THE LORDS OF SALEM

Why did I go see this? I already knew Rob Zombie was a crap director, from his first miscarriage, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, to the stillborn HALLOWEEN remake, and now this pile of garbage. For starters, Zombie violates a cardinal rule: never cast your wife in the starring role if she can’t act. Sheri Moon Zombie is inarguably the worst horror film radio host since Maggie Grace disgraced the memory of Adrienne Barbeau in the second iteration of THE FOG. But similar flicks have survived the casting of amateurs and still been entertaining. Plus, Zombie has inexplicably managed to wrangle performers like Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Maria Conchita Alonso; their scenes at least have a professional gloss. What makes this just so godawful bad is the “scary” stuff, which is worse than laughable, it’s pathetic. Satanic ceremonies filled with ugly naked people smeared with fake blood chanting silly incantations go on so long and are shot so badly I considered walking out at least three times. Zombie never met a slow zoom shot he didn’t like — and when I say slow, I mean you could go to the bathroom — number two! — and still return before the shot has ended. Enough. LORDS isn’t even worth discussing. Don’t go. — Jeff Schultz

EVIL DEAD

A respectable remake, and that’s not entirely a compliment. It has just enough over-the-top bloodbathery to earn a nod as worthy homage to the original. What’s missing is Sam Raimi’s trademark hysteria, the marriage of horror and humor and its dizzying pitch that wired up audiences with such a galvanic jolt. Instead, we have serious backstory and character development, which rip the movie out of its exploitation roots. These teens find themselves at the “cabin in the woods” in order to help one of them kick drugs, and you can maybe take what happens as a kindve-sortve allegory about withdrawal and recovery. But let’s face it: we go to EVIL DEAD for the butchery, and on that score, we do get rewarded. A woman is raped by a slithering tree branch, a man slips on the tongue he has just cut out of an attacker, a nail gun does as much damage as an assault rifle, a skull is crushed to brain pulp, and the sky rains blood, under which a chainsaw is rammed down a demon’s throat and guided upward to a most satisfying bifurcation. Even at just an hour and a half, it could have been tightened up, but I still give it a (severed) thumb up. — Jeff Schultz

SMASH – Season 2

The first season, while containing many of the flaws for which those who hate the show really hate it, had so many high points — most especially the musical numbers — that the melodramatic missteps were all forgiven. Just as musical comedy itself is an entertaining combination of exhilaration and sap [give it a second chance, Storm!], SMASH 1 was bliss. Now, as we head toward the end of the second go-round, I’m still committed to watching every episode, even though the emphasis this time is on the melodrama. Maybe that’s because the show’s very concept makes an extended run problematic: the writers have to come up with continuous snags to keep “Bombshell” (the show-within-the-show) from finally making its Broadway debut; it’s becoming an ever-receding goal. More crucially, the music quotient has gone way down. The score for “Bombshell” already has a full musical’s compliment of songs, and really good ones, too. But for whatever reason, the songs this season are mostly the ones we’ve already heard (although in new versions). And there aren’t as many of the “contemporary” rock and pop sequences, either (although those were always pretty weak). I still enjoy it, but S2 isn’t blowing me away. — Jeff Schultz

PHIL SPECTOR

Phil Spector is a mess. PHIL SPECTOR is also a mess, as you’ll see when you watch the David Mamet HBO movie that, we are reminded, is NOT based on a true story, even though it is. That’s actually not the problem. Mamet’s approach can be justified as a meditation on a notorious celebrity’s sensational murder trial. (Joyce Carol Oates did the same thing in the novel BLONDE, her take on Marilyn Monroe.) But when Mamet starts meditating, something inside of him starts blaming women. The screenplay shows us a defense team with no other choice but to make murder victim Lana Clarkson the villain. Spector, the lawyers agree, is too unlikeable, too crazy, too outlandish to ever win sympathy from a jury. And here is where Mamet goes off the rails, contradicting the lawyers by the way he chooses to portray Spector  — as likable and coherent. This starts of course with the casting. I ask you: when have you ever NOT rooted for Al Pacino’s character in a movie? It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a villain or a saint. Jack Kevorkian, Roy Cohn, the Devil, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Frank Serpico — we fell in love with all these guys because we love the scenery-gobbling life force that is Al. (I will admit, though, BOBBY DEERFIELD was a drag.) Now look at the real Phil Spector: A spectacularly ugly man. (Only Charles Krauthammer rivals him in sheer physical repellence.) And batshit crazy. too. He reportedly stank from drugs. He inarguably abused many of his “dates” with gun threats. A total asshole. So my question is, what’s the point? Except for adding to Pacino’s long list of delicious star turns (the freakout near the end is heaven), PHIL SPECTOR (which by the way also abuses Helen Mirren by thanklessly giving her character a bad case of flu FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE) is a miscarriage of art. — Jeff Schultz