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The Lords Of Salem (Blu-ray Review)

Lords-Of-Salem“Woah, didn’t this come out like two months ago?” says the ever so faithful Why So Blu? hardcore reader.  Yes, yes it did.  But, we actually didn’t acquire it for review until just this past week.  So, it’s new to us!  Rob Zombie’s Lords Of Salem was a film with an ever so soft release earlier in the year.  It played as a festival film before that, looking for distribution.  That distributor wound up being the wonderful Anchor Bay, and knowing the company it becomes understandable the light wide release it got.  Also, Zombie released a novel adaptation of the film with it as well.  I won’t be able to comment on that, as I’ve not read it.  Why So Blu? colleagues Brian White and Gerard Iribe HAVE read said novel and maybe they’ll give their two cents on that in the comments.  Luckily, it played here in Indianapolis, so I was able to see it on its theatrical run.  And I think it’s actually beneficial that I’ve now been able to see this film twice this year.

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Film 

Heidi is a DJ for Salem’s #1 DJ team (which seems like a morning show but is an evening one) and a recovering drug addict.  She receives a mysterious vinyl record from a band called The Lords.  Upon playing it with her fellow cohost in her apartment one evening, Heidi begins feeling odd and ill, and her life would start becoming more strange with every following day.  After interviewing an author of a book about the Salem Witch Trials on her show, Heidi plays the record over the airwaves.  All the women in Salem start succumbing to a trance-like state.  Something doesn’t sit right with the author, Francis Matthias.  He takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of who this band is.  Meanwhile, Heidi begins living through a nightmare-dream type state, being drawn to the apartment down the hall, having trouble with her job and becoming drawn in by her landlord and her overzealous sisters.  Something dark and ancient is afoot and its unknown whether these events set in motion are able to be altered or stopped.

I’m going to start by saying this is a film that really isn’t for everybody.  Mainstream audiences aren’t going to give in to it and Zombie fans will probably be turned off at this left turn he takes in filmmaking (although I argue him taking a path like this is very much hinted at in his Halloween II).  The film is disturbing with no real brutal violence.  The characters seem well to do and aren’t raging white trash stereotypes.  One of the most polarizing things about the film is its lack of use of the “F” word.  Zombie for once has seemed to have shown a restraint in his dialogue and it makes it quite the unusual experience considering the four films of his that have preceded this one.  This is also a venture down the religious horror avenue and isn’t playing in excessive “real and gritty” violence at all.

One of the most immediate changes is Rob’s normal 70s grindhouse/exploitation look is gone.  This time he opts to draw new inspiration for the appearance of this witchcraft tale.  Zombie has described the film as “Ken Russell directs The Shining” and that influence is very much there.  Another which seemed more predominate to me was that of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento.  A lot of the distant shots of characters wandering and the lighting schemes were reminiscent to me of such classics as Deep Red and I even got a lot of Suspiria vibe from shots. Part of what has me going with this film and finding enjoyment is in this style and the photography.  It’s a really good looking film.   It recalled a lot of 70s and 80s low budget horror films to me.  Strangely too, the vibe and feel this movie gave me drew me back to supernatural/religious horror films of the pre-Scream 90s.  Namely a lot of the low budget straight-to-video horror fare I used to rent.  This film is much better than those, but it just kept giving me that feeling of watching those.  Maybe it was the use of low budget rural settings and not going all out with the supernatural and fantastic.  Also, this may be a weird caveat, but I found the establishing shots to be really unique and interesting to look at. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I just wanted to mention that I liked his exterior photography in this one.

Keeping on the cinematography front, there is a lot of wild and weird imagery in this film.  The strongly religious should probably steer clear of this, because it’s sure to offend.  It’s a interesting assortment of beautifully staged images, disturbing thoughts and what the f*** moments.  Personally, I dig these sorts of things.  Yes, having some weird stuff that doesn’t amount to squat can be off putting.  But, when done well I think it can stand on its own and works because it in itself was done so well.  A lot of this film could be used for paintings, photos, art, music videos and the like.  If anything the cinematography and vision is this film’s strongest suit.

The film’s story itself is decent enough, but I can’t help but feel it may have been enhanced with a longer cut.  There are may name actors (Sid Haig, Daniel Roebuck, Barbara Crampton) who don’t have any lines and “blink and you’ll miss” them appearances in scenes.  A few, I honestly didn’t know were in it until the credits.  Its obvious there was much more filmed for this and the movie was chopped up to probably make for a faster pace.  I won’t argue here, while I’m one who found the film interesting it does move like a slug.  I will argue that there’s other stuff that may have made for better cuts or that this cut material may have lengthened the film, but kept some things more interesting with plot points as this film does lack in the action department.  I understand the book does cover a lot more of the past happenings, and that’s fine and all, and I support reading books 100%, but when I see a film adaptation, outside media should enhance my experience not fill in obvious blanks that the movie is missing.

