Even from his earliest days as a musician, Rob Zombie displayed a deep-rooted interest in aesthetics and visual style, in creating an entire world stewed in a distinctive brew of horror movies, true crime, the occult and general weirdness.
His latest film as writer and director, “The Lords of Salem,” might be his most undiluted vision yet, a movie intended as a contraption for unsettling audiences, a mood piece meant to evoke a particularly dark turn of mind.
Set in modern-day Salem, Mass., the story concerns the spiraling downfall of a local radio DJ (played by Sheri Moon Zombie, the filmmaker’s wife and something like the Leslie Mann to his horror Judd Apatow). She receives a mysterious record and plays it on the air. The atonal sounds seem to awaken something within her and many women of the town, possibly invoking the return of witchcraft to Salem. Or perhaps as a recovering drug addict she is simply undergoing some kind of relapse or mental break.
Zombie long ago proved himself to be no mere dabbler as a filmmaker, after his second film, “The Devil’s Rejects,” took its grunge exploitation vibe to a startling extreme. If it required his two high-profile “Halloween” pictures to create the space for him to make “Lords,” they were worth it. The low-budget “Lords” has reinvigorated Zombie’s creativity, bringing out something pure and unfiltered, as the movie feels as if it has come straight from the deepest recesses of his psyche.
In creating a story about music that makes people go bad, in one sense Zombie is almost taunting those who might hold that music (specifically his) can be evil. At the same time, his evocative deployment of the Velvet Underground’s spooky and hypnotic “Venus in Furs” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” serves as its own counter-argument for the dark power of certain songs.
With its inevitable freak-out sequence also being an unlikely moment of cheeky humor, the film takes a sucker-punch turn to something more disturbing and unnerving. “The Lords of Salem” is like some queasy-making machine, a chamber piece of possession and madness that exerts a strange, disturbing power.
“The Lords of Salem” will make you feel bad. But it’s supposed to. So, in a good way? In this case, believe it or not, the signs point to yes.
‘The Lords of Salem’
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: In limited release
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