With the exception of Eli Roth, no other filmmaker in the 2000s has divided horror movie fans more than hard rocker turned director Rob Zombie. People either love or hate his brand of grungy, white trash nihilistic cinema where he identifies with the antagonists rather than the protagonists, be it the Firefly clan in House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Devil’s Rejects (2005), and 3 From Hell (2019), or Michael Myers in Halloween (2007) and its sequel (2009). With The Lords of Salem (2012), he created his first traditional protagonist only to place her in an unconventional film. Enjoying the most creative freedom he had since Rejects, he eschewed the gore and extreme violence of his previous films in favor of a heavy atmosphere of dread. Freedom from the constraints of a studio franchise (Halloween) emboldened Zombie to push himself as a filmmaker, creating a fascinating phantasmagorical experience.
Right from the get-go,
Zombie does a wonderful job capturing the cool, crisp autumn days in the
Northeast via the cinematography, drawing us into this world. He utilizes a
warm, amber filter for night scenes and muted colors, creating a grey, cold
look for day scenes. For the first third, he adopts a slow burn approach, not
revealing too much, gradually building the dread, letting us get to know Heidi
so that we care about happens to her in the latter two acts of the film. He
populates the film with Kubrickian low-angle shots of hallways and breaks up
the story into days of the week, a la The Shining (1980). He also shows
a knack for striking visuals as evident in the fiery, apocalyptic inferno that
is the 17th century witch trials, illustrating the Puritans meting
out their religious brand of ‘justice.’
As with his other films, Zombie acknowledges horror films from the past by casting its royalty with the likes of Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, and Ken Foree in crucial roles, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos by Barbara Crampton, Michael Berryman, and Sig Haig. This isn’t simple stunt casting or a knowing wink to fellow horror genre fans, rather actors playing bonafide, lived-in characters.
The Lords of Salem is a captivating film
with Brandon Trost’s atmospheric cinematography giving it a much richer look
than its meager $1.5 million budget would suggest. Zombie gets the most out of
his locations, choosing those that give a real sense of place including, most
crucially, the apartment building that Heidi inhabits. Everything has a
lived-in look, from the clutter in the D.J. booth where Heidi does her show to
Davidson’s bookcase-dominated home.