The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
I will start this review out saying that I am a fan of Rob Zombie, the musician. I was interested in Rob Zombie as a filmmaker due to the immense controversy surrounding his first film House of 1000 Corpses, but once I got to see it, theatrically, I found it to be a rather unexciting, very unoriginal, and highly derivative movie. It just seemed like one ninety minute long Rob Zombie music video. The only thing that made me see it a second time was Sid Haig’s incredible charisma and dark, dark humor as Captain Spaulding. It cracked me up like few things do, but other than that, the film held little interest for me. Others felt differently, but I will get more into such things as I have many of the same gripes here as I did with Zombie’s first film.
Picking up six months after the events of House of 1000 Corpses, The Ruggsville County Sheriff’s Department, headed by John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), is storming the Firefly household, and some do not survive. Mother Firefly is captured, but Otis & Baby escape to meet up with the foul-mouthed mad clown Captain Spaulding (who is also Baby’s father). Along their twisted road trip, they encounter some strange folk, and leave them worse off than they found them….much, much worse. Sheriff Wydell, in the meantime, is deadset on bringing the entire clan down because they killed his brother George (as seen in House of 1000 Corpses). Sheriff John Wydell has nothing but vengeance on his mind, but in time, that will drive him to become exactly what he’s hunting. The trio’s road trip takes many bizarre twists and turns, leaving unresolved plot points along the way, and ultimately leads the film to a strange and unsatisfying ending.
First and foremost, this is one grizzly, brutal, and unrestrained movie. I rented the unrated director’s cut, and so, everything that was meant to be seen, was seen. And while all the gory effects are excellent, and the performances are amazing, this film just doesn’t deliver anything more. The story is far too simple to justify all the over bloated crap that flows through it, and the resolution is horrendously weak. It feels like the work of an untalented novice filmmaker who just does things because he thinks they are cool instead of crafting a tight, coherent, and straight forward feature. Possibly the film’s strongest, more poignant character is dispatched like a worthless camper in a Friday The 13th movie. The death has no meaning, no importance when this character probably should not have died at all. It simply goes to show that despite Rob Zombie’s ability to make an intense and disturbing film, he really has a long way to go in crafting solid storytelling skills. He tries, but he fails for two films in a row.
I think it’s even worse in this one because some characters and plot points simply drop off the map with no reason, no explanation. Plot points about the Groucho Marx’ aliases is dropped after two scenes, and was apparently only created for a weak comedic bit. As for vanishing characters, Zombie apparently decides that once they’ve served their purpose, they should vanish entirely with no reason or resolution. It is a shame because there is such a great cast to work with such as Michael Berryman, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, and the absolutely awesome William Forsythe. I was also rocked to see former WCW & WWE superstar “Diamond” Dallas Page featured as black-haired bounty hunter teamed with Trejo. Page does a fine job too, and having cameos from The Warrior‘s Deborah Van Valkenburg and Halloween‘s P.J. Soles was a unique touch. However, despite having such a rich cast, the story just does not offer up anything substantive for them to do anything with. There’s no ambition to do anything original with this concept which has been well treaded over the decades. We’ve seen movies with murder sprees before, and despite the extreme distance this one takes the violence and mayhem, such thrills are only momentary. Once the mayhem and gore is off screen, there’s not much to excite an audience or the film. The story is just three sick and twisted people on a killing spree running from the law and a vengeful lawman, period. Most films of this sort have some social commentary to offer amongst its grisly brutality. However, Zombie tries to throw all this frivolous, extraneous junk into it for his own amusement instead.
I can respect Rob Zombie for wanting to revitalize a forgotten genre of film, but by this time, it had already gotten back on its feet with numerous hardcore, edge-of-your-seat horror films that pushed the limits of disturbing imagery. Zombie churning out all these homage’s to 1970s exploitation films forces his films to be unoriginal and thin on story. It’s cool to give nods to your favorite films in your own feature, but only when done with the right skill and intellect. Otherwise, your film becomes blatantly derivative, watering it down to very weak levels. In fact, the entire premise is lifted directly from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but Zombie doesn’t do enough to make The Devil’s Rejects seem original to even the smallest degree. Plus, the main characters that carryover from House of 1000 Corpses only make themselves even more detestable and inhuman. It’s obvious that Zombie is trying to make them into some twisted band of anti-heroes, but frankly, these characters are not relatable, let alone sympathetic creatures – they’re sick, twisted, homicidal psychopaths. Why anyone would root for these demented maniacs is beyond me, let alone why Zombie believes anyone would want to. They have zero endearing qualities.
