I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Lords of Salem

SPOILER: Bigfoot cameos in this movie
SPOILER: Bigfoot cameos in this movie

I didn’t even realize THE LORDS OF SALEM was coming out this week until somebody told me. I never saw an ad or saw the trailer play before another movie. When I saw the Anchor Bay logo at the beginning I thought, “That’s weird, why is the new Rob Zombie movie being distributed by the company that only does barely-released-or-advertised horror like HATCHET or BEHIND THE MASK?” After the movie was over it kinda made more sense.

There are many things I liked about this one. Oddly enough I like that it stars Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie. She was a major character in all his other movies, but in this one she’s the center of the whole story and often alone on screen. I like that because it’s unusual to see an adult, tattooed, dreadlocked white lady as a lead. You see ’em around but they don’t usually make movies about them. Nice to have something different sometimes.

Zombie plays Heidi, a recovering addict radio DJ in Salem, Massachusetts who starts experiencing the ol’ Weird Shit Happens And Then I Wake Up But Still It Really Seems Like Something Is Going On Here You Guys after listening to a record that mysteriously shows up at the station in a spooky wooden case. As you may have heard there were some witch trials and burnings in this town some years back. We see them in flashbacks, and I don’t know but it seems like there might be some ties between the people living here now and the ones back then?

mp_lordsofsalemWhen she plays the mysterious record on the radio it catches the curiosity of her guest Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), a local author and historian promoting a book about the witch trials. Davison is outstanding, he plays it as a real guy who is just interested in this thing and wants to find out more about it. He has no inkling that he could be the Loomis in this movie, or that he is going to encounter anything supernatural at all. How could he? Supernatural things don’t exist.

One of his best scenes is discussing witchcraft books with a fellow author (Richard Fancy I think?) and both of them are casual and laughing about it, there’s not an ounce of the usual graveness of an expert in a horror movie who gives us the backstory.

Ground zero for the Weird Shit is the apartment where Heidi lives. She has a friendly relationship with her landlord Lacy (Judy Geeson) but when she gets invited over for tea with Lacy and her friends (Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn) you start to wonder about those ladies and their motives. Wallace especially seems to have fun alternating between sweet gal friend, uncomfortably flirtatious and possibly evil.

I think Zombie is trying to make a little more mature and restrained movie, a little quieter, slower paced, less brash and cartoonish than what he’s known for. The soundtrack is mostly low keyboard drones, it mostly takes place in the overcast day time in this quiet Salem neighborhood. There are lots of slow pans through eerie hallways and scenes of Heidi walking her dog.

So it kinda feels more grounded than what Zombie is known for, but on the other hand he’s still gotta get his rock t-shirts and posters in there, it still takes place in a world where it’s kind of 2013 but also kind of the ’70s, where a small town Massachusetts lady can live in an apartment that looks like an art installation, she likes to watch old black and white movies that have skulls in them and she works at a radio station where she and two other DJs (Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree) seem to have the only show, that lasts all day and night, and they choose the records they get to play (noise metal, Rick James, Rush) and interview people about satanism and do wacky Zoo Crew sound effects even at night time and she wears fur coats and giant bell bottoms and her possible love interest guy has the nastiest beard ever on a leading man that has not just woken up from a coma or escaped from years of imprisonment.

One of the seven people at my showing walked out probly half an hour in, and I wasn’t that surprised. It takes it’s sweet time getting to the goods. I don’t mean violence (there’s not that much of it) but the little surreal incidents that happen every once in a while but mostly you just wait for them. There is some great trademark Rob Zombie imagery, including masturbating zombie priests and a little guy that looks like a mutant baby crossed with a turkey roast, and he’s on a balcony and she’s yanking on some intestine like tentacle things from his stomach and he makes kind of a gargly noise. That was definitely the highlight. I wanted her to bring that little guy home and adopt him. She was obviously lonely living alone in that apartment with just a dog, and I think she could be a good mother to him.

It’s a movie that has moments more than it has a story. You wait for things like the shot of the three witch ladies looking at the horrific, possessed Heidi, and their faces are glowing with joy like they’re seeing their daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. But mostly you get things like she’s walking her dog and there’s a guy walking a goat but then the guy is gone so maybe he wasn’t actually there, there might not have been a goat, oh well.

There are great pieces but they don’t really build into that great of a whole. I noticed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY mogul Oren Peli’s name as a producer, and whether or not he’s responsible I think that’s the problem, it follows the structureless approach of a generic ghost movie. A weird thing happens. Then nothing happens for a while. Then another weird thing happens. Then nothing happens for a while. Repeat until larger but obvious weird thing happens at the end. No momentum, little consequences.

Actually I think it’s Zombie’s version of a Ti West movie. It has a pretty similar mood, pace and retro style to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Admittedly there’s more that happens in it than in that one, certainly more visual imagination. But it doesn’t have as much of a build to it, or as sympathetic of a central character.

Say what you will about Rob Zombie’s other movies – I either like them or consider them interesting failures, most people are harder on them – but his movies were never boring. Until this one. In its defense this might be partly a matter of horror preference. In the rankings of common horror movie formulas the satanic cult one would be real near the bottom for me. And I was never into the demonic possession ones either. All the Christian based ones, for some reason. I feel like they kinda count on you being superstitious in a way that I’m not, and tend to be too obvious about their formula of just unexplainable thing after unexplainable thing. Throw a stabber or a monster that’s gonna bite somebody’s head off and it’s more visceral, it gets my heart pumping.

Maybe I have unfair expectations based on knowing Zombie’s other movies. If it was somebody else maybe I’d be more open to the slow and uneventful approach. And in the movie’s defense there is one part where there’s some kind of bigfoot or something standing next to her. That was pretty cool. And I think later you hear him growling from behind a door. There are a couple good chuckles in this one. Unintended but appreciative chuckles. Not enough, though.

