DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005)
Director: Rob Zombie
Movies oftentimes straddle the line between good taste and moral reprehensibility. Others obliterate that line, unapologetically showing us how horrific the human imagination can be. If you're a fan of low-budget horror movies from the 1970s, you saw a lot of movies like that. Ultraviolent movies like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes are oft-cited benchmarks in exploitative grindhouse cinema, but today serve only as relics of a bygone era of filmmaking that was wiped out by a combination of political correctness, the desire to make more money, and a general drop in interest by moviegoers. But the style was far from forgotten, as proved when heavy metal star and horror movie enthusiast Rob Zombie ventured into filmmaking with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage House of 1000 Corpses. Though critical reaction was mixed and the box office returns were modest at best, that didn't stop Zombie from making a sequel titled The Devil's Rejects. Rather than return to the same style of film, Zombie instead takes us in a new direction for a movie that can be seen as a wild combination of Natural Born Killers and Bonnie And Clyde, with dashes of Taxi Driver and Thelma & Louise for flavor. Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper gave it two thumbs up, but what exactly do I think?
Like any good sequel, the movie begins somewhere in the neighborhood of six months after the events of House of 1000 Corpses. Via an opening narration, we learn that the murderous Firefly clan has been dubbed "the Devil's Rejects" by the press, and are wanted in connection with seventy-five murders. We waste no time getting into the action after the monologue, as the dilapidated farmhouse that the Devil's Rejects call home has been surrounded by a heavily-armed squadron of police officers led by pragmatic Sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe).
Obsessed with bringing down the Devil's Rejects because they murdered his brother in House of 1000 Corpses, Sheriff Wydell announces to his deputy that they are about to dole out an "Alabama ass-whoopin'" of epic scope. The police launch their attack on the house, and by the time it's all said and done, one is missing in action, one is killed, and matriarch Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) is taken into police custody. But never fear, fans of violence and lovers of gore, because family alpha male Otis (Bill Moseley) and his slutty half-sister Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) have escaped through a hidden tunnel beneath the house.
The duo soon arrive at a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere, where they cross paths with a country band called "Banjo & Sullivan." And as you can probably surmise, the members of Banjo & Sullivan won't be appearing in House of 1000 Corpses 3, as they soon find themselves both sexually and mentally assaulted before they're gruesomely dispatched. Baby's father, the repellant clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), arrives shortly thereafter, and the terrible trio hit the road. They head straight for "Charlie's Frontier Fun Town," an Old West-themed whorehouse owned and operated by Spaulding's "brother from another mother," Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree). The Old West theme is fitting, as the area seems like a ghost town, populated only by Charlie, his assistant Clevon (Michael Berryman), a bouncer, and only two prostitutes. While the Devil's Rejects party in their safe house, Sheriff Wydell has hired ruthless bounty hunters Rondo (Danny Trejo) and Billy Ray Snapper ("Diamond" Dallas Page) to help hunt down his prey. The "Unholy Two," as they're called, succeed, and we segue into the film's finale. Sheriff Wydell captures the Devil's Rejects, leading us down a path of violence that culminates in a bloody final confrontation at the house of a thousand corpses.
The Devil's Rejects is an unabashed exorcise in viciousness and brutality. The movie isn't meant to be "entertaining" or "enjoyable," it's meant to be shocking and intense. If that was truly its intention, I believe it succeeds. The Devil's Rejects may be considered a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, but it's not so much a continuance of a story as it is a standalone movie with a lot of the same characters. There are only a few fleeting references to House of 1000 Corpses, and The Devil's Rejects has much more in common with Natural Born Killers than its predecessor. And just like Natural Born Killers, the movie's sympathies lie with the killers, almost leading the viewer to want to cheer for them. While they're definitely a charismatic trio, cheering for them is in essence the same as cheering for the Manson Family. Just because the story is about them doesn't make them the heroes. It doesn't even make them the antiheroes. All three are depraved, sadistic, brutal murderers, and with the exception of Baby being a smoking hot lady-type person, they really don't have any redeemable qualities. But no matter, because the three characters are disgusting yet compelling, repulsive yet intriguing. It's like a car wreck; no matter how nasty it is, you can't help but stare in amazement. There are a handful of scenes where the movie attempts to cast a more humane light on our three murderers, almost as if we the viewer are wanted to believe that the killers wouldn't be so bad if they weren't completely insane. While I understand the scenes are included in the movie to add a little levity to the movie and give its viewers a break, it seems like we are supposed to root for either the lovable psychos or the unlikable cop that wants to exact justice by lowering himself to the level of the criminals he's chasing.
Writer/director Rob Zombie had all the room in the world to improve after making his directing debut with House of 1000 Corpses, and I think he has. While I liked his work on House of 1000 Corpses, I'll be the first to admit that his inexperience as a movie director was obvious. It's my belief that Zombie began coming into his own as a director with The Devil's Rejects. I think he could end up becoming the Quentin Tarantino of the horror genre over time. He's already taken a cue from Tarantino and has cast numerous forgotten B-list actors from the '70s. There's Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead, Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes, Geoffrey Lewis from High Plains Drifter and Priscilla Barnes from Three's Company as members of Banjo & Sullivan, and cameos from porn star Ginger Lynn Allen and P.J. Soles of Halloween and Carrie fame. And oddly enough, one of Charlie's prostitutes is played by E.G. Daily, who you may recognize as either voice talent on Nickelodeon's Rugrats and Powerpuff Girls or as Dottie from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. If a movie is a peek into the mind of its creator, then Zombie's brain has been saturated by watching Sam Peckinpah movies and late-night Creature Features. The Devil's Rejects has a very kinetic energy, and if the movie can be given any compliment, it would be that it's never boring. The majority of the movie is filmed with a handheld camera, and when combined with the grainy look of many scenes, it evokes memories of the '70s horror movies that Zombie is very obviously enthralled with. Zombie makes use of clever scene transitions, freeze framing, and odd camera angles to create a movie that gives it a stylistic flair not seen nowadays. Say what you will about Rob Zombie, but his movies definitely look creative.
