If you're reading this review prior to the release of Rob Zombie's film The Lords of Salem, you're probably a fan of Rob Zombie's work or Rob Zombie, and are anxious to partake of his latest venture. I pre-ordered this book when its release date was announced because Rob Zombie was connected to it. In all fairness, I give Zombie a wide berth because I like the idea of him out there in the world doing what he does, regardless of the final product. Like Quentin Tarantino, I am fascinated by how strongly horror movies of the 70's and 80's continue to inspire and fuel his work. He reminds me of myself as a child trying to duplicate on paper images from Fantastic Monsters magazine or story ideas from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
I am writing this review two days after I received it in the mail and on the same night that I finished the book I guess for the reason that as Zombie continues to channel his passion into creative works, mine is channeled into criticism (not proud, but on par with most of the viewing world), so here goes:
1) The writing - the prose is on the level of your average movie novelization, if that descriptor does the writing justice. There is a floating, detached tone to the exposition and the dialogue is only connect-the-dots screenplay interplay. There is not a lot of depth in the narration in terms of history or even what is going on in the characters' minds beyond what is right in front of them. You're not going to find any inspiring writing here. There are also some repeat motifs here as in descriptions of an open doorway (to Hell) which are downright repetitive, which again may work in screenplay format, but once you establish an image in the mind of a reader of fiction, you have to build on the imagery, massage it, not rotely repeat it over and over.
2) The characters - Heidi seems tailor-made for actress Sherri Moon Zombie from her speech patterns to her physical descriptions. Before I checked imdb.com to validate, I knew from the book that Ken Foree would play Herman. The characters come straight out of the Rob Zombie repertoire, which is fun on film, but in fiction where the reader's mind is mining for something fresh, hearing Foree's voice in the dialogue feels "been there done that." The interaction of the characters and the build up and ebb and flow of the relationships are similar to those of the victims in all of Zombie's films. In summary, some fun dialogue, but flat; everything serves the thrust of the scene, rather than the depth of where fiction dialogue can take a reader. There is a "character" of Satan or the/a demon that possesses a number of the women in the story. This character probably won't be explored into as much depth in the film beacuse much of the exploration in the book is in first person and inside the victim, but the demon/devil character is again familiar territory, building from where The Exorcist originated the idea of a demon playing with his food, which has then morphed of the years into a sort of Loki/Joker character that most often comes off as an adolescent psychopath rather than the personification of pure Evil.
3) The story - the story seems very familiar. Horror movie fans are going to feel right at home. There's nothing jarring or challenging. Salem Witch Trials, check. Vehicle for evil from the past to gain entry into the present, check. Radio station workplace an opportunity to reflect on the good ole' 70's, check. Living environment with creepy mysterious room, check. Experienced mentor holds the key to the backstory, check. There are traces of Polanski's Repulsion, Ghost Story, Last House on the Left, Hellraiser, Fright Night, and even the 1986 film Trick or Treat (when someone describes an LP that mysteriously appears at a radio station as heavier than a regular LP, I heard Gene Simmons describe to Marc Price what an acetate record was).
4) The theme(s) - Beyond the standard gore and suspense elements,Zombie dabbles in themes of women's empowerment against the Salem Witch Trials that many movies have tried to portray (Crucible, Witches of Eastwick, etc). There is also the standard Zombie theme of split protagonists (whose story are we following - the hero or the villain - and can you break characters into those camps when dealing with Zombie's work?). However - and maybe it's because Sheryl Sandberg is front and center in the media currently with her Lean In book - the whole issue of the evil recording affecting only women, and then that empowerment only acted out in an aggressively sexual way comes off as antequated and shallow. The heroine of the story (if she actually is) is sexually assaulted twice in the book (albeit one is a hallucination), which pounds her role into the antithesis of a strong female lead (Jamie Lee Curtis, where are you when we need you?). In fact, Zombie makes no attempt in this context to connect the witches of Salem to Heidi. The former only views the latter as offspring of their male persecutors. I'm not saying that Zombie should pull a Gloria Steinem, but the gap or lack of further exploration is interesting.
In summary, the novel comes off as a screenplay with prose caulking. I think many of the faults I describe above will weather against what I presume will be some strong production and sound design by Zombie.
In regards to the story and what most likely will transition to the film, there is no doubt that Zombie pulls no punches in his films. You only have to look at the fate of the victims in his first two films to get an idea of how the "protagonists" will fare in this story. I almost described Lords of Salem as nihilistic until I reflected on Zombie's work prior to the Halloween films, which were a departure from Corpses and Rejects in that the main character actually had a chance. The theme of evil triumphs over good is as strong here than any of Zombie's previous work, and although a Zombie staple, is still hard to choke down when you end a story with no hope.
I'm not sure that I will see the film after reading the novelization, save to see if Sherri Moon Zombie will actually perform half of what the novel's character is asked to do, because if so, it should be a harrowing performance.