The other big problem is I think this movie is just kinda dumb. All of Zombie’s movies have traces of a forced shock value, but in this one he’s drawing satanic symbols and using a “Jesus Saves” neon cross ironically and that whole kind of juvenile “I AM MOCKING A RELIGION, AM I BLOWING YOUR MIND YET?” gimmick that most people grow out of before they’re old enough to rent a car. And the corny “Satan! BOO!” surface is way more important to him than anything underneath. I mean, think about what the movie is saying.

I know I’ve talked about this in other reviews before, but it’s really gotta be said here: it’s fucked up when movie witch hunts catch actual witches. I’m not pulling a “too soon” or anything but isn’t it kind of wrong to repaint such a shameful part of our history into a cool fantasy where the murderous oppressors are turned into the heroes? If we follow the mythology of this movie to its logical conclusion then the superstitious maniacs who executed 20 people in Salem because they thought they used evil magic powers to make the crops fail and shit clearly did the right thing. In fact if anything they didn’t do a good enough job of savagely burning human beings alive because they didn’t stop their curse.

Also according to this movie music really does have evil satanic powers. So score one for the Religious Right of the 1980s. Hats off to the Reverend Don Wildmon and the PMRC and everybody. We thought you were crazy moronic people trying to ruin our lives, actually you were right and we were wrong. Thanks for censoring records and sending kids to boot camp for growing their hair long and wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts.

Why does Rob Zombie, a performer of the rock music, want to portray the world this way? I’m afraid it’s just because he thinks it’s awesome. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were gross old naked ladies talking about cunts and cackling and they got burned alive and there’s a fuckin creepy rock song and it’s haunted or whatever and a priest rapes her but it’s only a dream and they all get naked and she gives birth to a lumpy thing and there’s blood everywhere that’s fucked up man awesome? Um, yeah, I guess so. I wish I thought there was more to LORDS OF SALEM than that, but if there is I don’t see it. More than ever Mr. Zombie has made a movie with an artist’s eye and a 14 year old stoner’s brain.

You could put all the best imagery from this into a rock video and it would have the same amount of substance. I would prefer smart and entertaining. Failing that, you got dumb and entertaining or smart though boring. Dumb and boring doesn’t cut it.

As I think about the parts in this movie I did like I can’t entirely dismiss the movie. The turkey baby scene on its own is a classic. There are some HOLY MOUNTAIN moments in here, and one of the most random sasquatches of all time, and some other highlights. I gotta respect that. But you’re running out of passes, Zombie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 at 11:32 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

69 Responses to “The Lords of Salem”

  1. This is a ‘must watch’ for me; I’ve thought of his films more as flawed successes rather than interesting failures.

    I even prefer his Halloween to the original (heresy!). Sorry I do, I just never got the love for the original.

  2. I think Rob Zombie is intentionally riffing on American ideas and fears about the Devil, hence the evil rock music and whatnot, the movie’s premise seems to be “hey, what if those kooky Christian beliefs you laughed off as being bullshit turned out to be right the entire time?”, for me personally, I think it’s a pretty scary idea actually

  3. because, I’m afraid I do tend to have those superstitions that you don’t Vern

  4. I like atmosphere over story or scares in horror movies. My favorite horror director is Mario Bava, and I love some stuff from Fulcio or Polanski, so I think I’ll like this shit.

  5. Chopper Sullivan

    April 21st, 2013 at 1:30 am

    “Say what you will about Rob Zombie’s other movies – I either like them or consider them interesting failures, most people are harder on them – but his movies were never boring.”

    I beg to differ. I’ve seen HALLOWEEN II. I’ve never been more bored by so much violence in my life.

    Rob Zombie IS that guy. The “dude this is cool cuz it’s fucked up right bro” guy. I really don’t believe anyone would give a shit about his films or claim he has a “vision” if he weren’t already a rock star. A rock star with terrible, cornball lyrics backed by awful stripper music.

    This guy deserves no further passes. Can’t we give Lucky McKee some of Zombie’s undeserved credibility? Or Greg McLean maybe?

  6. What Chopper said. Zombie is the metal-redneck-nerd equivalent of Tyler Perry, pumping out unwatchable, infantile bullshit that nonetheless somehow appeals to some people due to its operating in a niche genre that is perceived as being under-served.

    I got no problem with the subject matter or the “vision.” It’s just that his 4 films that I’ve seen so far suffer from embarrassingly incompetent execution, and not the charming kind of incompetent. Other than obviously higher quality film stock, cosmetics, & sound design, I’d hesitate to compare any of Zombie’s films favorably with the myriad shitty but interesting student films I’ve endured from rough, aspiring filmmaker friends through the years.

  7. I don’t know, I tend to give Zombie a lot more credit too.

    HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES starts with that kind of Tarantino bullshit, that appeals to the kids (5 minutes of “funny” dialogue about nothing, then suddenly an outburst of violence) and continues to be a typical teen slasher until it suddenly becomes a grim kick into the balls. Plus: He depicted the most realistic dream that I’ve ever seen on film! (The one short scene that is shot in some weird coloured Predator vision and has a couple talk about how an ape man raped the wife.)

    REJECTS isn’t as great as everyone says, but I love it for its subversive take on serial killer glorification.

    HALLOWEEN 1 works best when he doesn’t try to mimic the original and part 2 is just one big “Fuck you, I’m doing MY version of Halloween!”.

    I don’t have much to good to say about EL SUPERBEASTO, though. The animation looked nice and the voice acting was good and hiring those guys who wrote the musical numbers, was a great idea. Looking forward for LORDS OF SALEM, although I won’t rush out and rent it as soon as hit hits my country.

