It took me quite a while to appreciate Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses. I pretty much hated it when I originally went to see it in theaters, but then gradually warmed up to it when I got a second look on DVD. After awhile, I found myself repeatedly going back to the film, and found myself slowly but surely developing a fondness for the movie that I really can’t explain. Beneath the nauseating quick edits, over-the-top performances, and the screenplay’s obvious identity crisis, there was lot of really good stuff there. At its core, Corpses was a down and dirty homage to the 70’s grindhouse film, chockfull of blood and boobs, nasty characters and even nastier surroundings. The problem was that the film was presented with an undeniably modern sheen, with a style that was equal parts Oliver Stone and MTV. Ironically, Zombie’s film was lost in the contemporary glitz that he seemed to be rebelling against.
With the The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie takes everything that was good about the first film and builds on it, eschewing the cartoonish look and feel of Corpses in favour of a rough and dirty revenge movie that would do Sam Peckinpah proud.
Devil’s Rejects opens with a raid on the Firefly home, led by Sheriff Wydell (Forsythe); the top cop who’s brother was killed by the clan in the first film. Baby (Moon Zombie) and Otis (Moseley) escape, while Mother Firefly (now played by the lovely Leslie Easterbrook), is taken into custody. Meanwhile, Captain Spaulding (Haig) finds out about his impending family crisis, and is called into action to pick up Otis and Baby at an isolated desert motel. Baby charms her way into the room of a traveling family musical group called Banjo and Sullivan, whereupon Otis torments and tortures their captives until Spaulding’s arrival. When he finally does show up, Spaulding whisks his kin off to his brother Charlie’s (Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree) brothel to hole-up until the heat is off.
However, there is nothing that will stop Wydell, and it becomes increasingly clear to him that the no law abiding man can dole out the kind of justice that these people truly deserve.
The Devil’s Rejects is a brutally violent and uncompromising piece of exploitation era gold. While this is certainly not a flick for everyone, fans of the more subversive films of the 1970’s will find a lot to love here, and there’s just enough humour to keep things from getting too intense. Just the same, there are many uncomfortable moments in this picture, not the least of which involves a half-naked woman being molested with the barrel of a pistol while her captive husband is forced to look on. Sesame Street this is not.
The film looks marvelous and, as seen through the unflinching eye of cinematographer Phil Parmet (a seasoned documentary filmmaker), gives the viewer a sort of fly on the wall look into the Reject’s dusty, dirty, and bloody world. Zombie has shown a lot of growth in the span of one film and seems to have reined some of that excess creativity in, crafting a much simpler and coherent film. The fantasy and horror elements of Corpses have been all but left behind (save for a cameo appearance by the late Matthew McGrory as the deformed sibling, Tiny), and the family now feels less like a second-rate Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off and more like a scarily realistic thrill kill cult. Peppered by choice musical tracks from the era, including a fantastically bloody and brilliant denouement set to the tune of Lynrd Skynrd’s Free Bird, as well as great costumes and meticulously detailed sets, this film just oozes pure ‘70’s and is a near masterpiece of the genre. My only complaints about the film revolve around some minor pacing issues and a few less than stellar performances, most notably Easterbrook’s scenery chewing turn as Mother Firefly, and Sheri Moon Zombie who, while quite attractive, simply cannot act to save her life. On the other end of the spectrum, Forsythe is fantastic as Wydell, and Bill Moseley channel’s Charlie Manson like no other.
The Unrated Director’s Edition DVD from Lion’s Gate is an absolutely fabulous set, filled with a great assortment of features spread out over two discs. Disc one features an informative and casual commentary by Zombie, as well as a very funny commentary by the cast. There’s also a blooper reel, a Captain Spaulding commercial, an old-school music video from Buck Owens, and more. Disc two, however, is what really got me excited. The entire disc is dedicated to a mind-blowingly comprehensive feature-length documentary called 30 Days in Hell. This two and a half hour making-of film follows production from conceptual meetings all the way through to the final day of filming, and is an enormously entertaining look at the process of filmmaking. Even if you despise this film, the documentary is essential viewing for aspiring filmmakers, and well worth the purchase.
Unlike his first film, Zombie’s follow-up will need no time to grow on me. I’ve watched it four times since receiving the DVD, and I liked it right out of the gate. While many of the events in this film are quite horrific, I would hesitate to call it a “horror” film, as The Devil’s Rejects has more in common with the later films of Sam Peckinpah or the vigilante flicks of the late 70’s than the splatter flicks that House of 1000 Corpses aped. This more realistic tone and style may make Rejects and uncomfortable watch for some (you have been warned), but those of you with strong stomachs and a taste for dangerous cinema are in for a down and dirty treat.