The Lords of Salem ★★★★½

*vague discussion of spoilers*

Complete devastation. Rob Zombie expands on the empathetic skills he'd long been honing before this picture in a truly satisfying whole. Sherri Moon Zombie plays a radio DJ dealing with persistent fears of a returning addiction to Crystal Meth. She has a long history with drug use, but it's rarely discussed. She is still fighting this battle every single day of her life in fear that she may lose, but her newfound sobriety is coinciding with a curse put upon her by the Salem Witches of old. With each passing day their influence grows stronger on her life, and she begins to crumble. Her slow decline is not unlike the same set of tools Zombie used in Halloween 2, and before then Halloween. Sherri Moon is a rare character whose broken, and beloved, and the filmmakers never put a burden on her to fix herself. She isn't a hero and that makes her infinitely relatable and interesting. It makes her eventual downfall all the more punishing. The Laura Palmer effect.

Salem isn't necessarily a bulletproof metaphor for addiction, but that's certainly the central conceit. Zombie loses his footing in trying to connect his tale of witchcraft revenge from beyond the grave and Sherri Moon's struggle from time to time, but he has a firm grasp of the tone, and that's very important. For whatever shit people want to sling at Rob Zombie he is a master of what he wants to do. In Lords of Salem he made a tragic horror picture whose surrealism was a key into the mind of someone slowly losing control of their life. There's plenty of satanic imagery, and Zombie's usual perversions crop up in these bizarre digressions, and with the collaboration of Brandon Trost he really seems to be spreading his wings as a filmmaker. Zombie goes for broke in the final hallucinogenic sequence featuring masturbating priests, burning crosses, and masked men, and to beautiful effect. A buffet of blasphemy if you will, but it's never pleasantly horrific, because it's centered by a woman losing complete grasp of herself. Rob Zombie is a man who uses explicit violence on his characters, but he loves them dearly and that is what makes him such a strong filmmaker for horror. His body count doesn't exist to purely represent bloodshed, but to reckon with the implications of violence. Zombie never lingers on the bloodshed in Salem, but he does linger on one death. And even then he made her an angel.

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