The year of 1995 is my favorite year in film giving us so many beloved favorites of mine such as Lord of Illusions, The Usual Suspects, Seven, In The Mouth of Madness, GoldenEye, The Prophecy, Strange Days, and more. This year also gave us a brilliant union of powerhouse talents when Michael Mann brought together screen legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat. While I consider Manhunter my favorite, and The Insider to be Mann’s best film, I cannot deny that Heat is a crime saga masterpiece. It is finally Michael Mann refined and matured to a breath-taking level developing his signature concepts to perfection. I can think of no more appropriate film to hold the honor of the 200th review on Forever Cinematic than Heat.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is a master thief who lives by the simple discipline of “have nothing in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the “heat” around the corner.” His crew of career criminals is a high-tech outfit pulling off professional jobs that impress even the likes of Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). But Hanna, a man driven through life only by his work, becomes obsessed, at the expense of his private life, with bringing McCauley down. As McCauley’s crew prepare for the score of a lifetime, and Hanna’s team tries to bring him in, the two find that they are similar in many ways, including their troubled personal lives. Ultimately, they find themselves challenged by the greatest minds on the opposite side of the law that either one has ever encountered. With this much heat, the streets of Los Angeles are ready to sizzle and explode!
Heat is filled with excellent performances from everyone involved that it’s hard not to touch upon most of them. Firstly, I am engrossed by the dynamic between Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. Hanna is a man whose life is wholly dedicated to his job, and thus, his home life is a disaster with multiple divorces to show for it. Meanwhile, McCauley has his life in control as he takes precision high line scores, but lives a disparate life of bare necessities allowing himself no attachments he cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if circumstances require it. Thus, despite these men being on opposite sides of the law, they find themselves in a near symbiotic relationship which fuels the compulsions of their lives. They are both driven by their jobs being out there on the streets in the middle of danger, and everything else in their lives is sacrificed for that. All they are is what they’re going after. That’s what fuels their existences, and Heat is all about that electrifying synergy.
Al Pacino has always been known as a passionate, charismatic actor, and Vincent Hanna surely has that energetic, sharp edge which makes him immensely entertaining here. However, it is the more subtle aspects of the performance that are where the real juice is. You see the razor sharp mind of Hanna when he arrives on the armored car robbery scene. He sees it, absorbs it, and hits all the marks deconstructing every detail of the crime. He doesn’t miss a beat, doesn’t overlook or dismiss anything. You see the proficiency of Neil McCauley and how his crew operates, and then, you see Hanna and his team operate on that same exact level only on the opposite side of that coin. Yet, the depth of Hanna comes to the surface when Vincent converses with his wife, Justine. The weariness and ugliness of his job forces an emotional rift between them, and Pacino’s performance reflects the inner angst and emotional toll that it wreaks on Hanna. These things do affect him, but he never becomes a jaded, pessimistic, desensitized person. Al Pacino absorbs all of that into a subtle and complex performance that energizes the screen.
And delivering a performance on an equal level of weight and intelligence is Robert De Niro. He’s entirely formidable making Neil McCauley a very serious and definitive threat to everyone who opposes him. De Niro has a serious, hard edged presence that dominates the screen, and every move, every word, every course of action he makes is efficient. There’s a full immersion into the character in all his nuances and textures. Sometimes, a great performance is seen in raw emotion, but other times, it’s all in the subtle complexities. That is what De Niro give us here showing the versatile diversity of this character from cold, hard criminal to the loyal, caring friend and lover. Despite being the antagonist in the story, we see a real heart when Neil becomes involved with Eady. It’s takes a masterful actor and filmmaker to take a character like McCauley who will sanction and be entirely sociopathic about the murder of innocent people, and do something so human with him to where you genuinely feel his depth of heart. Surely, that’s nothing you would want translated into reality, but in a fictional narrative, it provides a captivating dimensionality that Robert De Niro captures with pitch perfect substance.
Val Kilmer was really in his peak at this time after his stunning turn as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Thus, he was filming Heat concurrently with Batman Forever, really capitalizing on two excellent opportunities. Here, his role might be overlooked by the presence of Pacino and De Niro, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t top notch. Chris Shiherlis proves to be a really intense character with his gambling addiction and marital strives, and Kilmer really absorbs the weary heart of Chris deeply into his performance. Despite infidelities on the part of Chris and his wife Charlene, portrayed tremendously by Ashley Judd, their final shared moment strikes deep within the heart to show just how much they both truly loved one another, but their marriage was never built to last. Kilmer hits all the marks to make this character standout solidly alongside De Niro, and to a lesser extent, Tom Sizemore does the same as the more action junkie sociopath Michael Cheritto. There’s a real strong brotherhood between Neil and Chris that shows through shiningly, and that relationship brings a lot of dimension to both characters.