    And am I the only one who thinks that Zombie might become the voice of Rocket Raccoon? He did some voice work in James Gunn’s last two movies and Disney is now using of his songs in a trailer. (Just kidding. Unless it happens. Then I will proudly say “I told you so!”.)

  8. Captain Spaulding should have his own movie.

  9. Weird and boring as shit.
    I saw it at a late night showing at Sxsw.
    Rob Zombie was really nice and funny at the Q&A afterwards.
    He knows exactly the kind of movie he did. But it is HIS vision, all the time.
    I mean, flawed and all, it’s a personal movie made by an auteur.
    I’ll get that everytime instead of another shitty heartless Saw…

  10. Will Vern next take on the definitive Salem witch movie? Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus! I saw the Movie Magic making of when it came out and looking back it was my introduction to Doug Jones.
    Ortega got his start choreographing The Tubes stage shows, then Xanadu with Tubes cameo for early mashup, and then ruining Billy Squier’s career by directing “Stroke Me” music video. See Russell Mulcahy’s directed album length music video of The Tubes “Completion Backwards Principle” with Ortega choreography (Beware of lead singer’s full frontal microphone in “Sports Fan”):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbrprqzz0IU

  11. Sorry, Oretega ruined Squier’s career with “Rock Me Tonite” video.

  12. I hate Halloween and Halloween 2 so much. Like so much.

  13. “I know I’ve talked about this in other reviews before, but it’s really gotta be said here: it’s fucked up when movie witch hunts catch actual witches. I’m not pulling a “too soon” or anything but isn’t it kind of wrong to repaint such a shameful part of our history into a cool fantasy where the murderous oppressors are turned into the heroes? If we follow the mythology of this movie to its logical conclusion then the superstitious maniacs who executed 20 people in Salem because they thought they used evil magic powers to make the crops fail and shit clearly did the right thing. In fact if anything they didn’t do a good enough job of savagely burning human beings alive because they didn’t stop their curse.”

    This is my problem with his other movies, too. Why should I root for or give two shits about the evil people winning the day? I mean was I supposed to feel bad for “The Devil’s Rejects” when they were being gunned down in slo-mo to “Freebird” or something? I wanted everyone dead in “House of 1,000 Corpses” although I did enjoy the clown guy. Probably the best character Zombie ever came up with. Eh, I guess these movies aren’t for me, just like the torture porn genre and the human centipedes and the Guinea Pig series back in the day. I do have to say I enjoyed the f*ck out of “El Superbeasto”, probably my favorite thing Zombie put his name to.

  14. In (partial) defense of all those people who want to make a story about how witches are a real evil menace, the town of Salem invites this reading of history. I live in Boston (it’s been a crazy fucking week), so I’ve been up to Salem a number of times. The entire place is a huge tourist trap with a lot of crappy shops and terrible museums that haven’t changed in fifty years. But the city of Salem have decided to put up images of witches on broomsticks on signs everywhere. I was taught in school that the moral of the Salem witch trials was that there were no witches, and the town folk were looking for enemies who weren’t even there. But the actual Salem government wants me to think that witches were a very real threat. And that they make great mascots.

  15. My favorite Rob Zombie movie is HALLOWEEN II, the only problem with it being it was called HALLOWEEN II. I think he got really good with actors by that one, and as such it’s about as emotional a slasher movie as I’ll allow, showing that the pain and trauma of violence doesn’t stop once the stabbing’s over. My man Brad Dourif has one of the most devastating scenes of shock and grief I’ve ever witnessed, a real showstopper that puts all the gore and brutality in perspective. (Bear in mind that I have only seen the director’s cut, which I’m told contains many completely different scenes than the theatrical cut, including the amazing one I just described.) Plus there’s weird trippy shit all over the place and some relentless stalk-and-slash sequences. I found it to be a much fuller, more mature film than it gets credit for. I actually think Zombie is better when he’s quieter and subtler, minus the corny fetishes that box him in, so I’m looking forward to this one. It might not all work out but I think it’s the direction he should be moving in, away from self-conscious grindhouse pastiche and into spooky, psychological psychedelia.

  16. “I know I’ve talked about this in other reviews before, but it’s really gotta be said here: it’s fucked up when movie witch hunts catch actual witches. I’m not pulling a “too soon” or anything but isn’t it kind of wrong to repaint such a shameful part of our history into a cool fantasy where the murderous oppressors are turned into the heroes? If we follow the mythology of this movie to its logical conclusion then the superstitious maniacs who executed 20 people in Salem because they thought they used evil magic powers to make the crops fail and shit clearly did the right thing. In fact if anything they didn’t do a good enough job of savagely burning human beings alive because they didn’t stop their curse.”
    I don’t have a problem with it because
    1. It’s fiction and not meant to be taken as truth. I feel kind of like a smartass for stating that, but…sorry.
    2. The Witch Trials can still be painted in a negative light due to all the wrongfully accused people who got killed by ignorant bloodthirsty zealots. Would you argue we couldn’t do a 1950s Cold War movie that depicted actual communist spies getting captured because of how terrible McCarthyism was?

    So I guess you won’t be reviewing HANSEL AND GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS on DVD then?

  17. Richard/Vern. The logic here is the same logic as in gangster movies. These characters are indeed evil but they represent a subversive force to authority and order, and we like that shit because all of us are oppressed to a degree by authority. The witches represent a revenge fantasy by oppressed ancient polytheist feminine culture executed against current monotheist patriarchy. Does that make any sense?
    I mean, why do we love Scarface, Parker, The Bride, Lecter, Django, The Mack, Dirty Harry? They are all killers, pimps and drug dealers.
    I agree that the movie does not work. But the reasons are probably half assed script and low budget and not the fact that Zombie gives fictional magical powers to historically powerless women.

