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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 26, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 17
Subtly unnerving Salem a supernatural terror
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Subtly unnerving Salem a supernatural terror

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE LORDS OF SALEM
Opens April 26


Salem, Mass., radio personality Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) has received an unusual package, purportedly from a new underground band calling themselves The Lords. She and her partners, 'Whitey' Salvador (Jeffrey Daniel Phillips) and Herman Jackson (Ken Foree), play it on the late-night airwaves to gauge the reaction, and that evening's guest, local historian and museum curator Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), is immediately curious as to where the record came from and who was responsible for its production.

Back at home, Heidi is certain someone has moved down the hall from her into a vacant apartment, but kindly building manager Lacy (Judy Geeson) does her best to assure her this is not the case. She also takes the time to introduce her favorite tenant to two of her most devoted friends, women she refers to as her 'sisters' even if it's plainly obvious the trio isn't related by blood: eccentrically catty Sonny (Dee Wallace) and plainspoken psychic Megan (Patricia Quinn).

That's all I'm going to say in regard to plot or synopsis as it concerns Rob Zombie's latest horror enterprise, The Lords of Salem, although I'm pretty sure you can figure out what might be going on and where all of this is heading. Safe to say, this story is set in Salem for good reason, and to surmise that something supernatural might be going on isn't a gigantic stretch.

STARTLING EFFECTIVENESS
To say I have not been a fan of Zombie's previous films would an understatement. I was OK with House of 1000 Corpses, but no more than that, and found The Devil's Rejects to be an abhorrent pile of trash I wouldn't want my worst & well, anything, to be forced to endure. As for the former musician's 2007 remake of John Carpenter's Halloween (and its 2009 sequel), the less said about those the better.

So I'm slightly surprised to admit that for the most part, up until the whack-a-doo finale, I was pretty darn impressed with The Lords of Salem. The movie is chillingly effective, moving with an unnerving precision recalling in some respects Robert Wise's The Haunting, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, and Ti West's The House of the Devil. While the imagery can be a little psychedelically silly and while the gothic overtones can be on the heavy-handed side, the central emotional whirlpool is still startlingly effective, the events circulating around Heidi attempting to seduce her into embracing an inner darkness she didn't even know was there viscerally compelling.

I will say that, for all his storytelling faults, Zombie has always been an intriguing visual stylist, giving his films a look and feel that avoids many of the usual pictorial clich├ęs, allowing them to have an unnerving vibrancy uniquely their own. He takes that to a new level here, Brandon Trost's (That's My Boy) steadily self-assured camerawork navigating the claustrophobic confines of Jennifer Spence's (Splinter) exquisite production design with aggressively uncomforting grace. The self-control he showcases, his allowances for silence and for serenity to speak for itself, his eschewing of the typical jump scares and obnoxious music cues all-too-familiar to the genre, all of it showcases a marvelous maturation on his part I cannot help but applaud.

ENDING A LETDOWN
The way things climax I did find to be a tad annoying, everything devolving into some sort of heavy-metal music video montage that's sadly nonsensical. The air of mystery surrounding Heidi's ultimate destination is supposed to chill, supposed to take our breath away and leave us shivering in questioning fear. Yet all I felt was disappointment, thinking that Zombie himself wasn't certain exactly where he wanted to take things, instead deciding on a climax that's too obnoxiously ephemeral for its own good.

All the same, when the movie works it does so marvelously, the fact I sat in the theater in frazzled rapt attention not something I dismiss lightly. Tension ratchets up throughout, and the director has crafted great character parts for genre icons Stone, Quinn, and the nakedly frightening Meg Foster. Geeson does a deliciously malevolent ballet that Ruth Gordon herself would cheer if she were still around, while Davison anchors things with an authentic intellectualism easy to urge on and root for even though an air of tragedy ominously circles him right from the start.

Is it great? Sadly, no, I can't go that far, the closing 10 minutes nowhere near as satisfying as the opening 80. But even so, The Lords of Salem is a giant step in the right direction for Zombie, and for a director I've thought precious little positive about in the past, the fact I'm now excited to see what he's got in store for us in the future speaks volumes.

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