Now, the style of this film isn’t as oversaturated or surreal as House of 1000 Corpses, but Rob Zombie clearly needed more competent help in the editing department. The pacing and editing of certain sequences is all out of whack, and very inconsistent. The final scene of the film drags on and on and on and on to the point where it loses all impact. The use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” makes it quite the quirky and over-the-top sequence, but ultimately, this is a flat end to a film that seemed to have potential from time-to-time. Zombie’s attempt to make the murderous threesome go out in an amazing blaze of glory works against the entire film as these three deserve the harshest death possible for the horrific crimes they’ve committed. Instead, Zombie seems to want us to feel sorry that they’ve met their collective ends. The actual hero of the film gets a piss poor demise while the despicable villains get a grand, epic swan song. That’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this movie.
The moral compass of the film’s perspective is entirely flipped. Otis, Spaulding, & Baby are given the breadth of screentime so that their characters can be developed in depth. The hero in William Forsythe’s Sheriff John Quincey Wydell is a strong character that could carry the film entirely, but he’s not the one the movie wants us to be invested in. By the fact of how the film treats their final moments, it is clear that the Firefly gang are meant to be the central focus of the entire story, and are the ones you should be emotionally connected with. While audiences have been able to be entertained and intrigued by vile characters before like Hannibal Lecter, Khan Noonien Singh, and Freddy Krueger, you never want to see them ultimately defeat their adversaries, the heroes of the story. They should get what’s coming to them for the violence they have wrought upon the innocent. This film doesn’t share that moral viewpoint, and decides to side with the detestable, sadistic murderers. That doesn’t roll for me. If the film had some thematic element about society’s corrupted morality fueling the characters’ demented psychology, it would be justifiable, but as it is, it’s completely ass-backwards.
On a highly positive note, the make-up effects of The Devil’s Rejects give the film its grisly texture, and for some, might make it a difficult watch. Zombie made a specific point to not make this film pretty – it is definitely grounded in that 70s ugliness. Even the nudity is dirty and trashy. Some CGI work is here, but only for certain gunshots and other minor details. Nothing here looks fake, it all has a dense, gritty realism to it, and that is a refreshing plus.
Unfortunately, whatever score there is happens to be practically unnoticeable. Zombie packs this film with classic rock songs from the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Walsh, and so forth. It’s a much more era-appropriate soundtrack than the modern day heaviness of the previous film. The Devil’s Rejects soundtrack is probably quite a cool listen. Still, I would’ve preferred a stronger score to intensify the film further than using songs to remind people of the time period or using them to create quirky moments. I understand Rob Zombie comes from a music video world where he uses music to tell a story, but in the medium of feature films, music is used to enhance the story. It’s just one element of the overall structure of a movie. It punctuates particular moments in the story instead of bludgeoning you with an oversaturated soundtrack. Zombie really needs to adapt to the demands and standards of films instead of treating everything like a music video. House of 1000 Corpses was more guilty of that mentality with how everything was shot, lit, paced, and presented, but even though everything is more stripped down here, that mentality is still apparent.
When taking this film in as a whole, it’s really not much better than Rob Zombie’s feature film directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. While that film was more a true horror film in the sense that it was meant to scare and horrify you, this film just tries to freak you out through disturbing violence and sickening moments. It maybe darker and sicker, but it’s not really all that much better. I would’ve expected more of an improvement from Zombie, but I suppose a great deal more time would be needed for him to evolve as a filmmaker. However, for me, two strikes against him was enough for my interest to fully evaporate. Once I heard he was remaking Halloween, a great film from one of my favorite filmmakers as well as the review of mine that motivated me to create Forever Cinematic, I just couldn’t care anymore. Rob Zombie had great resources to work with in every aspect of filmmaking, but he couldn’t utilize it all to its highest potential. Frankly, I don’t recommend seeing or not seeing The Devil’s Rejects, I’m just rather indifferent. Just don’t expect anything all that original if you do plan to see it. If you liked House of 1000 Corpses, you’ll probably enjoy this film. If you hated House of 1000 Corpses, you probably won’t like this film either.