Morbidly Beautiful

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While I’m not in love with all his work, The Lords of Salem made me realize that Rob Zombie has more to offer than I first gave him credit for.

I firmly believe that you should always watch a movie at least once. Give things a chance — things you may have missed on the first go, films with smaller budgets that didn’t get the exposure they deserved, first-time filmmakers still well under the radar who may become the next big thing, or even films that may not immediately spark your interest.

Sometimes one chance isn’t enough.

I’ll often revisit films that didn’t quite wow me the first time, and sometimes I’ll discover it’s much better the second time around. I usually give second chances to individual films. But this time I’m giving a second chance to a filmmaker whose body of work has previously underwhelmed me: the controversial and polarizing Rob Zombie.

We all know Rob Zombie as the king of 70s grindhouse with a modern twist. His casts always seem to consist of (at the very least) his wife Sheri Moon Zombie and screen veteran Sid Haig. And he has a penchant for rotten characters that only seem to get more despicable as time goes on. Truth be told, all of these things are not my favorite things.

My first experience with Rob Zombie was watching House of 1000 Corpses, which I saw probably way too young. Granted, I’ve only watched that film once, so I don’t remember much. But what I do remember is fond — putting my newly rented VHS tape into my bedroom TV and wasting my summer afternoons away with gore and debauchery.

Rob Zombie's Halloween

I thought, “Oh cool, this guy made an interesting movie. Let’s see what else he has!” I picked up Halloween (2007) next. Lord have mercy. I’m sure there are many people reading this right now that know exactly what I’m about to say.

The mix of confusion and anger was a new feeling for me. OK, Michael is scary, but why is he The Hulk? Who is this little blond kid? Why is everyone so disgustingly terrible? It’s like the only reason Michael Myers kills is because his family is a bunch of douchebags. Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of real-life serial killers start off with that kind of life.

I’m more confused at why Michael needed a reason to kill. It was much scarier being in the dark, with him just a force to be reckoned with.

The more movies I watched, the more I focused on the characters. Sheri Moon as a hippie lady. Sig Haig as an angry clown. Three other long-haired crazy people doing crazy people things. I’m starting to notice a pattern here.

It got to the point that I had left Rob Zombie films for dead. They weren’t my style, and I was very bored with it all. I distinctly remember sitting in a theater in 2012 when The Lords of Salem trailer played, thinking “Eh, Rob Zombie? I’ll pass.”

That is, until a few weeks ago. Browsing through Shudder, I came across The Lords of Salem again. Reading the synopsis, I remembered seeing the trailer and thinking it looked cool, but was unwilling to waste an hour and a half of my life with another 70s grindhouse piece. But my curiosity got the better of me, and I gave it a try.

We open to a coven of 17th century witches, writhing their dirty, naked bodies as they place a curse on the town. Then we’re transported to a very put-together Sheri Moon in modern day Salem. Back and forth we go as Sheri, a radio DJ, is given a mysterious record that transforms her into the birthmother of a demon that will lead Salem’s witch coven once again.

Even today, I am amazed at how this movie made me feel. In all honesty, it is beautiful in sound and in picture, enough to be one of my top 10 favorites. Every scene transported me to a Salem autumn day (which was nice, considering I watched it in the Virginia July heat and humidity).

The score, meant to put the movie’s women of Salem in a trance, felt like it was trying to do the same to me. A simple, four-note melody dug into my core and latched itself to my bones. I was even mesmerized by the imagery of witchy demons coming to take Sheri’s (Heidi, in the movie) soul. How could I have missed this gem?!

Rob Zombie is not completely off of my No-Watch list, but he is in a better place than he was a few years ago.

Every director is like every movie — different, if you can look past the glaring annoyances. Zombie, at least as far as his movies go, is an acquired taste. But like root beer or pigs feet or bugs, it can grow on you if you get that one good morsel.

I gave Rob Zombie a second chance, and am glad I did. The Lords of Salem was a breath of fresh air and one you shouldn’t miss out of Zombie’s repertoire. If you’re not a fan, you should give him another chance too. If not Rob Zombie, than another director or composer or actor or even production assistant. Second chances are deserved, and it doesn’t apply to just movies.

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