More Horror, Rob Zombie Style
As the recent horror boom enters its declining phase, thanks to such mediocre efforts as House of Wax and Hide and Seek, Rob Zombie arrives to prove that all hope for the genre is not lost. The White Zombie frontman returns to the world of cinema with The Devil's Rejects, the sequel to his 2003 sleeper House of 1,000 Corpses, a film less Texas Chainsaw Massacre-y than its predecessor but still rampant with a demented sense of humor, jittery camerawork, and a better handle on what fear and horror are than most movies these days.
The Devil's Rejects possesses all the gruesomeness you could want in a horror film, but Zombie takes time to immerse his audience in the scary, screwed-up world he's created and to generate an atmosphere of true uneasiness and tension -- rather than to present a parade of depravity without the slightest hint of substance or artistic integrity. This is a film that's very good at being difficult to view, which is a plus for this type of movie.
The Devil's Rejects moves out of the house of horrors seen in Corpses, taking the Firefly clan's reign of terror to the road. After a raid on their home, conducted by the vengeful Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), leaves one family member dead and lands Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) in prison, brother-and-sister killers Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Otis (Bill Moseley) flee the scene and go on the lam. Business picks up again on the road, as the living Fireflies proceed to terrorize a traveling country group while waiting for family patriarch Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) to pick them up to hide out at his brother's brothel. But the psychopathic family members have their work cut out for them, as Wydell conducts his own manhunt, fueled by some good ol' Texas justice and the memory of his brother's murder that's gnawing at his soul. He's determined to make the whole Firefly brood go through the same hell as their trail of victims.
The most refreshing aspect about The Devil's Rejects is its straightforward approach as a horror film. From the get-go, it's a gleefully immoral, demented, and just plain messed-up flick, and that's all it wants to be. It's not a beacon signaling the future of horror, and Rob Zombie doesn't intend it to be. The Devil's Rejects dismisses gimmickery and pretentiousness; it refuses to wrap up the same old schtick in a barely-different package. Zombie combines a familiar formula (outlaws on the run) with his own dark ideas, resulting in a flick that's not as much an out-and-out horror as House of 1,000 Corpses but still alive with a similarly twisted style of humor and knack for creating moments of eye-wincing brutality.
Zombie develops the Fireflies into a group of folks you really don't want to mess with -- cold-blooded killers who only look out for one another and kill for survival as well as seemingly for the hell of it. There's a great scene in which Otis sizes up a potential victim and explains that no matter what he says, no matter what he does, this guy is going to die. The performances are right in tune with Zombie's tone, ranging from Moseley's unstable Otis and Haig's threatening Spaulding to the cackling, mother/daughter sexpot act of Easterbrook's Mother Firefly and Moon Zombie's Baby.
Also around to share the insanity are Ken Foree (doing a 180 from his National Guardsman hero in the 1978 Dawn of the Dead) as Spaulding's pimp brother, Danny Trejo and Diamond Dallas Page as a pair of thugs who go by "the Unholy Two," and Forsythe, hamming it up and loving every minute of it as his character embarks on a quest to get bloody satisfaction by hunting down the sicko family that did in his brother in the preceding film. But alas, this is both a blessing and a curse, as it paves the way for some almost classic overacting on Forsythe's part but also creates some friction in the story; you don't know whether to root for the stringy-haired creep who's doing the next thing to violating a woman with a handgun or the small-town sheriff who's gone off the deep end and has more than likely lost whatever reasoning he had left. That, and what should have been the film's most intense sequence, the scene in which Wydell finally catches up with the Firefly clan, has some of its impact ruined by both the aforementioned story conflict and some distracting editing techniques. Still, Zombie deserves credit for coming up with one terrific finish as well as for including his own private revenge against movie critics in the form of a zealous Marx Brothers fan brought in to analyze the Fireflies' killings.
The Devil's Rejects wasn't designed to be a perfect film, just to deliver horror fans from the Boogeyman drought plaguing the genre lately, and it does so with style, humor, and a good idea of what true creepiness is all about.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for sadistic violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use.)