  18. Well, I agree that the treatment of witches is not the main problem with the movie. But I can’t think of another type of horror trope that is comparable. In the real witch trials innocent people, mostly women, were smeared, tortured and executed or imprisoned because of a made up story about them being devil worshiping monsters with magic powers, and LORDS and similar movies portray this as not a made up story. But would there be a movie where Nazis fail to stop a Zionist conspiracy, or where some primitive stereotype that white racists had about their slaves is portrayed as reality? We would know it was fiction, but I don’t think anybody would be comfortable with it. (except Larry.)

    Anyway, the more I think about it the more I think my main problem is that it uses this ghost movie type formula of just a series of unexplainable incidents more than a story that builds to something and has people trying to solve a problem or perform a task or something. Zombie has some brilliant moments in there but using this limp storyless type of horror makes it too obvious that it’s just some cool images he came up with and not anything with a meaning or purpose. That’s why his other movies worked better for me, even with more obvious flaws.

  19. I really liked this one, but I definitely suspect I will be in the minority. It’s uneventful and lacks much of a narrative drive, especially because of how passive the heroine is. There’s not much excitement as it goes along because she never really has an opportunity to fight back, or try to escape, or whatever. It’s just her slowly being taken over by the witches.

    But I did love the atmosphere and the deliberate pacing, & thought Sherri Moon Zombie was probably the most sympathetic lead Zombie has ever put in a movie (in fact, this one has decent character work all around). The central concept isn’t really scary, and all the peek-a-boo stuff with the old witches randomly appearing int he background gets tiresome fast, but Zombie really milks every last drop of mood he can get out of it. I’m also the one person on Earth whose favorite film of Zombie’s is HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, and the finale for LORDS OF SALEM feels like the followup to that film that I’ve been hoping for.

    I thought about the Salem witches being real thing, too, and although it didn’t detract from the movie overall, it is pretty stupid and borderline offensive. I feel the same when movies portray ghost hunters as, like, legitimate scientists and good guys. In real, those people are either charlatans or idiots, yet for some reason horror movies like to lend their profession creedance.

  20. It’s a movie about witches. How were they not supposed be real in the context of the movie? If it was a documentary about the Salem Witch Trials, I could see someone getting offended, but it was clearly a work of fiction. If you want to go that route, I’d say Blair Witch is the bigger offender because it tries to play itself as “this really happened”, but I don’t find that offensive either. It’s just a movie.

    As for Lords of Salem, I have this sneaking feeling that I’m gonna end up liking this movie the more I watch it. In the theater though, it was a “rough sit”. Pretty much how I came to love Magnolia after hating it the first few times watching it.

  21. I’ve seen it done so that the witches were just harmless wiccans who got persecuted by religious zealots back in the old days, but now the thirst for revenge has turned them bitter and evil. Best of both worlds, because then you have villains you can feel sympathy for.

  22. The moral of this story is that PARANORMAN did it better. This can be applied to most things.

  23. Mr. M — that reminds me, how is your script for THE CRUCIBLE 2: SEASON OF THE WITCH shaping up? We gonna get that Daniel Day Lewis cameo or what?

  24. I don’t even remember that. Did I get blackout drunk and sign another screenwriting contract? Man, that’s how I got stuck writing the never-produced ARMAGEDDON sequel, ARMAGEDDON 2 OLD 4 THIS SHIT.

  25. “where Nazis fail to stop a Zionist conspiracy”

    not now of course, but in another 100 or 200 years, who knows? see I think that’s the thing, the Salem Witch Trials are older than the US itself, so long ago that not that many people really give a shit, hence movies like this

  26. Finally saw this tonight. Theater had three other people in it; an elderly black guy sitting in the third row by himself, and two (I think) homeless women sitting in the middle having a nonsensical conversation about Jesus at normal conversational volume right next to the exit, surrounded by bags and blankets and so forth. At first I was afraid that their constant talking would bring me out of it; then, I realized it was the exact correct way to watch this particular movie. All three people bailed by last 30 minutes.

    I sort of loved this movie. If BARTON FINK and THE SHINING had a baby who was a Sammy Hagar fan, it would be LORDS OF SALEM. It’s dumb as rocks, but man, does it want to take you there. Only Zombie would have the hubris to want to make his own vision of THE SHINING except someone smokes meth halfway through. I loved every insane but entirely necessary touch, including but not limited to the inexplicable bigfoot, the TRIP TO THE MOON imagery, the evil baboon statue, the masturbating baghead bishops, the bleeding pop art, the turnkey-basted midget withe the EDWARD PENISHAND tentacles. Name another contemporary director who would dare.

    I can’t defend the end, though, which is pretty heartbreaking in how bad it wants to blow your mind and how ill-equipped it is for the job. You can almost see Zombie’s frustration with his limited imagination for deep horror manifested on the screen. He knows what he wants, but he just can’t quite create it himself. He just keeps throwing ending after ending at you, hoping the cumulative effect will be enough to get you there. But ironically, it might have actually gotten there if he’d held back a little instead of doubting himself and saturating your with lame imagery. Take the final 15 minutes and cull 3 minutes of genuinely disturbing dreamscapes from it, THEN you’ll have the classic you’re after. It’ll still be dumb as a rock, but at least it will have focus enough to get the job done.

    I can’t defend this as a great movie, but I gotta appreciate Zombie’s obvious desire to make something classic. He’s so close that unfortunately you can also see how far away he is. But god damn, how often are you gonna get to see something this fuckin’ WEIRD in cinemas? Get out there and see it while you can (for the next three days). I can’t imagine anyone on this board honestly regretting the experience.

