Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lords of Salem (2012)

Plots are actually kind of overrated. Hell, why bother having one at all when you can just have weird images and lots of screaming? For a horror director, this is almost essential now, as we all know the best plots were either used in the past or stolen from our minds by alien probes. Those are really the only two options, so it's better not to even try. So who else can save us from this plight but Rob Zombie? I mean, if you can't trust movies made by the equivalent of your high school bully who used to shove your head in a toilet, you can't trust anybody, man.

Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips

Co-written with The Observer and Michelle.

This was the last Rob Zombie film as of this writing, and no one really saw it because who would, after seeing the Halloween remakes he did? As much as I hate to admit it though, this is a better movie than either of those remakes, even if only by a little bit. But that won't stop me from making fun of it!

We start this off with a bunch of witches in the 1600s screaming and cackling, because when Tumblr hasn't been invented yet, I guess you gotta entertain yourself somehow.

"Look at my hands! They're somehow the only part of my body that's clean!"

This goes on for waaaay too long, but fortunately after that we get introduced to our main character, Sheri Moon Zombie.

Literally the first shot you see of her; I am not kidding.

Boy, he really isn't wasting time, is he? Two Rob Zombie cliches in the first five minutes – his wife, and his wife's naked ass.

She's playing Heidi, a radio DJ who has a dog, I guess. That's about the extent of her character. I guess the story is that she sees a weird figure across the hall from her at the apartment she thought was abandoned – what? A character in a horror movie sees something that might be just in her mind? Stop the presses!

But what is the dialogue like? Will it be a flurry of swearing like in every other movie he's done? Well, the first human interaction is with the old lady landlord who Heidi asks about the figure she saw in the other apartment. The landlord responds no, there's no one in there, but she's just glad she got rid of the last tenant who lived there, who “was a dog,” she says. Then she reaches down and pats Heidi's dog and says “no offense,” you know, just to make sure she isn't stepping on any toes.

"Rrruuuffff! Too late! Offense taken!"

Well, I'm convinced. Heidi goes to work and hangs out with another Ken Foree role and this other guy, who I'm pretty sure is getting ready to join ISIS. Even if he isn't, though, I'm positive he can't get through airport security quick enough to catch his flight.

These three are apparently a bunch of radio hosts who do silly things like play sound effects and have conversations with each other! Oh wait...those are normal things radio hosts do. Well, shit. I guess they get a strange vinyl record in the mail for Heidi, which turns out to be this weird noise that makes Heidi uncomfortable to listen to.

But that isn't a big deal for now. For now it's time for Heidi and Mr. Beardo over there to hang out at her house and re-enact scenes you've seen in every indie comedy flick:

Oh yeah, dance party in a horror movie! That sets the mood.

And it may look like she's cooking something, but don't be fooled – she's just swirling that beige-colored slop around to give the appearance of cooking.

The next night she comes home and winds up hanging out with her landlord's sisters, one of whom is a palm reader who I'm sure will be living in a shitty motel working at a Circle K in a year...I mean, she flat out says most of the lines on Heidi's palm don't mean anything to her and she only looks at one of them. Isn't that like being a math teacher and refusing to teach anything above sixth-grade-level multiplication? Somehow I don't think there are thick enough cloaks and mirrors in the world to hide that much bullshit. She tells Heidi to get in touch with her dark, sexual side or some bullshit like that.

Yes, get in touch with your dark, sexual side - palm reading psychics are kind of like issues of Cosmo after all.

I also love the landlord's exasperated cry of “you need to stop overdoing that psychic act; it's annoying!” after Heidi leaves. Yeah, I guess annoying would be one word to describe it. Maybe they should hire this lady to be casting director for Rob Zombie's other movies. She could just sit there and call every other performer in House of 1,000 Corpses annoying. And in Halloween II she could probably just kill Rob Zombie and improve the movie.

On the show, they interview an old man who's written a book about witches. They ask him if there were any “real witches,” sort of as a joke, and he answers, very deadpan, that there are no such things as real witches.

"There's also no such thing as the Easter bunny."

Wellp, that settles that! Movie over.

Later on, Heidi has a very surreal nightmare in which she goes into the room from Se7en and finds this:

Man, the previous tennants left half a can of butter, a roll of toilet paper and their giant glowering angry red cross. How inconsiderate.

Riveting. Then outside, in a hallway that already looks like it's out of The Shining, she runs into a grimy, naked old lady who looks like she also belongs in The Shining.

Bah, she's just part of the nudist convention going through town at the time. No biggie!

Then Heidi goes to a church the next day, intending to have a quiet and reflective day with her neglected ole' buddy J.C., but the priest shows up and starts talking to her instead. How is it in these movies that there's always a priest hanging around an empty church even when there's nothing going on? Don't they ever do anything else? Do they go out to buy groceries and chain-link-fence the church up until they get back?

"Why are you in here at any random time the protagonist in these movies come into a church?"
"Simple, my child - I am bound by blood to stay in this church forever."
"Yes, it's really quite horrific and depressing."

Anyway, conversation with the priest turns into a rape scene, which is such low-hanging fruit I could probably grab it from here in stupid old Florida, but I'm not going to.

Use your imagination...

