Finally making its Australian debut (straight to Blu-ray/DVD in an absolutely bare bones release), it would be hard to recommend The Lords of Salem(2012) to anyone but the most completest horror buff or die-hard Rob Zombie fan. Zombie’s first original live-action feature since The Devil's Rejects (2005), The Lords of Salem contains very little of the violent grindhouse frisson or outrageous comic book characterisations that made Rejects (and Zombie’s first feature, 2003's House of 1000 Corpses) so much fun. Not that I want Zombie to keep making the same type of film - far from it - but this tale of a female radio DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) caught up in witchcraft in modern day Salem has plenty of visual flair and atmosphere but an uninvolving (and paper-thin) plot, flat characters and a decided lack of scares. Only during the film’s final 15 or so minutes does it really gel and come alive, with a pretentiously cerebral but effectively trippy montage that contains some of the disturbing imagery which the rest of the film lacked.
As usual, Zombie fills The Lords of Salem with cameos and bit parts from a number of familiar exploitation/horror faces from the 1970s and 80s, including Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling), Ken Foree (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond), Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Judy Geeson (Inseminoid), Bruce Davison (Willard, X-Men) and Meg Foster (They Live).
Ultimately, The Lords of Salem comes off as an interesting but misguided attempt at experimental/art house horror, and does very little to change my thoughts about Zombie as a filmmaker. He clearly has a genuine love for the horror/exploitation genres, has a decent amount of visual flair, and knows how to dream-up some wild plots and memorably crazed characters. But he desperately needs a good co-writer to help make his plots tighter and his characters more defined (and restrained in places). And I think it’s time for him to ditch casting his wife Sheri Moon in the leading female role in his movies. No offense to Sheri Moon, she looks great and is usually fine when she has help from an ensemble cast, but in The Lords of Salem the film hinges quite a bit on her performance, and she doesn’t seem strong enough to carry a film on her own. Of course, her thinly written character would not have been much help to her - Caroline Williams in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog did the horror movie late-night disc jockey thing much, much better.