  27. I want to see this now just for the random bigfoot cameo.

  28. Would anyone buy Heidi’s complete lack of agency for most of the movie as a metaphor for addiction?

  29. SpacemanSpliffz

    May 2nd, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    First of all, taking this movie literally, and not as a work of art is where the reviewer went wrong here. I don’t know if that last bit about feeling bad about something that happened 100+ years ago was supposed to be funny, or a troll, or if the author forgot that movies like this generally carry a requirement of suspending one’s disbelief. It’s a story, meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable as it makes it’s slow crescendo to utter horror. It’s also a homage to the early 70’s satanic movies, just as House of 1000 corpses, and The Devil’s Rejects were homages to early 70’s grindhouse movies. People that watch this and were expecting to see murder, drugs and rocknroll will be dissappointed. People going to see this movie expecting to see disturbing imagery, spectacular set pieces, memorable characters, devils & witches, interesting story archs, and a dash of love story will not only be pleased, they’ll be downright happy.

    This movie was epic to me, every word spoken and every scene kept me interested, and wanting to find out what happens to the people in this little world. I loved it, but that’s because I got it. Some people just won’t, and that’s cool too.

  30. I agree with Vern’s review here almost exactly word for word, sentiment for sentiment.

    Terrible movie, yet it’s also successful for what it attempts. I’m not completely outraged that I gave it a chance, not 100% baffled that I gave it my time & $ today, so that’s an improvement over what I feel about all of Rob Zombie’s other films (Admittedly, I haven’t seen FUCK YOU JOHN CARPENTER 2 yet, though I hear good-ish things.).

    I was hoping for more psychotronic weirdness, but, well, no, wait, I got plenty of that, it’s just that it’s not very compelling, not well paced, not fun, not scary, and not meaningful.

    And no, including one scene that explicates, or at least foregrounds, the protagonist’s drug problem
    (and thus opens the attendant possibilities of distorted p-o-v, allegory, themes, real world weightiness, etc.)
    does not make this movie “deep.” Not that I require depth, but, you know, something like depth would be nice if I’m expected to sit through 90+ minutes of Rob Zombie working through & half-realizing/projecting his adolescent bullshit ideas journal in visual-aural form. Next time, Mr. Zombie, keep it on the little notepad under your Velvet Underground poster and atop your drawer full of non-ironic rocker t-shirts.

    Anyway, for more of my thoughts on this film, please read all the words that Vern already posted above.

  31. It is kinda clever how the dream (?) “climax” occurs in a sparsely attended theatre. I counted maybe 24 heads in an auditorium built to hold hundreds, so that could either be interpreted as Zombie meta-acknowledging the sad esotericism of his oeuvre, the limited appeal of his tastes & his subsequently relatively tiny box office draw, or it could just be evidence that he could only afford that many extras to participate in his movie.

    Regardless, if you’re going to see just one underseen, weirdly artsy, satisfyingly violent movie that co-stars Ken Foree this season, make it NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR (1991).

  32. Hey Mouth, I don’t know if you saw it, but what do you think of the idea expressed by Joshua James, above? Is Heidi’s complete passivity a reflection of her addiction? Is the addiction angle actually, perhaps, a more relavent part of the proceedings than is immediately clear?

  33. I’m gonna write a blues song about how nobody understands my stance on the Salem witch trials.

  34. Good, I meant to include an acknowledgment that I paradoxically agree with the pro-LORDS views of my DC brethren Prestwich & Subtlety. You guys make fine arguments. Rob Zombie should totally consider y’all for the dvd liner notes.

    Um, the addiction business… might be relevant? Sure, why not, yeah. But… it still doesn’t, for me, mitigate the filmatistic weakness on display every time Zombie edits the nightmare sequences so that they become, um, literal nightmares. I don’t think I can respect any movie that has the protagonist repeatedly suddenly waking up in her bed in a smash cut.

  35. CrustaceanHate

    May 3rd, 2013 at 12:15 am

    You moan about the Salem witch trials more than the teenaged wiccans I used to hang out with.

  36. That’s ’cause they’re my backup singers, they don’t sing every verse, mostly just the choruses.

  37. “You moan about the Salem witch trials more than the teenaged wiccans I used to hang out with.”

    were they all fat?

  38. CrustaceanHate

    May 3rd, 2013 at 6:27 am

    According to my Facebook updates, their new religion is playing farmville and posting pictures of their kids all god damn day.

    Griff: Nah, just most of ’em.

  39. Vern: Seems like one thing that makes this movie especially weird is that Zombie seems to want to have it both ways: brutal, unpleasant Inquisition-like Puritan witch-hunters, but also genuine evil witches. So we know that the witch-burners are right, witches are a real danger, but he doesn’t exactly make them sympathetic either… I mean, the three Puritans were supposed to be played by Richard Lynch*, Michael Berryman, and Sid Haig. Not the actors you really get if you’re trying to evoke heroes. I take this as further evidence that Zombie didn’t really think through the message of his film, and just kind of filled in the blanks with horror tropes he remembered from other movies.

    *Lynch died before he could complete the role and they had to re-shoot with Andrew Prine

  40. Hey Vern, have you seen the trailer for the upcoming season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY? Get your soapbox ready. It’s gonna be about a witch coven that escaped the Salem witch trials and are now witchin’ it up in New Orleans.

  41. What a pretty pretty movie. I’m watching it as a double feature with ONLY GOD FORGIVES, also pretty.

  42. I’m really, really hoping that a review for THE WITCH appears on this here site one of these days so I might actually have a chance to engage with and read through some thoughtful and intelligent discussions about it.