Overall, the film is Rob Zombie’s modern take on Rosemary’s Baby.  However, in that film we got a stellar and all-time great performance from Mia Farrow.  Here we get Sheri Moon Zombie.  Now, let me first state that I don’t mind Sheri Moon as an actress.  She’s no master thespian, but she’s all right.  Plus, I’ve had an attraction to her since she graced the photos of the liner note booklets in White Zombie cds.  But, this movie’s greatest fault lies within its lead.  This is a bigger part of what’s keeping this movie from entering a greater pantheon of horror films.  I think Sheri’s performance ranges from mediocre to good, but overall it’s just “passable” and “ok”.  And in this film that is asking a lot from its lead, that’s really not going to cut it.  She’s not able to command scenes by herself (a lot of them) and keep you engaged based on her work.  She’s also upstaged (not on purpose) every time she’s in very dramatic a scene with other actors.  The only person playing at her level here is Dee Wallace and I have no idea what’s up with her here.  I’m a big fan of hers, but this is far from shining moment for her, where it almost feels like someone gave their mom a part in a movie and she’s trying super hard.

There are also some fantastic performances surrounding Moon.  Bruce Davison almost carries this movie with his sideplot.  He’s incredibly believable here and I can’t believe he was a last minute replacement.  I almost wish we could have a whole movie based on his adventures.  There’s just a realism and commitment given in this part and Davison truly keeps this movie afoot and going at times.  Jeff Daniel Phillips (the Geico caveman) is an absolute scene stealer.  He plays the Rob Zombie avatar (he’s like Woody Allen, always putting an extension of himself in his movies), who really hammers in the emotional scenes while Sheri is “trying”.  If this movie would have been bigger I’d be arguing this could have been a star making turn for Phillips.  He’s that breed of actor that just instantly grabs at your attention and engages you in their every line and mannerism.  I’m hoping he takes off at least in a character actor aspect, as it’d be great to see him in more movies.  And lastly, Meg Foster is fantastic in the bit part as the evil witch Margaret Morgan.  Foster goes all in and is absolutely disgusting and terrifying.  I can’t recall seeing her in anything since the 90s even, but man was she great in this role.  She’s always had those crazy eyes and their definitely earning her a paycheck here.  Foster totally loses herself in this role, displaying a disgustingly haggard elderly naked body throughout and a chilling presence.  She makes you so damn uncomfortable every time she’s on screen.  It’s a good thing this movie didn’t take off with popularity, I’m not sure I could take people dressing as her for Halloween every year.

Lords Of Salem has had a divided audience.  It opened to acclaim in its first festival showings, but started to cool off with more screenings (hype will do that to you).  People who are hardcore into Zombie’s first four film’s will possibly be turned off  or taken by surprise by a something looking to be more mentally psychological and thinking its not up Zombie’s alley, even though this clearly is.  Personally, I think it’s an interesting enough film that I think is worth the gamble and checking out.  While the story is a little choppy and the lead can’t carry the film, there are plenty more merits the film has to enjoy.  I haven’t even mentioned that Zombie did totally nail the creepy song that plays throughout.  Possibly the film’s biggest challenge was to get that right and Zombie did in spades.  On this second viewing I didn’t like it as much as the first (would have been 3 dogs had it rated it then), but I am eager to give this a third watch which may bump my rating back up again or lower it again.  Who knows.  Religious horror is a tough challenge in the modern era and I think Rob did “all right”.  Some people loved it, some people HATED it, but for right now I’m going to come down the middle.

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Video 

Regardless your feelings of the film, this 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding is fantastic!  The level of detail is incredible here.  Skin tones are consistent and feature every rugged feature.  You can make out every spec of dirt on the skin of every witch.  There’s a really cold feeling to the photography that makes you reach for your hoodie while watching it.  The lighting schemes are all held up here and look gorgeous.  The 2:40.1 frame appears completely three dimensional here.  There’s a real sense of depth that showers through each scene.  Also-hair!  This might be some of the most incredible high definition hair I may have ever scene.  Every little strand on every beard and lock seems to be accounted for.  I swear in close ups I felt like I could reach out grab and touch Sheri Moon’s dreadlocks they looked so real and well defined.  Anchor Bay has a real winner on their hands with this transfer.  They are normally one of the best when it comes to the look of newer titles, but this is above and beyond even for them.

