The Devil's Rejects
Director : s Rob Zombie
Screenplay : Rob Zombie
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding), Bill Moseley (Otis), Sheri Moon Zombie (Baby), William Forsythe (Sheriff Wydell), Ken Foree (Charlie Altamont), Matthew McGrory (Tiny), Leslie Easterbrook (Mother Firefly), Geoffrey Lewis (Roy Sullivan), Priscilla Barnes (Gloria Sullivan), Dave Sheridan (Officer Ray Dobson), Kate Norby (Wendy Banjo), Lew Temple (Adam Banjo), Danny Trejo (Rondo)
If there’s one thing you can say about rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie, it is that he has no pretensions. In his sophomore film, the neo-grindhouse epic The Devil’s Rejects, he never for a moment pretends that it’s about anything other than vicariously identifying with a Manson-esque family of serial killers on the run. It’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre told from the point of view of the Sawyer clan, mixed with a good dose of romanticized outlaw mythology borrowed from Bonnie and Clyde. Zombie’s primary shock tactic isn’t the gore or the sadism, but rather the simple brutality of the point of view: He likes these characters and he wants you to like them, too.
Had The Devil’s Rejects been made back in the late 1960s, it would have been called a “roughie” -- a particular brand of grindhouse exploitation fare that traded in wanton violence for its own sake. Like those films, what Zombie is selling is vicarious experience, the kind that takes you away from the humdrum of everyday life and drags you waist deep into the sticky ooze of the worst kinds of human behavior. Sure, it exploits the pits of humanity -- that’s why they’re called “exploitation films” -- and if you find such stuff offensive, chances are you won’t be wandering into a film titled The Devil’s Rejects in the first place.
As a musician, Rob Zombie’s aesthetic has always been informed by horror movies. The title of his late-’90s industrial metal act White Zombie was taken from the 1932 Bela Lugosi horror classic of the same name, and many of his album titles feel like they were ripped from the fading marquees of old drive-ins: “Hellbilly Deluxe,” “Make Them Die Slowly,” “Astro-Creep: 2000,” “The Sinister Urge.” Zombie uses that same warped, yet darkly playful sensibility in his filmmaking, and the best thing you can say about him as a writer/director is that you forget he was ever a metal musician. The Devil’s Rejects could have been made by any artistically inclined young punk who had soaked up imagery from a ton of 1970s horror classics and was primed to regurgitate it into a new mold (as added emphasis, Zombie packs the screen with actors associated primarily with ’70s, horror, including Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree and The Hills Have Eyes’ Michael Berryman).
The Devil’s Rejects begins with the titular Firefly family getting busted by an army of police officers who descend on the dusty, ramshackle farmhouse where they’ve conducted at least 75 brutal killings. After a prolonged shootout, the matriarch, Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook), is taken into custody, while her two murderous offspring, the hippie-ish Otis (Bill Moseley) and the porn-star beautiful Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie), make their escape. Otis and Baby hook up with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), their ugly-as-hell demonic clown father (all of these characters also appeared in Zombie’s directorial debut, 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses), but not before terrorizing and slaughtering a family of traveling musicians in a rundown roadside motel.
Zombie’s taste for sadism and his refusal to offer anything resembling a decent human being extends to the other side of the law, as well. In hot pursuit of the killers is not a dedicated law man of noble intent, but rather a borderline psychotic brute named Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose brother was murdered by the Firefly clan and who therefore feels a divine imperative to inflict as much torment on the killers as they have influcted on their numerous victims. To be sure, there is something strangely satisfying about seeing sadism repaid in kind, but Zombie is so invested in his killer clan that you find yourself rooting for their escape, even when you know they deserve every ounce of suffering they endure, if not more.
Thankfully, The Devil’s Rejects is a notably accomplished film, much better aesthetically than the majority of its ilk. Much of its aesthetic is recycled, but Zombie uses such grabby devices as slow motion, freeze frames, and burned-out grainy film stock with such flair and intensity that it rachets the whole endeavor up an extra notch. He also infuses the film with a sense of wit and dark humor that constantly subverts any attempt to take it too seriously. In this sense, Zombie isn’t just reliving the grindhouse glory days; he’s doing everything he can to resurrect them.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2005 Lions Gate