  43. THE VVITCH was vvicked vvack. I vvish I hadn’t vvasted my time vvatching it.

    Okay, that is the opposite of intelligent discussion, but I really did think it was pretty bad. Just a bunch of droney atmosphere and cringey overacting with no payoff and no imagination. I didn’t hate it like I hate IT FOLLOWS but it didn’t entertain, interest, or frighten me in the slightest. I watched fucking OUIJA when I got home and got more out of the experience.

    I really need to stop listening to the Internet about horror movies. We clearly aren’t looking for the same things.

  44. Majestyk – even though I completely disagree with your views on ANY VVITCH WAY BUT LOOSE the fact that you were at least knowing and genuinely funny in your disregarding of it still trumps the vast majority of other online discourse generally surrounding that film, positive or negative (but mostly negative).

    I’m sure though that you can tow the line between “internet” and “INTERNET” regarding well received (and not well received) modern horror films because I would hate to see a good one that you might like sink through the cracks due to historical online precedent. Not that turning your back on that shit is nothing less than entirely understandable considering your track record with internet recommendations v actual personal enjoyment: dawn of justice.

    For the record I didn’t care for IT FOLLOWS although I appreciated a lot of its elements and really didn’t like THE BABADOOK very much at all. I really loved THE WITCH though.

    Just putting it out there that you guys are a precious and rarefied bunch so any thoughts or opinions regarding the movie that end up here will be keen reading for me as they come rolling in.

  45. Majestyk – I meant by “I’m sure though” that “I know you do” – sorry that phrasing came across as crazy patronising, it wasn’t intended that way.

  46. I like the baby-mulching and the titty-pecking. Those scenes gave me hope that I was seeing a Puritan version of a Chinese black magic movie, full of disgusting arcane rituals that are creepy because of the disconnect between how random they seem to us and how detail-oriented the practitioners are. But nope. Just some unbelievably generic cackling crones cackling and a series of meandering inexplicabilities that no one involved bothered to figure out. There’s spooky ambiguity and then there’s not bothering to finish writing your story, and that’s what we have here. A movie like this is all atmosphere and dread, but the problem with that is that if you don’t actually find it scary or creepy, there’s nothing else there. A normal horror movie can still be silly fun if it fails at being scary. If a slow burn creeping dread movie doesn’t get under your skin inmediately, there’s just nothing else there.

  47. Majestky – I guess I just didn’t see it that way. I’ve been thinking about it non-stop since I saw it – with respects to its religious, familial and gender concerns – and the fact that for me the film kept adhering to and then squirming away from the genre conventions that are generally expected of it intrigued me. On my viewing at least.

    I kind of think that they did figure out the disconnect but what I got from it is that it all conflated back into the family’s (shaky) binary heaven or hell, salvation or damnation ideologies that became messier and messier (for them) as the film went along. Which of course is an easy target for thematic sloppiness if you’re not buying its stance but I personally liked the muck it found itself in and the commitment to sticking to a quesy central thesis (one of many actually) that it chose to mire itself in.

    Thank you for taking the time to post about it man. Especially when you didn’t care for the film. I haven’t been able to properly formulate my positive (complicated) views on
    THE WITCH yet but I’m trying to and I love reading your take on movies and I completely understand, though don’t agree, with where you’re coming from.

    We’ll always have THE TALL MAN, my friend.

  48. Something I left out in all that repetition there at the end is the flip side, which is that if the movie works for you on a visceral level then it doesn’t matter that nothing much happens because what little does happen happens so intoxicatingly. I’d imagine that if the movie’s style works for you, everything else works, too. But if it doesn’t, nothing else does either.

  49. What did you take as its central theses? I thought it completely killed any sense of intellectual curiosity by showing outright that witches are horrible baby-mulching monsters while making most of the story about the religious hysteria and paranoia of the family. You know their annoying superstitions are correct in this one particular instance but you still have to go through the usual “I accuse thee, Daughter of Satan!” motions. It wasn’t really a literal witch hunt movie (in the sense that they never even figure out that there’s a real witch out there and not just their daughter doing a bunch of spooky shit for no reason) or a metaphorical one (in the sense that the enemy was all in their heads, because the threat was shown right off the bat to be exceedingly literal). It was like a morality play with no moral that I could see. Don’t hunt a witch’s symbolic bunnies? That’s all I got.

    Thank you for appreciating my rants on how a movie that moved you deeply was actually super lame.

  50. SPOILER FOR THE VVITCH KINDA I GUESS PLUS MAYBE SOME FOR A COUPLE UNRELATED MOVIES:

    I also resent this trend in modern horror of not allowing the audience to savor the unpleasant demises of annoying characters. I wanted to see those twins mulched SO. FUCKING. BADLY. But nope. Offscreen all the way. It’s David Koechner in KRAMPUS and every single character in IT FOLLOWS all over again.

  51. The style sometimes did and sometimes did not work for me but I was still onboard overall. Most movies I love will have stylistic moments that pull me out of the experience (we’ve talked about FURY ROAD’S J-Horror spikes here before) but lots of other shit in THE WITCHES OF NORTH-EASTWICK kept me invested.

    I guess for me it wasn’t an all-or-nothing kind of deal. I celebrated, kind of liked, and then was unsure about lots of shit in the movie but overall and collectively I loved it and keep turning it over in my head and am interested in seeing it again. Which for me is a good place to be in after seeing a movie.

  52. That’s cool. I can see how what seemed half-digested to me left you lots to chew on.

  53. Majestyk – Okay I didn’t see your previous posts before I made my own. Do you really need to shit on me in regards to my personal opinions to make a point though?

  54. When did I do that? I wouldn’t do that. I even acknowledge reasons why I inagine the movie could work for others even if it left me cold. My problems are with the movie, not you. I’m really curious about what you think the movie has going on under the hood because I don’t see it. I’m not trying to dismiss your opinion just because it doesn’t match mine.

