1 Hr., 29 Mins.
House of 1000 Corpses / The Lords of Salem June 4, 2019
Sheri Moon Zombie
Jeff Daniel Phillips
María Conchita Alonso
1 Hr., 42 Mins.
noticeably gotten more comfortable in the director’s chair. Avoiding shock tactics or the above-mentioned klutzy editing kinks, with The Lords of Salem does he try his hand at mood horror — the sort of atmospheric stuff that at its best adduces Mario Bava or Jesús Franco — and for the most part succeeds.
In Zombie’s quest to trade schlocky scares for sensory ones does he lose some of what makes movies like House of 1000 Corpses so appealingly "his": there’s a stiltedness to his direction that makes it plenty evident that he’s very-consciously attempting to play it straight, make something indelibly stylish. House of 1000 Corpses, however much it doesn't work, was efficient in large part because there was no sense that Zombie was altering anything about his overall vision for the sake of palatability or so closely adhering to the tropes of a certain type of horror movie. With The Lords of Salem, it’s like he’s trying on clothing that he looks good in but also is a little uncomfortable about wearing.
The movie stars Sheri Moon, the director’s always-game wife, as Heidi, a Salem-based DJ and former drug addict whose life is toyed with after she plays a mysterious LP, apparently from a band called The Lords, on her station. The film is almost agonizingly vague, but what can be deciphered, via Heidi’s reaction and other ripostes from the townsfolk, is that the record is cursed, and has possibly awoken a curse tied to the witchy violence of centuries ago.
The Lords of Salem isn’t in a hurry — it operates near narcotically, and doesn’t much try to explain itself — but it often breaks up its sleepy stretches with jarring though stunning images, usually tied to nightmares as increasingly experienced by Heidi. It’s in these moments — when Zombie is showing off that he’s actually pretty adept when it comes to making up freaky tableaux — that the film is at its best. They’re nonsensical flashes of terror that linger because they don’t exactly need to be explicated to make an impression.
Which is something I wish more of the film did. Because it neither commits to being a full-on incomprehensible surrealist exercise nor a plot-driven one, it can’t quite convince as a style-driven cinematic bad dream. Still, Moon is a competent horror heroine (even with the unsightly dreadlocks) through whom we feel we can vicariously live. And, better yet, whereas House of 1000 Corpses announced Zombie as an eager if not patently skilled director, The Lords of Salem makes a case for situational formidability. He’ll only keep improving.
House of 1000 Corpses: B-
The Lords of Salem: B
’m unfamiliar with how the years sitting between House of 1000 Corpses and the more recent part of Zombie’s filmmaking career have looked (aside from the moans that his Halloween movies, from 2007 and 2009, were thoroughly inept — an unfair declaration, given that he wasn’t provided total creative control with either). But, based on back-to-back viewings of House and his The Lords of Salem (2012), Zombie has
northerners make a pit stop in a georgic spot in the south, only to find themselves terrorized by a wild bunch of locals without anything by way of a rescue coming at the end of all the mayhem.
This sort of horror narrative — getting stranded and then getting violently picked off — is among the genre’s most recapitulated. We wouldn’t have, say, 1977’s sweaty The Hills Have Eyes or the entire propulsive Wrong Turn franchise (2003-2014) without the precedent set by Two Thousand Maniacs!. House of 1000 Corpses, in lieu of its spiritually comparable forebears, seems that film’s most undeniable heir.
Zombie, like Lewis, siphons out every ounce of dirt and grime that he can, and isn't averse to making plain a particularly macabre, if not often actually funny in this case, sense of humor. Zombie, also like Lewis, is not a conventionally “good” filmmaker, either. But he is a director whose obvious affection for his art makes his product likable rather than frustrating because of its crudeness. His House of 1000 Corpses is a blood-splattered funhouse — a film meant to amuse rather than orthodoxly chill.
Something of a sendup of the exploitation thrillers of four decades ago, the film is set in 1977, and circles around a group of writers (supposedly putting together a book about quirky middle-of-nowhere haunts across America) who are terrorized by the probably inbred family of a gas-station-cum-amusement-park owner (Sid Haig) down the road.
The movie isn’t witty enough to quite mesh as either a satire or general subversion of something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). But with its strange-enough-to-be-enticing antagonists (at least the ones portrayed by Sheri Moon and Karen Black, who’re doing kooky riffs on hagspoitation types) and precisely dark finale, the movie proves itself an effective, fun addition to the wrong-turn subgenre even if it doesn’t ever really overcome the limitations imposed by the films coming before it.
Some of the stylistic choices Zombie inculcates in House of 1000 Corpses are genuinely baffling: moments photographed for no obvious reason with a color-inversion effect; brief, sepia-shot character-focused interludes that reminded me of The Bachelor (2001-present) situation-room interviews; prolonged inclusions of inert slow motion. Lots of filmmakers have trademark stylistic crutches: Brian De Palma and his split-screens, Jean-Luc Godard and his jump cuts. But Zombie’s artistic vagaries are so inharmonious that one wonders if some of his tricks of the hat are actually esoteric tributes of some kind or are purely ill-judged experiments.
he hard rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie memorably invokes Herschell Gordon Lewis with his first feature film, House of 1000 Corpses (2003). Consider how much the film resembles the latter-mentioned director’s Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). There is, of course, the big number prominently featured in the title. But there are also the unmistakable similarities in their plot lines: In both movies, naïve