Rob Zombie is definitely a subgenre on his own. Known for his hyper-violent, hyper-vulgar, and hyper-grotesque everything, his films usually fall into the brutally gory slasher genre. But, citing old school classic horror as an inspiration, they’ve always had a sense of surrealist style to them.
And no film of his captures this style quite like 2012’s The Lords of Salem. It has all the makings and parts of a Rob Zombie film, but in many ways it really stands apart.
And it’s one that I’m constantly drawn back to re-watching over and over, each time finding some new and strange interpretation that wasn’t there before. So in the interest of obsessive fandom, let’s take a trippy look into this very unique movie!
Going Full Supernatural
For the most part, Zombie’s other movies are at least within the realm of realism. Sure they dabble in the otherworldly with Dr. Satan’s apparent immortality in House of 1000 Corpses and the whole white horse subplot of Halloween II.
But other than that, his stories mostly revolved around humans brutally killing other humans. And in that regard, Lords of Salem is wholly different. It’s his only film that plays more like a supernatural mystery.
The coven of witches aren’t overtly or directly killing anyone (well not initially at least), and their “magic” exists just within the fringes of reality. Because of this, it’s much more subtle and even hypnotic than we’re used to seeing from Zombie.
If you’ve ever watched his music videos Rob Zombie’s surrealist style is usually on display. He occasionally makes use of it in his films, particularly the dream sequences in Halloween II and Baby Firefly’s strange ballet dancing cat hallucination in 3 From Hell.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always fit in perfectly with his gritty/violent tone, but in Lords of Salem it’s very much at home. Because of the mysterious nature of the plot, the audience (nor the main character, Heidi) are ever really sure what is real and what isn’t.
As a result we get a fascinating juxtaposition Zombie’s usual visceral gore with some beautiful, elegantly artistic imagery. Also, who can forget that incredibly hypnotic song that almost sounds like something out of Sinister?!
There’s always been a sense of nihilism to Zombie’s films, particularly the ones where he’s humanizing characters that are absolutely repulsive. We need listen no further than Otis’ rantings about chaos to get a taste of that.
But in a way, Lords of Salem takes that idea and runs with in a way that’s not overtly obvious, at least not at first. We see Heidi struggle with maintaining sobriety and keeping her life on track, but ultimately none of that matters. Her fate was decided long ago due to her lineage and the will of a coven who sought revenge centuries earlier.
We often see the conflict between fate and free will played out in fiction, and usually the “fate” that a character has in store is one of great achievement. But for Heidi, her fate was forever tied to the film’s grim conclusion. So what was the point of her ever trying to better her life? The answer is nothing.
So if we believe in fate, we must accept the fact that not all fates are inherently positive. It makes us question if someone who died in a terrible accident was meant to and if so, why were they meant for something so terrible.
It’s an idea that’s just as fascinating as it is disturbing. And Rob Zombie kind of hits then nail on the head with his depiction of it in this movie. It’s the most massive takeaway from the movie but it doesn’t get discussed nearly enough.
What do you think of The Lords of Salem? Is it secretly brilliant or more style than substance? Let us know in the comments!