    You accused me of attacking you before. Is there something in the way I word my arguments that makes them seem more personal than intended? If so, please tell me because that something I would like to work on.

  55. Majestyk – It’s a tough thing because I just genuinely try to engage with people on respectful terms and once there’s a flow going then I’m not at all sensitive to throwing good natured shade around but when someone is respectfully trying to get that conversation going and someone gives them a (completely non-terminal) roasting it just knocks the wind out of my sails because I sometimes feel like “When did this get dismissive without precedent?”

    But that’s entirely on me and no one else and I’m sorry for taking things like you saying “Thank you for appreciating my rants on how a movie that moved you deeply was actually super lame” as anything other than the jest that it is.

  56. No worries. I know I come at arguments super hard. Sometimes too hard. I was an English major so my training in critical thinking is to not allow weakness into the language of an argument. I state opinions as fact even though I know they’re subjective, because that’s how an academic essay is written. But even in those circles, I’ve never had much use for the niceties and it’s been known to piss people off. I value a worthy opponent above all else, so I argue with the knives out, trusting that the person I’m arguing with will do likewise. I’m just like a samurai in a duel. I have no personal grudge against my opponent but honor dictates that I give nothing less than my full strength. I hope to get the same in return and end up with a sense of mutual respect with my new fight brother. Like when Rocky asked Apollo “Did you give me your best?” Win, lose, it doesn’t matter as long as we can bow to each other at the end and know that the only disrespect between true warriors is to hold back.

    That said, you’ve never been anything but kind to me so it bums me out that I keep rubbing you the wrong way. I only ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt and trust that I respect your opinion, even if the tone of my words sounds harsh or dismissive. It’s something I’ve been told I need to work on, but until time changes the essence of this man I ask for your patience. Thank you.

  57. tl:dr

    fite me irl, majestyk

  58. Don’t know if I’m more interested in The Witch or less between the Mixalot and Majestyk mini-debate. I’m in the indie-horrors are usually way over-hyped (and rated) by the Internet critic community. Also not a good sign is the people raving about seem to only like it because it is something their parents/mainstream would hate (with their constant “Hail Satan!” rhetoric in all their reviews/news posts). There is one last theater playing it this week so I suppose I should force my schedule to allow me to go and see it for myself.

  59. Majestyk – I was an English / Film and Video major too and for me the constant application of force to drive through an academic argument started to fuck with me and towards the end of my degrees I realised that I cared much more about being open to the opinions of others and less guarded about the opinions I personally held than positioning myself as an authority on a subject I was arguing for or against. It just made me feel uncomfortable and went against my own personal nature and for me there is a strength to being true to oneself so that’s what I strive to do. I can also usually pre-empt the counterargument to any (art related) opinion I might have which makes chiseling one in stone here very difficult for me to do.

    Not that I don’t go hard when it’s something that really means the world to me. I’m interstate at the moment and hadn’t seen my parents in about two years. Long story short on the first day I found out that my mum doesn’t support marriage equality and within 10 minutes of fierce debate about it I had her in tears. My mum is a stern, guarded woman which made the whole scenario even more upsetting to me.

    Guess the point I’m trying to make is that as much as I love movies (and they are often the only thing that gets me through a day) I care about the feelings of others more. But there are things more important that movies that will get me to dig my heels in.

    But man, I respect the hell out of you for your passion and for your uncompromising (but fair) approach to any of the topics that get broken down on these boards. And believe me, I wrote and deleted about 50 scene-specific explanations as to why THE WITCH worked for me because I could always flip them onto their backs and watch their legs move redundantly. Guess I just need to maybe see it again to make my thoughts on it a little more concrete.

    I never used to really post here that much due to me deconstructing my own positions of argument in realtime (and then deleting them before posting) rather than resorting to a stern academic rhetoric that always brought me back to an uncomfortable time in my life. I’m trying to get better at maintaining a balance though and will try to post more interesting shit in the future as I love this community and feel damn proud to be a part of it.

    geoffreyjar – oh no, is that “Hail Satan” shit really happening?? Shit is worse out there than I thought. I haven’t personally read any reviews that resort to that kind of garbage to recommend the film but I’m unfortunately not surprised to learn that some exist.

  60. Haha not that you’d know I was a major of any kind based on how sloppy that last post was.

    Sorry fellas – the lesson here is don’t post rambling nonsense upside down in bed hungover on your phone.

  61. Just saw Rob Zombie’s 31 and I can definitely say it is very distinctly Rob Zombie. Not many others would make this one. Unfortunately that’s where the nice things I can say about it ends. I feel the movie is very similar in tone and feel to Zombie’s first movie, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, a movie I wasn’t that big a fan of but think it is a much better movie than this one. Like HOUSE, by the time that one became decent it was almost over. Anyways if you liked HOUSE you’ll probably enjoy this one I think.

    This is where I usually put ‘Well the movie isn’t very god but I still like it because it tries!’ unfortunately I cannot for this one. I did not really care for it. I like ‘experimental’ Rob Zombie (Halloween 2, Lords of Salem) much more than straight-forward trashy 70s-revival Rob Zombie (his other movies).

    That said:
    -Is it too late to fire/retcon David Ayer’s and Jared Leto’s Joker and hire Rob Zombie to write and have Richard Brake play him?
    -If you are a cartoon nerd like me, voice actor E.G. Daily has a small part in little clothing and being promiscuous.
    -I can’t wait for the shaky-cam discussions here for this one. I regret to say that this one is a major offender the camera being too damn close, the editing being too quick, and the camera not staying the fuck still at times.

