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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.” 
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
Eli Roth, is easily one of the most divisive writer/directors in modern horror. To his detractors, he is the purveyor of tasteless pornographic violence that is without substance or merit. To his supporters, he is frequently misunderstood and makes deeper more meaningful films than many critics would have you believe. Probably more than any of his movies it was “Hostel” that cemented these positions. Plus it remains perhaps the most controversial feature of Roth’s blood-splattered career to-date.
Now it must be said “Hostel” is not a movie your writer here is particularly a big fan of at all. However, it would be remiss not to include at least one Roth picture in a survey of 21st Century horror, and in terms of impact and influence it seemed like the go-to picture (with his debut “Cabin Fever” not far behind). Also, it should be mentioned that while I may not be a great lover of the movie that does not necessarily mean I go along with the accusations of its most ardent critics as it being pure trash or “gornography.” No, there is some decent stuff here it just there also some dunderheaded stuff as well. As some things feel like they are there for little other than shock value. This mixture is often the case in Roth film which makes him one of the more frustrating directors to be covered here.
The film has interesting origins too as Roth was considering directing one of the many horror remakes he was offered in the wake of the success of “Cabin Fever.” However, Quentin Tarantino, who produced this picture, advised Roth that he was better developing an original project which he duly did. Coming up with the plot idea after coming across a website for Thai “murder vacations” which the filmmaker was unsure whether it was legit or not. Either way, it provided the seed that would turn into this work.
Now despite whatever flaws there may be here the conceit of the film is a decent one. The concept that there is an exclusive club that offers up torture victims to the highest bidder is both interesting and weirdly plausible. The satirical point it seems to be making is that in this consumerist free market driven world everything can be bought even human life. This satirical commentary may not pierce much further than the surface level, but it shows there is a modicum of intelligence behind this script that is possibly missed by Roth haters.
Not that there is much sign of intellect in the pictures opening act which plays out like a frat-boy comedy; not dissimilar to previous year’s “EuroTrip.” As our protagonists American buddies Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) along with fellow traveller Icelander Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) cavort their way through Amsterdam looking for hook-ups before hearing from a sleazy bloke in hotel if they are really looking to get laid with loads of beautiful women they should head to Slovakia. A land that he alleges has a limitless supply of sex-starved ladies. Our “heroes” duly head off their upon hearing this which is, of course, where their troubles begin. Though not before they have some fun with Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova) & Svetlana (Jana Kaderabkova) who unsurprisingly turn out to be not as innocent as they appear.
In fairness to Roth, there could be some satire going here too. A commentary on the boorishness of Americans abroad and Roth has even said himself that he made “Amsterdam purposefully look like an X-rated Disneyland.” However that defence only goes so far as while some scenes could be seen as wry commentary much of it comes across as merely being crassly sexist. You also sense Roth is trying to have his cake and eat it both mocking that culture as well as inserting scenes that have no purpose other than to pander to a teen boy audience.
This opening act also initially makes it very difficult to root for these characters that we know are going to be tortured. Granted, it is not essential for films to have likable protagonists but given the set-up it kind of helps. It should be said though the fact Paxton does become a fairly likable hero is a testament to the acting of Hernandez. His performance is by far the strongest on display here, and it is one of the highlights of the film.
There are other highlights too such as Roth’s use of location as the building used for the torture facility, in reality, an unused wing of a mental hospital in Prague, is incredibly creepy and Roth uses it to maximum chilling effect. Also, the headlining catching horror scenes such as the Achilles tendon slashing and the retina snip are truly disturbing and will make even hardened gorehounds sit uneasily in their seat. Away from the torture sequences, there is also some fun scenes particularly those that rotate around a group of homicidal kids who will do anything for bubble-gum.
What is less well handled is the tonal shifts. With the movie moving from its larky knockabout opening act to the torture-based second and then closing in almost action movie style with a daring escape and a car chase. These gear shifts seem clunky and jarring. Although I am sure, some would argue Roth intended it to be jarring the genre-hopping never quite works in the way it does for example in a Miike film. Talking of Miike, it is clear he was an inspiration for Roth with this film in terms of tone. And funnily enough Miike even makes a cameo here.
Despite its many flaws and its off-putting opening half hour “Hostel” remains a cult classic in many horror fans eyes and for those of you reading who have not seen it is probably worth checking out once if nothing more than that. Plenty of critics may disagree with that assessment the movie receiving mixed reviews when it hit cinemas.
The movie also caused a hailstorm of controversy in Slovakia, where it is purportedly set, for the films negative depiction of the country. Roth argued though that the representation was supposed to be seen through the prism of American stereotypes saying: “Slovakia in the movie, it’s not really Slovakia. It’s Movie Slovakia, and it’s based on American stereotypes.”
Not that any of the controversies harmed it at the box office, in fact, it probably boosted it, as the film took in $80million worldwide on a mere $4.8million budget. Given it was such a hit at the box office a sequel seemed inevitable and so it was with Eli Roth returning to make 2007’s “Hostel II” which does the same thing this movie does but worse; the major difference being the protagonists are female instead of male. That looked like it franchise-wise but there was to be one more with “Hostel III” arriving in 2011 but this time there was no Roth, it was direct-to-DVD and went by almost completely unnoticed.
At the turn of the millennium horror, fans on both sides of the Atlantic were fast tiring of the self-referential slasher cycle kicked off by “Scream.” To the extent that there are horror fans to this day that hate “Scream” not so much, it appears, for anything the movie itself did but because of the wave of poor imitations it inspired. Due to this fatigue with mainstream American horror, fans looked elsewhere for their kicks and the J-Horror craze kicked in gear first off with “Ringu” (which was made in 1998 but did not receive a UK release until 2000) which was a like a breath of fresh air in a sea of generic horrors of the time.