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Audio 

The Lords concert screeches and scratches in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  A lot of the film dabbles with music and it’s on a great display here.  There’s some times that hit at super low levels and that’s intentional.  Every time the music in the film is getting to a crazy level of making you feel uneasy, it’s intentional in the track.  Rumbling and high notes that make you feel uncomfortable are doing their job if that’s how you’re feeling.  The dialogue is nice and clear, never being distorted or drowned out by the music at hand.  The track also features some really great ambience that is not lost upon it.  It’s a moody, creepy movie so this is abundant throughout, and it’s never overbearing but not forgotten either.  This is a perfect companion to the video, making for one “hell” of a presentation.

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Extras 

Unlike most of Rob Zombie’s work, this disc is super light on the extras.  Usually his films include enough to make you feel like you were actually on set and worked on the film.  Here we just get a commentary.  Also included are a DVD copy and UV Ultraviolet copy of the film.

Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Rob Zombie – Zombie takes us through production anecdotes and such.  But, Zombie’s are a more insightful account talking of spats on set and troubles and such.  He also offers some connective tissue to the book and scenes and the script that weren’t film.  He’s also not afraid to be fair and honest about stuff in his film but not too self deprecating, he still is very much in support of what he’s done.

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Summary 

While I wasn’t as high on Lords Of Salem this time around, I do still find it to be an amusing film.  I think its one that may fluctuate my interest with each viewing.  It’s very watchable no matter your feelings on it.  While I gave the film a mild recommend and a poor score to the extras, I’m going to bump up the overall rating based on the stellar presentation of the film and the strength of Zombie’s commentary.  I would have liked more extras, but seeing as the film didn’t make even three quarters of million dollars at the box office, I wouldn’t want to throw money into more bonus features either.  Like most of Zombie’s work, I think over time this may get a more favorable reception or at least receive the “underappreciated” or cult status label.  As I said previous, on this viewing I’m going to land in the middle.  The first time I did like it more and I think with further viewings my opinion could raise again.  The most important factor is that the film is still interesting to me, despite its faults, and that’s what counts.


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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

8 Responses to “The Lords Of Salem (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Gerard Iribe

    I really enjoyed Lords of Salem and think it pairs nicely with Ti West’s “House of the Devil.” The book expands on the mythology and there are people, places, and things that were not in the film itself that add to the scope of the story. The opening to the book would have given LOS an NC-17 rating right of the bat if it had been filmed. It’s that brutal.

  2. Brian White

    While it’s many more stars than I can ever give it, I’m surprised you did not reward it more 🙂
    I get what Zombie was going for, but this flick is a mess and an embarrassment to the genre if you ask me.
    It looks every bit its low budget and is able to suck the energy out of every one of my 3 viewings of it.
    It’s not saying much, but Zombie took whatever good he had going for him in the novel, including dialogue, and managed to mess it up here.
    Just sad because Zombie is a favorite of mine.
    Best thing about this Blu-ray besides his wife is this shiny reflective cover. And the credits, but of course :-p

  3. Brian White

    This is the second day I had to think about this review and the movie is still poop.

  4. Gerard Iribe

    I think I may watch this again at some point this week. It’s a groovy flick!

  5. Brian White

    Nope. Still caca.

  6. Brandon Peters

    Could you provide an example of how it looks every bit as low budget as it is? I was actually impressed with the effects considering the budget. It can’t be the aesthetic, cuz that is straight 70s early 80s Italian horror right there. Is it the witch flashbacks? Those do look very soundstage-ish, but it didn’t really bother me. Given the circumstances and budget, I think Rob shot the hell out of the movie.

    I can give you messy, as i did mention in the review I felt like the film did feel cut to hell. But I can’t agree with embarrassment to the genre. The horror genre or subgenre of “satanist-witch” genre?

    Anyway, my feelings are already posted above, I just wanted to elaborate more on your thoughts, coming from the disapproving side.

  7. Brian White

    I don’t think I could just give you one example. I don’t think there is enough time in a week to pick out every horrible facet of this film. LOL. I’ll give you it’s of the satanist genre. But unlike Rosemary’s Baby, this film had ZERO point, character arc…it was just God awful. Rather not shave for a week and pull out my beard with a tweezer than defend this one. With the utmost of love of course 🙂

  8. Aaron Neuwirth

    Finally saw this flick and I kinda loved it! G is right in naming House of the Devil as a nice companion. There are so many things I dug about this film, it’s ridiculous and I can only hope a longer cut emerges someday.