try to write without revealing too much about the plot:
For every thing I like about House of 1000 Corpses there is something I also hate. Of course, I’m fond of Sid Haig as Captain Spalding, and the entire premise of his side-show convenience store. I would LOVE to stumble across a real shop like his, and would assuredly pay to ride through his hall of wax figures and cackling plastic skeletons. On the other hand, with the wonder that is Captain Spalding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen, Fried Chicken and Gasoline, comes a whole slew of backwoods, white trash creeps, and acting that lays the redneck murderer trope on pretty thick. As someone who lives in the south, the notion that hillbillies are scary is pretty tired. Granted, this cast of characters does allow general audiences to believe something as ridiculous as the idea that somewhere in the world exists a greasy family who puts on a Halloween show for themselves every year, keeps their burnt mutant sibling as what is basically the home servant, an feeds innocent travelers to their host of lab-rat victims who live in an underground bunker under the family property. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m willing to forgive the film sin of CRAZY HILLBILLIES, because what they produce is pretty amusing. On a side note, it is lovely to see the marvelous, late Karen Black as Mother Firefly. The role truly fit her like a glove. The other side of this coin is of course that, as with every movie Rob Zombie directs, we have to watch his wife bounce her little white girl ta-tas around, and giggle that irritating fake baby laugh. I truly abhor the Baby character. It’s no fault of Sheri Moon. Baby was written to be an annoying character (I think…unless of course some people find that sort of thing sexy). I can never shake the feeling that Rob Zombie really just made House of 1000 Corpses to show the world how hot his wife is. What must be the worst sin of Zombie’s first film though is the constant cuts to grainy, music video-esque footage. I wish there were a no-nonsense cut of this movie that removed all of those scenes, because then it would be far more atmospherically successful without them. All those cut-aways serve to do is distract the audience from the disturbing images of the new and improved fish man Rainn Wilson. So essentially, cool concept, decent effects (yay! No CG monsters!), but inherent silliness and over the top editing. House of 1000 Corpses is a win-lose situation.
Now Lords of Salem is a film with serious atmosphere. From start to finish, I just couldn’t get over how pretty this movie was! Clearly our boy Mr. Zombie has been watching Stanley Kubrick, because the sets for Lords of Salem were simply beautiful. I couldn’t help but notice the fine care that was taken in creating the texture and detail of all the surfaces in this film. From Sheri Moon’s now iconic black and white striped sweater, the wallpaper in the apartment hallways, and the artwork hanging in Heidi’s apartment, to the lush fabrics of the opera house in the closing scenes; Lords of Salem creates a true theatrical experience. Seriously, I want that giant Le Voyage Dans La Lune print that adorns the protagonist’s bedroom wall. The first forty-five minutes of this film were fantastic. I didn’t even mind seeing Sheri Moon’s butt, yet again. John 5’s dreadful ten note dirge will make you feel like you too are being sucked into the spell of The Lords, and is likely to be in the back of your mind for days. It’s a simple little tune, but damn is it effective in cultivating the discomfort. (cover your eyes if you are disturbed by cult iconography):
Despite the semi-cliché nature of the original witches of Salem and their naked fire dance, I still found them to be sufficient in creating the premise Zombie was going for. For Lords of Salem, I think it was actually a good choice to have some of the elements of the film be traditional, like the opening scenes of the witches’ ceremony, and the over-all late-70’s horror cinematography, because the modern characters act as a nice counterpart. Had the witches also been kooky and out of the ordinary, it might have been overkill. Unlike Rob Zombie’s previous work, I even liked some of the bizarre cutaways and unnecessary visuals. The little crispy demoniod, though clearly a little person in silicone prosthetics, was sufficiently disturbing (tentacle genitals?), and the lopsided hairy creature in apartment five that my husband has deemed “The Sasquatch of Massachusetts,” also did something to create a sense of the other-worldly. Zombie also capitalized on the inherent creepiness of Catholic ephemera to massive payoffs.
The only unfortunate catch to Lords of Salem was that the last five to ten minutes totally unraveled. After watching the film twice, I was able to get a grasp on what was attempting to be communicated, but in true Rob Zombie fashion, a lot of the impact gets lost in a sea of made for late night MTV, shock-rock. Essentially, the final scenes turn into a music video. All of the bewitched women of modern Salem show up to the local theatre for a Lords of Salem concert, which quickly reveals itself as the final ceremony of evil. I don’t want to ruin it all, but there’s something about the quick cuts, and jumps in setting, that make this ending a touch too hazy. Don’t get me wrong, I like the tentacled root, anti-christ spawn, and I loved the gorgeous glowing Mary of Nazareth Sheri Moon on a pile of the slain; but, I don’t understand why the scene was so dragged out, or why it took several minutes of heroin-crash Heidi to get to it. And Rob, if you read this, ditch the stuffed goat.
In short, Lords of Salem is the best thing Rob Zombie has ever directed. I am truly impressed with the director he has become since 2003, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. This was a good movie, but a lot of viewers are probably going to be really lost.
P.S. I wrote these reviews while listening to the two fugues that are featured in the loftier scenes of Lords of Salem. This made for a seriously grandiose writing experience!
P.P.S. Babe Alert! Jeff Daniel Phillips