April 22

NHE Modern Horror Classics: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)


In much same way as Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, is a horror director that severely splits opinion. To some he someone putting the blood and guts back into horror in adversary to a lot of sterile mainstream horror. To others, he is a peddler of gratuitous exploitation for its own sake.

Zombie himself sees things a little differently as in the press for this film, he was even quoted as saying: "I'll take everything as far as I can if I still think it's beneficial to the movie and you're still making art. But when it turns into pure exploitation for exploitation, that's where I'd stop. Once it slips into gratuitous for the sake of it, that's not what I'm trying to do.” ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​[1]

That quote might seem laughable to some critics and horror fans but you do get the sense that Zombie cares about what he is making and is not purely going out his way to push people’s button. That said there are certain scenes in this movie as well as others throughout his career which will likely push even hardened horror watchers.​​​​

“The Devil’s Rejects” is a direct sequel to Zombie’s debut “House of a 1000 Corpse’s.” According to all reports Zombie was less than enthusiastic about doing a sequel, but given the success of Corpses’ compared to its budget, Lions Gate was keen for him to produce a follow-up and preferred that to original projects he put forward. Given the position Zombie was determined to make this film very different tonally to his debut saying in the previous quoted interview; “To me, the first film is 'Mad Max' and this one's 'The Road Warrior.'"

​Whatever else you may think of the movie Zombie certainly accomplishes his goal to mark clear water between this film and its predecessor. In nearly every department Rejects feels different. Most markedly in its look and tone. Where Corpses’ was cartoony and schlocky, this film is grittier and nastier. Where Corpses’ looked very fake, due to it largely being filmed on soundstages, this film looks more authentic due to being largely shot outdoors as well as that it has a hand-held/documentary filmmaking style. Also, while the grindhouse horror influences are still there, it is clear when watching Rejects that Zombie was as influenced ​as much by “The Wild Bunch” as he was “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

​This Western influence is established pretty much off the bat as a mere five minutes into proceedings we get a standoff between the police led by Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (William Forsythe) and the Firefly family (the villain’s from the previous film) at the family’s decaying house. It is an excellently executed sequence and quickly established that Zombie is not just happy to repeat the previous formula just because it was successful.

Post gun battle two members of the Firefly family, Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie), manage to escape and set off on the road after stealing a car. Which pretty much set-ups the rest of the story as we follow the cat-and-mouse game as Sheriff Wydell relentlessly pursues the pair along with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who was also one of the previous instalment antagonists. We also learn that the Sheriff determination to bring the family down has a personal edge as he is the brother of the Sheriff the ghoulish group murdered in the original.

​Revenge and retribution are the big themes of the plot more accurately how revenge can curdle and corrode the person pursuing it. Not that Sheriff Wydell starts as a by-the-book lawman or anything of the sort but we do see him descend from being an officer of the law operating at the edge of his power to out-and-out vigilante who by the end is everybody bit as psychotic as the Firefly clan themselves. Arguably the theme would have hit home better if Wydell had been more of a likable straight-arrow in the beginning, but the descent is well-played by the ever-reliable Forsythe who plays the later scenes with scenery-chewing relish.

​How intentional these themes seem to be a matter of debate as some critics of the time so no depth here at all while a couple of others argued it was an allegory for the USA’s post-9/11 foreign policy with the Firefly’s being Al-Qaeda and Wydell representing the US Miltary. The latter seems like a bad case of over-intellectualising. However to write them off seems equally ridiculous as it seems utterly absurd, to this writer, to think that these were not the type of themes Zombie was playing with, particularly given the amount Wydell quotes from the bible. How hamfistedly he plays with them is, of course, more of a matter of debate.

​Not that Zombie probably cares what the critics think. Or certainly, you imagine that is the case based on the scene which lampoons critics in one moment of the film. A frankly bizarro seqeunce where we see Wydell, and his deputies bring in a film critic to verify the family has been using pseudonyms from Marx brother’s films as assumed identities. You will no doubt be able to guess this film expert is a pompous buffoon of a man (who also comes with a Gene Shalit moustache) and ends up being thrown out the Sheriff’s office for insulting Elvis. A petty scene it may be but it is amusing one too made more so as the whole Marx brother character naming thing was thought to be a throwaway in-joke in the original so it is funny to see it become an actual plot point here.

 The critic scene is also one of the few moments of light relief in amongst an onslaught of sadistic and grim sequences. The apex of these twisted scenes being the one in the motel where Otis and Baby take a travelling country band hostage and taunt, torture and eventually kill them. Due to the way the scene is filmed in tight-focus the scene is undoubtedly effective and is wrung out for every bit of horror. However, it also skin-crawlingly uncomfortably. And the part where Otis forces Gloria (Priscilla Barnes) to strip and violates her with his gun does feels purely exploitative. The scene after this ordeal where the death of a character is played for laughs also seems misjudged.

 For all that there is much to like here as well Forsythe’s aforementioned performance, there is a couple of other outstanding performances most notably Moseley and Haig as Otis and Captain Spaulding both of whom seems like better-drawn characters than they did in “House of 1000 Corpses”. Moseley even manages to make Otis seem vaguely sympathetic for a second in the end before you immediately remember what an awful psycho the character is which is impressive.

Zombie also undoubtedly improved as a filmmaker on this one and pulls off the determinedly retro aesthetic he was aiming for achieved through his effective use of split-screens, freeze frames and screen wipes. Though his heavy use of slow-mo in the final half-hour does get somewhat tiresome.The movie proved to be another success at the box office for Zombie but received a decidedly mixed critical reception as touched on previously. Since Rejects Zombie has directed a further five features a couple of which are terrible (particularly Zombie’s “Halloweens II”), a couple of which are pretty good (“Lords of Salem” is criminally underrated) but none have yet to match this. ​That is up to and including the most recent Rejects outing "3 From Hell" which while okay was essentially a pale imitation of this film

[1] http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/rob-zombie-talks-about-making-of-the-devil-s-rejects/


Bill Moseley, Controversial, Divisive, Firefly clan, Geoffrey Lewis, Grindhouse, Ken Foree, Leslie Easterbrook, Matthew McGrory, Rob Zombie, Sherri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, William Forsythe

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