Deborah Van Valkenburgh
Trivia The names of several characters (Rufus Firefly, Otis Driftwood, etc.) are named after characters played by Groucho Marx.
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The Devil's Rejects (2005)
24th Dec 05
Very bad people do very bad things.
Rob Zombie’s second outing isn’t going to disappoint horror fans. This super-fuelled piece of carnage has the words “HATE” and “KILL” tattooed on its forehead. If Tobe Hooper made Natural Born Killers in 1973 then it might have looked something like this. I think you know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve seen House of 1000 Corpses (which you probably have), you’ll be in familiar territory here, as Zombie’s second feature picks up where the first one left off. Kind of. Maybe you hated House of 1000 Corpses. Maybe you loved it. Maybe you liked it but saw one too many flaws. Perhaps you were sickened by what you perceived to be a lack of originality. Whatever your opinion is of Zombie’s fucked-up horror medley, don’t let that affect your preconception of The Devil’s Rejects, because this, folks, is pure horror. It’s a living, breathing, visceral masterpiece made by someone who not only lives for the horror genre, but is also becoming a directorial force to be reckoned with.
While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be the greatest past example of horror purity it is important to consider that TTCM was made way back in 1973 and while it still retains its power, it is important not to blindly keep these older movies on pedestals as untouchable. How the hell can you possibly dream of making a film that had the TTCM’s level of impact in 1973? It’s nigh on impossible, but Zombie comes close here. Tobe Hooper’s original scare fest has obviously made a profound impression on Mr. Zombie and if you want an example of how much one classic horror movie can influence a contemporary piece, then look no further than this vicious portrayal of the Firefly family’s nefarious activities. It’s everywhere in the set design, the locations, the time period (late 1970’s), the concept of a rural family of killers and even in the grain of the film itself.
Plot-wise, it follows Sheriff Wydell’s vendetta against the family that shot his brother (in 1000 Corpses, remember?). The film begins with a police siege on the rural Firefly house. A brutal, kinetic shoot-out sees Mother Firefly being taken alive by Wydell while Otis (Bill Mosely) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) miraculously escape the gauntlet to spread their message of love, peace and goodwill to fellow Americans throughout the surrounding area. But Sheriff Wydell is tormented. Catching Mother Firefly alive isn’t enough – he wants them all, and he wants them dead, but not until they feel his wrath – The Holy Avenger. Except he’s not very Holy. He has become twisted and blinded by single-minded bloody vengeance. Wydell is no ordinary cop; he’s living, walking hatred.
Wydell’s hatred doesn’t blind his logic enough for him to lose track of these natural born killers though. Methodically he tracks them down as his investigation uncovers more and more details about their existence (in a great investigation sub-plot) and meanwhile Otis and Baby take some very unfortunate decent folk hostage in a hotel room which makes the hotel room scene in From Dusk Till Dawn look like a real estate commercial. Captain Spalding (“Dad”) returns to assist them seeking refuge from Wydell’s manhunt and drives them to a “safe house”. When I say house, I actually mean a brothel – his brother’s brothel. Charlie’s Fontier Fun Town, to be precise. This is where Peter from Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Pluto from The Hill’s Have Eyes have ended up, respectively pimping and cleaning, and having conversations about the robots in Star Wars - “They’re called droids.” Genius.
This is pretty much where The Devil’s Rejects comes to closure. The final showdown. Like House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie counterpoints the graceful slo-mo bloodshed with excellent use of music and the last scene in particular makes the best ever use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird, a track he is clearly in love with. In fact, all the use of music in The Devil’s Rejects is inspired as we realise that the man making this film has an understanding of the true meaning of ‘audiovisual’ entertainment. Careful consideration has been made to demonstrate the importance of not only the music but also the sound design of the entire piece. There’s some really clever shit going on here.
The characters are so much better than in the first film. They are obviously further developed and more convincing. More real. Somehow less of a freakshow, despite Captain Spaulding’s unsettling appearance. Sheri Moon Zombie looks and feels more at ease in her role as Baby – the Devil’s own candy. Otis is 100 times scarier with a big, bushy beard and now looks like guitar god Zakk Wylde from Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Leslie Easterbrook has taken over from Karen Black as Mother Firefly and her performance during the scenes with Wydell in the police station will blow you away. She is, as they all are, completely evil.
Zombie has shot the film with impeccable style. It feels like a horror western at times, and he pays homage to Sergio Leone via his use of close-ups on characters’ faces, complimented with hand-held cameras and grainy super16 stock. He also employes the use of stylish frame freezing, especially during the opening credit sequence, which reminds us of Sam Peckinpah's style. The style Zombie found shooting House of 1000 Corpses has been refined, made to look less like a music video and the result works perfectly.
Gore-wise, the film is pretty drenched and it’ll be a miracle if this gets through the censors untouched, though there are instances where Zombie could have taken it one step further but denied the urge. Hopefully the censors will notice this and reward him (and us) by passing it uncut. The psychological and physical torture is protracted to the point where I felt slightly nauseous but thought it best to refrain from spewing vomitus on Kim Newman in the seat directly in front.
It’s impossible to imagine any of the acting ensemble turning in a better performance than what’s on offer here. Aside from the aforementioned Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Mosely (both brilliant), we have:
· Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding – Loving father to his children. Good parenting skills. Likes to help concerned mothers.
· Ken Foree as Charlie Altamont - proud proprietor of Charlie's Frontier Funland. Doesn't fuck chickens.
· Michael Berryman as Clevon - Star Wars expert. Takes offence at suggestion of being a chicken-fucker.
· William Forsythe as Sheriff John Wydell - deep down, he's just a really nice guy doing his job.
· Kelvin Brown as one half of The Unholy Two. Badass.
· Danny Trejo as the other half of The Unholy Two. Ditto.
· Geoffrey Sullivan as the ill-fated Roy Sullivan. Was in loads of Clint Eastwood’s 70’s movies. It’s always a pleasure.
· P.J. Soles as Susan – she was in Halloween you know. (She's Linda, in case you're wondering)
While House of 1000 Corpses feels at times like a slightly forced All-You-Can-Eat Horror Movie, it feels like Zombie has much less to prove here. Or, he still has a lot to prove but has taken a different, more successful approach to leave his mark. It’s as if he was only going to get one chance to make a horror film with House of 1000 Corpses, so he therefore tried to cram in as much as possible to pay respect to the areas of the genre he is so clearly in awe of. But that’s out of his system now. These days he can just get on with telling the story whilst conjuring magical psychological and physical horror at its best. If this were music, House of 1000 Corpses is the Greatest Hits while The Devil’s Rejects would be the album. And, as well all should know, only true connoisseurs appreciate albums more than ‘Best of…’ products. Let’s hope the next album is even better.
“I am the devil and I am here to do the devil’s work.”
Versions Available from Momentum Releasing now in both it's original and extended director's cut format.