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Mud_PosterArt

Wholly original while also echoing Stand by Me in its coming-of-age adventure and Sling Blade in its rural milieu, Mud is the story of fourteen-year-old Arkansas boy Ellis (Tye Sheridan), who, along with buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), discovers the titular fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on a little island not very far downriver from his family’s houseboat. Mud is on the run after murdering a man who threatened his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon), and Ellis and Neckbone, who are understandably fascinated by this highly unusual character, strike a deal to help him out by bringing him food and supplies.

Mud, like Luke Glanton in The Place Beyond the Pines, is a semi-mythical, romantic, rough-hewn, damaged but untamed figure whose face and tattoos tell his story. He is something out of America’s past, a sort of boy who never grew up, and locates a parallel spirit in Ellis. Matthew McConaughey, so memorable in the previous year’s Killer Joe, is perfect in this polar opposite role as the friendly and formidable but tragically naive Mud, and Tye Sheridan, too, is believably earnest in his central role as companion Ellis. Other faces enhancing the cast are Sheriff Pusser himself, Joe Don Baker, Premium Rush‘s Michael Shannon, The Right Stuff‘s Sam Shepard, and newcomer Bonnie Sturdivant as sultry teenage hussy May Pearl, Ellis’s inamorata.

5 stars. Highest recommendation. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Mud is:

6. Anti-Christian. King (Joe Don Baker) represents Christians unflatteringly when he initiates a group prayer for Mud’s imminent demise. Mud makes at least one reference to God, but comes across as more of a pagan with his wild, natural ways.

5. Gun-ambivalent. Mud’s pistol gets him into trouble, but mentor and ex-Marine Tom (Sam Shepard) comes in handy in the end with his rifle and sniper skills.

4. Anti-slut. Mud’s love is wasted on floozy Juniper (Witherspoon).

3. Anti-marriage. Ellis’s parents are getting divorced. Women are undependable.

2. Anti-vigilante. Mud’s poorly considered vengeance has made him a hunted man. King, father of the abusive lowlife Mud murdered, arranges a posse to locate and liquidate the hero, but by doing so he only succeeds bringing more woe on himself.

1. Libertarian. The River Authority callously threatens to order the family out of their houseboat. Neckbone dismisses the legislation sanctioning such an action as “bullshit”. Ellis’s father (Ray McKinnon), meanwhile, voices strong propertarian views when his son is caught in a theft. The police are susceptible to corruption.

Rock DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) launches upon a series of strange and frightening experiences after mysteriously receiving a goth record credited to “The Lords”. But are her ordeals real or just hallucinations? And is the elusive tenant down the hall in apartment 5 just another figment of her imagination? Meanwhile, museum curator Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) investigates what he believes may be a link between the Lords’ surprising new hit song and the local heritage of sorcery and witch burnings. Could the eccentric old ladies living in Heidi’s building be the remnants of Salem’s seventeenth century coven, and, if so, do they have plans for their young friend?

Rob Zombie’s latest horror opus, The Lords of Salem, is impressive in a number of ways. Ambitious, consistently atmospheric, and occasionally quite unsettling, the film is filled with images that will remain with those who view it. Cinematographer Brandon Trost deserves much of the credit for the veneer, somewhat tenuous, of something approximating class, which keeps the show afloat over the stinking morass of its unsavory obsessions. The special effects and art departments are equally commendable, as are the contributions of musicians Griffin Boice and John 5.

The Lords of Salem does, however, begin to overstay its welcome as it becomes increasingly apparent that the film has little or no purpose apart from cramming as much blasphemous shock value onto the screen as possible while maintaining a stylish pretension to some kind of seriousness. Still, horror fans should find much to enjoy, and may detect and appreciate the writer-director’s indebtedness to genre classics including Black Sunday, Rosemary’s BabyThe Wicker Man, and The Fly. These same fans, unfortunately, may be disappointed to learn that familiar performers like Michael Berryman, Meg Foster, Richard Lynch, Andrew Prine, and Sid Haig are squandered in worthless, unrecognizable cameos.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Lords of Salem is:

9. Media-critical. Pop culture carries the potential for mass hypnosis. Rock in this case is literally “the Devil’s music”.

8. New age. Wicca is “a positive, earth-centered religion”.

7. Multiculturalist/pro-wigger. Heidi sports ratty dreadlocks and gets along swimmingly with her non-white coworkers.

6. Pro-miscegenation. Herman “Whitey” Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) – a white Hispanic, presumably – is something like Heidi’s occasional guyfriend. Matthias is married to a Latina (Maria Conchita Alonso).

5. Anti-family. Matthias, appalled at the thought of changing diapers, has never wanted children. An attendee at a drug rehabilitation support group recalls that his mother was also an addict and responsible for his own drug problem. (see also no. 3)

4. Drug-ambivalent. Hard drugs are a problem from which Heidi is still recovering, but cigarettes and liquor receive a free pass. Mrs. Matthias smokes marijuana.

3. Pro-choice. “Children are a bit of a waste.” Childbirth is more than once depicted horrifically. First a witch licks a newborn infant and spits on it, disgusted by the taste. Later scenes depict a human mother giving birth to inhuman invertebrate offspring. (see also no. 5)

2. Feminist/pro-slut/pro-castration. In the opening scene, a coven of seventeenth century Femen disrobe and disport without shame. “That felt good,” Sonny (Dee Wallace) says after braining Whitey with a pot, thus repurposing traditional women’s domestic wares into the means of gender retribution. Heidi, Zombie’s feminine ideal, is a tattooed eyesore who sleeps bare-bottomed and experiences sexual self-actualization with a goat. Her guyfriend Whitey, a sensitive nurturer, does a weenie dance to the Velvet Underground’s masochistic paean “Venus in Furs”.

1. Anti-Christian. The Lords of Salem is a veritable cavalcade of blasphemous celebration. Images likely to offend religious viewers include monstrous, masturbating clergymen, Christian objects juxtaposed with liquor, and a priest (Julian Acosta) forcing Heidi to give him a blowjob. Church is “slavery”. The Bible is “the Book of Lies”. “Our philosophy,” says rock musician Count Gorgann (Torsten Voges), who no doubt speaks for Zombie himself, “is to expose the lies of the Christian whores and Jesus the true bringer of death.” “God must die. God is the unholy pig,” he adds for those in need of further clarification on his views.

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