Going back to my Tarantino remark earlier, Zombie's script features dialogue that seems like it came from the Quentin Tarantino School of Screenwriting. Zombie's dialogue may not be as witty as Tarantino's, but it manages to be as frenetic and fast-paced as anything Tarantino has written. He has no qualms over making his audience as uncomfortable as possible, reveling in the sadistic glee of its main characters. What makes his characters work is that each one earnestly believes that what they are doing is justified. From the three killers who torture and mutilate innocent victims for their own sick pleasure, to the redneck sheriff who hunts down the guilty like animals in the name of vigilante justice. However, Zombie also throws in humor at odd times so we can catch our breath. I point to a throwaway scene where an obnoxious film critic (played by Robert Trebor) rambles on and on with useless Marx Brothers trivia before Sheriff Wydell has him thrown out of the building for daring to insinuate that Elvis Presley was a glory hog because he died three days before Groucho. The scene is utterly hilarious, simply because it comes from nowhere and leads to nowhere. Like House of 1000 Corpses, the movie boasts numerous quotable lines, but unlike House of 1000 Corpses, there is nary a reference to Doctor Satan. Zombie said in an interview that using Doctor Satan in The Devil's Rejects would be the same as putting Chewbacca in Bonnie and Clyde, and I'm inclined to agree. As I said above, the references to House of 1000 Corpses are few and far between, and Doctor Satan would have just muddled things up. He really wouldn't have fit within the context of the movie, so the Doctor Satan scenes being left on the cutting room floor makes sense. It would have been neat to see Doctor Satan in the movie, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.
And now to the acting. Once again, Sid Haig is absolutely hilarious as Captain Spaulding, proving why many fans of House of 1000 Corpses said he was their favorite character. He's still absolutely filthy and repellant, but still has a bizarre charm about him. I also thought Bill Moseley was great, coming off with that creepy Charles Manson vibe and sporting that Grizzly Adams beard like a champ. Sheri Moon Zombie did fine as Baby, but the change in character from bubbly yet murderous kook in House of 1000 Corpses to bloodthirsty queen bitch in The Devil's Rejects threw me off. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I just didn't see it coming. Either way, Mrs. Zombie is great, and hopefully she'll start appearing in movies not directed by her husband. William Forsythe is also awesome, and though his character is seemingly portrayed as unlikable, Forsythe plays the role with an intensity needed to make him believable. If someone decides to make a movie about The Punisher as a middle-aged man, they should give William Forsythe a call. Ken Foree and Michael Berryman were a lot of fun, and Leslie Easterbrook did an admirable job replacing Karen Black as Mother Firefly. She may have been a wee bit over the top in her performance, but I still found it enjoyable. The late Matthew McGrory (who sadly passed away shortly after the release of the movie) reprised his role as Tiny, which is a fitting name because that's how much screen time he got. He's not on screen very long at all, and he might as well not have even been in it at all. It seems like the only reason he was there was to serve as some kind of deus ex machina at the end of the movie. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Danny Trejo and pro wrestler "Diamond" Dallas Page as the Unholy Two. Despite their screen time being rather modest, I really liked them a lot, and would love to see a spin-off starring them.
Moving on, the movie boasts one of the most entertaining soundtracks I've every heard. From rockers like Three Dog Night, Steely Dan, and the Allman Brothers to blues singers Otis Rush and Muddy Waters and country musicians like Buck Owens, the movie uses an arrangement of songs that is perhaps more engaging than the movie itself. And I dare you to tell me that the use of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" at the end doesn't make the final scene that much better. We also get fantastic music from composer Tyler Bates, who has assembled a score that combines pounding industrial music with chilling ambient noises. Meanwhile, The Devil's Rejects benefits from great set design and unbelievably awesome makeup work from Wayne Toth. While some of the blood is obviously CGI and other movies have much more gore (I'm looking at you, High Tension), the effects still manage to be convincing for the most part, and I won't knock them.
If I may, I'd like to borrow a quote from the review written by Roger Ebert: "I don't want to get any e-mail messages from readers complaining that I gave the movie [a good review], and so they went to it expecting to have a good time, and it was the sickest and most disgusting movie they've ever seen. My review has accurately described the movie and explained why some of you might appreciate it and most of you will not, and if you decide to go, please don't claim you were uninformed." I don't know if I accurately described the movie itself, but I know that I've accurately described how I feel about it. I'll gladly give The Devil's Rejects four stars, but that comes with a warning. The movie's content isn't for everyone. The movie is horrific, demented, obscene, and sadistic, and many may not be able to stomach it, but it is still a well-made movie no matter how you slice it. It's evident that Rob Zombie wants to bring back the exploitive cinema he loved in his youth, and if he continues to make films like The Devil's Rejects, I think he may be able to bring them back on a regular basis.
Final Rating: ****