After that, it's time for exposition, with that old man who they had on their radio show, who is suspicious of things going on because the script needs someone to investigate witches and shit like that. How do you think this went in the writers' room?

“Rob, I know you wanted this to be nothing but psychedelic brain-fucking imagery, but I really can't even tell what's going on, and I'm supposed to be the scriptwriter! I think we need to shoehorn in some kind of exposition-y plot device!”

“I think it's good the way it is. I always wanted to make a movie with nothing but naked witches and images I saw while half-dead in a drugged stupor. I'm fulfilling my dream!”

“Yeah, but we already hired Bruce Davison for the role! That'd be a lot of wasted money otherwise.”

“...alright, throw in some really generic scenes where he discovers stuff about the witches in the past being related to Heidi. That ought to be good enough, right?”

“Eh, sure. Why not?”

The problem with this, of course, was the obvious – the conversation just took place between Zombie and the drunken ghost of what remains of his own conscience. He was just sitting in an empty room talking to himself there.

After that shit is over and you're falling asleep, we get scenes of Heidi getting sicker and sicker and going home to get pushed around in a wheelchair by the three witch sisters who run the place.

Now they can skip the lines at Disney.

They take her back to that creepy Se7en-style room, only this time it's actually the palace Versailles, apparently. Heidi somehow has corpse paint on like she's in the worst ICP cover band in the world, and gives a double-handjob, I guess, to the appendages of a Cthulhu-like monster which we never really see.

That's the same face the entire audience has after watching the rest of the movie, too!

Apparently, this is her tipping point into madness, as she then spends all her time half-asleep on the couch, unable to move. Oh please, this is just what people do after a bad breakup. I'm not impressed. It would be more intimidating if she just reverted to her past life and started making women slap each other for the chance to go to the bathroom.

That bearded dude calls a few times, and has a sort of incoherent conversation with Heidi about their sort-of romance going on, which might be compelling if we really knew anything about either character. But I guess that wasn't the important part of the film.

We also get this scene, where Mr. Exposition Man comes over to try and figure out what's going on. He was smart enough to find out Heidi was related to the witches from the past, but apparently his Sherlock Holmes powers ran out there, as he doesn't seem to have a clue that the three old ladies are the bad guys here. "I mean, they act about as subtle as a clown wielding a machete, but fuck, I was totally surprised!"

Is it any surprise that they kill him afterward? Oh, and they don't do it with magic witch powers or anything cool like that. They just beat him to death with a frying pan, and no, I am not joking.

"Why did we put that cloth over his face anyway? It's not like anyone's going to come in here right this moment. I mean it's a movie - that would never happen."

Oh well. Farewell character we won't ever remember the name of!

Beard-O takes Heidi out to this concert of the “Lords of Salem” band, who we never really see. Or we do see something, if watching a drug-fucked psychedelic orgy on screen counts as actually watching a band play. Seriously, I think some of these images are what hardcore right-wing Christians think the rest of us are doing on weekends.

It's cool to act like you're riding a bucking bronco when you're really just sitting on a goat who doesn't care.
Boy, Gene Simmons is hard up for cash these days.
Worst Eyes Wide Shut party ever.

There are also some more scenes of fire and naked witches and babies covered in blood and all kinds of shit. Then we see Heidi can really rock those white contact lenses they sell at the Halloween discount costume store. And that's just kinda the end of the movie. Hooray?

"Oh yeah, raided the $1 bin at K-Mart, now we're ready to trick or treat!"

Oh, well we do get a few "flashback" style scenes with her playing with the dog.

Now I see the point: the dog was the main character of the movie all along!

This was...well, better than most of Zombie's other movies. It at least tried some new things here and there, and it did show that he can write other things than rednecks and people screaming at each other, or Venn diagrams of the two things overlapping. This at least tried to set up a bit of character and atmosphere, and I did like the lightning, colors and visuals of it all – it was a very nice looking film full of spooky Halloween-esque ambiance, so that was fun.

The problem was that it just wasn't really a movie so much as a collection of cool looking images. It was kind of like a scrapbook of images from the mind of a character from a Dario Argento film. Zombie was definitely going for that vibe here – that super old school, retro vibe trying to imitate Suspiria, Inferno or any number of Lucio Fulci flicks, as well as The Shining for that matter. But it just didn't have any kind of real story to it. Everything that happened just felt incidental – like, oh, really, Heidi was a descendant of these witches and somehow never moved away from Salem for all these years? And she just so happened to be in the right places (the radio station, her apartment with the witches as landlords) for all this weird shit to happen to her? Well, what a small world after all!

The movie ends before we really get any sense of purpose behind what happened. There isn't really enough meat on the bones of this story to carry it beyond “curious” to actually good...the Fulci and Argento flicks, despite being similarly fever-dream-induced like this, at least had a sense of flow and narrative to them, and characters that kinda moved the story along. Here, once Heidi gets under the spell of these witches, or whatever it is that happens to her, the story stops cold and it just starts being about creepy imagery rather than a creepy story. That's the real difference here. For a similar but better modern horror movie, I'd really recommend House of the Devil.

But eh, at least this would probably be good if you watched it while high off your ass. Which is the real barometer for quality of any movie, when you think about it.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.