Many believe that “Pulse” could have played a bigger role in that craze where it not for the Weinstein’s who bought the rights for it in order to make a remake. The Weinstein’s then stopped it from receiving a general release in the US at the time. Meaning this 2001 film did not hit American cinemas until late 2005 while in the UK it did not reach the big screen until early 2006 by which time the J-Horror craze had petered out. Despite this “Pulse” still managed to pick up a cult following due to many enterprising horror fans getting it on import DVDs.
Whether it would have made a bigger splash with a wider release at the time is a matter as in many ways “Pulse” is less accessible than say “Ringu” or “Ju-On: The Grudge.” Both of which with their pale-faced jerkily moving ghost where unique at the time but at least they still have relatively familiar genre pacing and storylines you can follow if you are paying attention. Whereas “Pulse” not only has glacial pacing but narratively, with its crazy tale of internet ghosts which make people commit suicide, is a jumble even if you are watching in close detail. Not that this should come as a surprise to anybody anyone familiar with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director who has made his name making genre features but with an off-beat auteurist twist.
So while “Pulse” maybe a ghost story it is one less concerned with scare than it is with mood, atmosphere, and cultural commentary. The latter being the irony that in a world ever closer connected by the internet that people have never been more isolated and lonely. Not an original point or one it drives home subtly but one that seems prescient give this was made in 2001 when the internet had nowhere near the role it plays in people’s lives that it does now. Also unlike many films which have dealt with the same topic of loneliness in the digital age, few have the same impact or feeling as Kurosawa packs in every frame of the movie with a sense of dread and melancholy that resonates and makes it feel more than mere tutting ludditism.
As well as referring to the effect of the internet the film’s social commentary also specifically looks at Japan and how work and education trump interpersonal relationships with the film given extra resonance given the very real spate of suicides which occurred in Japan, at the time, due to the economic downturn in the late ’90s.
A lot is going on here, not all of which is made explicit which is the same with the plot very little of which is explained. Questions such as how do people end up in spectral/internet realm? How do the ghosts appear in the Forbidden Rooms? What is the significance of the red tape? Why do all the victims leave behind a black stain where their corpse was?
Moreover, many others are left unanswered. Loose ends and unanswered questions are not necessarily a bad thing but the plot logic, or lack thereof, does test the patience at times. The movie also escalates from ghost story to apocalyptic dystopia without warning.
The lack of coherence is not the only issue as there is also almost no attempt at characterisation. The ensemble is more character traits than characters as we have the cute nerdy computer girl (Harue), the laidback technophobe (Ryosuke) and the shy plant shop employee and caring friend (Michi). These characters incidentally are the three lead characters. You could take this as a sign of lazy writing, but equally, you can see this is a sign of tieing in with movies theory of the increased atomisation of modern culture due to technology, and therefore it makes a kind of sense we know nothing about the characters inner lives. Not necessarily a theory your writer here ascribes too but a possibility nonetheless.
Despite its flaws though “Pulse” is undoubtedly a film packed with memorable imagery and is likely to resonate long after you watch it. Amongst stand-outs is an excellently composed sequence where we see a woman commit suicide by leaping from a water tower. A woman who we initially see in the background of the frame as Michi (Kumiko Aso) is taking a phone call in the foreground only for her turn round in time to see the woman plummet to her death. What makes the scene more unnerving is the lack of reaction of the people walking down the street with only Michi going over to survey the horrific scene. This scene is not the only one to leave an indelible mark as there is a few other scattered throughout including one which impressively makes hands coming over a couch seem unsettling.
Predictably given the films oblique, even by Kurosawa’s standards, nature the reviews upon its release in the West were mixed with some hailing it a J-Horror classic while others were left baffled but overall the critical reaction it received was positive. The same could not be said for the dumbed-down 2006 remake which was critically savaged upon release for stripping out the creepy atmospherics and adding in a bunch of horror clichés. Possibly the saddest thing about the remake, besides the aforementioned, is that the late Wes Craven has a writing credit although at the time of release he stated: "I have had no influence at all on the film they are about to release.” After he had been removed as director and replaced by Jim Sonzero, Craven’s screenplay was also rewritten by Ray Wright so we will never know if Craven’s “Pulse” would have been better, but it seems safe to bet it certainly could not have be any worse.Despite the remakes, critical beatdown and the lack of audience appreciation Hollywood decided to make two direct-to-DVD sequels (both 2008) which received even worse reviews. None of this in the end truly tarnished the original as the movie retains its cult classic status while thankfully the remake and especially the remakes sequels have been largely forgotten about.
 Losing the Pulse, by Calum Waddell, Fangoria Magazine, No. 255, August 2006
NHE host Scott Murphy talk to director G. Patrick Condon all about his debut feature “Incredible Violence.” A film we saw at Dead by Dawn 2019 and had mixed feelings about. And yes, that is something we get into which made for a very interesting interview (which begins at 3:37)!
Away from discussing what we did and did not like about “Incredible Violence,” Scott and Patrick chat about how the story developed, the casting of the picture and it’s unusual shoot. Also, the pictures meta nature, why he decided not to cast himself as himself (we told you it was meta!) and the divisive reactions the movie has received at festivals.
Patrick also tells us about how he got into film-making, the Canadian film scene and how he naturally gravitates towards cinema that splits opinion. Plus he gives us a taster of what he is up to next, a project which sounds very interesting indeed!
You can check out the trailer for “Incredible Violence” here
“Incredible Violence” is set for release in the UK on August 13th.