  62. As a cartoon nerd *and* Georgio Moroder/synthpop enthusiast I’ve never quite been sure where my true E.G. Daily alliance lies

  63. Finally watched this one. Man, I don’t know where to start. I’ll probably need to watch it again in a year or so to really digest it. My initial reaction is that it is only okay.

    Some musings.
    1. Speaking of musings, Rob Zombie needs to let go of Sherri Moon Zombie as his filmatic muse. She’s out of her depth here. The only time I’ve found her reasonably compelling is when she was visiting Michael Myers in the sanitarium. She seemed more grounded there. In this, she is just a complete blank slate, just utterly dazed and vacuous for the whole film. Zero charisma. That may be intentional, as per the her-character-as-metaphor-for-addiction theories posited earlier in this thread. Even so, she’s a non-relatable, non-sympathetic, non-entity of a character. I feel pity for her but not real empathy or compassion, because she’s just so devoid of substance or wining qualities.

    2. Rob Zombie just degrades her character. Her ass is unnecessarily exposed at every possible opportunity, just in an ugly, unnecessary, tawdry way. The whole thing is just a series of vignettes designed to degrade her and make her seem broken and trashy. I get that this is the whole white trash-sploitation niche he’s built for himself, but the “how fucking sick is this shit?!” misanthropy and nihilism is so pervasive that it’s just icky. It’s like some Michael Bay shit where I really have to question whether he gets people or human emotion. Zero fucking self-awareness. Like Michael Bay the frat bro, Zombie is the high school goth, both of them just stuck in a state of arrested emotional development.

    3. I like trippy hypnotic films that are more about mood, energy, and imagery than dialogue or high-momentum narrative. There are films that do this well to varying degrees, whether it’s Mulholland Drive or regular Drive or Seventh Seal or Tree of Life. Even Phantasm I would put in this camp. There is the basic skeleton of a narrative, but there’s plenty of ambiguity, and it’s definitely as much about the weird journey–the imagery, the puzzling mythology, the memorable characters–as the destination. There is some fantastic baroque art set pieces and the satanic witch imagery is incredibly unnerving and compelling. But the contrast between that and Sherri Moon Zombie’s natty dreaded head shop check-out worker visage is just too much. Her character and her radio DJ buddies and the real world context of the film is not worthy of the occult other-wordly part of the film.

    4. Although I disagree with Vern and others about Moon Zombie being a compelling lead or inspired choice (she and her character are the millstone tied around the neck of this film), I do agree with Vern that this is basically an interesting 5 minute music video stretched into a feature film. Sorry, do not pass Go.

    5. Judy Gleeson. Bad, bad performance. Or badly written and badly directed performance. Possibly both. She and Moon Zombie just about ruin the film. Meg Foster and Bruce Davison are solid. I don’t think Ken Foree is too bad, actually. He’s playing a dialed down version of Ken Foree, and I like his presence in the film.

    6. My promise to re-watch this film exempted, I’d be grateful to never see Meg Foster naked again. Wow.

    That’s where the comparisons to Ti West fall down. Ti West can tell a story with sympathetic and nuanced characters, and he’s not enslaved to his pet fetishes.

  64. Skani, it sounds like to me that instead of re-watching it, you could watch something else instead.

  65. I agree with Sternshein, but instead of watching something else you should the read the LORDS OF SALEM tie-in novel co-written by Rob Zombie that helps make the movie make more sense!

  66. Is the novel really any good?

    Sternshein, you may be right. Don’t worry, not all my eggs are in that basket. I’ve got some other good Halloween stuff on the docket. Gonna watch the original Wicker Man again tonight. Repulsion is in the queue. Did the original Haunting for the first time last week. Watching the Uninvited (1944) with my daughter in installments. The Innocents is on the schedule. Carpenter’s Fog (never seen that one yet, if you can believe) is en route. Already did Trick r Treat again. Did the Phantasm remaster. Phantasm 2 is on its way. Funhouse is on its way. Gonna do It Follows again.

  67. The novel is only worth it if you thought the movie was at least ‘interesting’, if you did not care for it give it a pass. Even though I fall into the ‘it’s interesting’ category, if my library didn’t happen to have a copy I would not have ventured to pick it up.

    I still got to watch the final cut of WICKER MAN, I don’t want to oversell it but THE INNOCENTS is one my favorite movies ever (top 5/10 material (for me). Really love THE HAUNTING (original, alas I can find very little not production design, Owen Wilson being decapitated related good to say about the remake) and THE UNINVITED I think is a fun one. Never seen REPULSION. Since I know you were looking for it (no need to confirm or deny), I approve of your October viewing list (mine is going pretty good as well), looking forward to Shout Factory!’s release of the EXORCIST III director’s cut.

  68. I think Lords of Salem has enough interesting imagery, atmosphere, and proto-mythology to land it in the interesting failure category. I think Zombie does have some strong visual and sonic aesthetic gifts, but dialogue and direction are almost fatal weak points. I will watch Lords of Salem at least one more time, I’d bet.

    I just watched Exorcist 1 for the first time last year, and I have to say that it was not scary. I think some of these older horror films almost have to imprint on you at a young age, and you have to come of age around the same time as the film. Similar with Blair Witch. They are very effective for the zeitgeist in which they emerge, and they’re particularly scary if you’re at a formative stage, but they seem a bit quaint and pedestrian with age. Contrast that with, say, the Shining or Psycho or Chainsaw, which for me are quite creepy (downright terrifying in the case of the Shining) even 35-50 years later.

    I’ve heard good things about Exorcist 3, that it’s somewhat of a misunderstood, underappreciated gem. Not sure the first one was compelling enough for me to put it on the high-priority list, though.

  69. WICKER MAN (original) held up quite well for me on second viewing. I also caught both INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) and Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS for the first time this week. Both were fantastic.

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