I’m fascinated by the chain reaction of events here which create numerous exciting plot turns. Essentially, Waingro is the key cog who sets everything in motion. Without him going off the handle and facilitating the triple homicide, Vincent Hanna likely would not have been as dogged to track down McCauley and his crew. He’d be intrigued by the precision professionals, but it would just be another robbery. Then, Waingro betrays McCauley to his enemies, forcing the bank heist to turn into a violent, deadly shootout and propelling McCauley to make the irrational decision to go after him instead of escaping free and clear. Waingro turns the tide of the story at pivotal moments because he is a wild card with no loyalty to anyone but his own base, primal impulses. Furthermore, Kevin Gage is perfect in this role making for a wholly convincing hardened ex-convict sociopath who is dreadfully frightening and intimidating. It’s sadly poetic that less than a decade later he would become a federal convict for cultivating medicinal marijuana.
The other intriguing quality of Heat are the women. Michael Mann always makes the affectionate, strong women of his films vitally important to the arcs and stories of the male leads, and never objectifies them. The significant others of Hanna, McCauley, and Shiherlis are all passionate, loving women who desire a stable life. Justine Hanna grapples with Vincent’s internalized angst from the horrors he sees out on those streets, and just wants a husband who opens up to her instead of being distant, closed off, and vacant in their marriage. She wants a marriage with love not ragged leftovers of a man who drifts through their lives empty. Eady, portrayed by Amy Brenneman, is the most innocent of them all existing entirely outside the world of cops and criminals. She’s a simple, honest, warm person that unexpectedly opens up Neil’s world and gives him something to be affectionate about. For a man who lives with no attachments of any kind, it’s finally someone in his life that makes him care to have a life. Charlene, however, is the real gold for me as Ashley Judd is confident, heartbreaking and truly empathic as Chris’ wife. As I said, there is a deep down, genuine love between Chris and Charlene, but there’s so much addictive and combative garbage in the way that it was destined to crumble. For me, the Shiherlis dynamic is the most complex and substantive one of the film because of that real quality of conflict and adoration between them.
Without a doubt, Danté Spinotti is a remarkable cinematographer, and he does an excellent, stunning job with Heat. He composes so many carefully selected shots which tell a very visual story that holds weight. Just as Mann had fully refined and developed his artistic sensibilities so had Spinotti making this a very sophisticated looking and composed picture. There are pure moments of inspired artistry creating a masterful canvas that this story is told upon. This is also a film that feels very engrained and engrossed in the fiber of Los Angeles because of the visual vibe. Shots of the skyline in hazy daylight or glowing nighttime neo noir create that great backdrop that has substance and life.
Upon this watch of the movie, I picked up far more on Elliott Goldenthal’s amazingly original and pulsating score. A lot of what he does are subtle textures and melodies that nicely underscore various scenes. His score doesn’t fight for dominance in the audio mix. It complements everything that Mann is doing with the emotion, characters, and story. At times, Goldenthal’s score can be very powerful and striking such as the moment where Chris and Charlene are forced to abandon each other because of the police stakeout. The emotional pain swells into the score in a haunting swirl. Then, there’s the parting phone call between Neil and Nate that reflects the sorrowful feeling of two people, best of friends, saying goodbye for the final time, and Goldenthal’s score hits that mark so beautifully. Every single moment is so perfectly punctuated, and should be considered amongst his best work. Additionally, the two tracks by Moby are beautiful, superb, innovative tracks that saturate the power of their respective scenes, most notably being the ending with “God Moving Over The Face of The Waters.”
Of course, the big, electrifying selling point of this film was having two of America’s most celebrated actors, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, collide in all their glory. That would not be complete without the excellent diner scene where Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley have a very probing conversation. The very interesting quality of that scene is that this is the only point in time where these two men are able to be entirely open, honest, and reveal their inner workings. They are more intimately connected with each other than with anyone else in their lives. Again, the subtle performances of depth and honesty make this the absolute nexus of this entire film. Heat was previously made as a TV movie called L.A. Takedown by Michael Mann, and when you watch this scene performed by very second rate, stiff or hollow actors with almost identical dialogue, you realize the gold standard quality of Pacino and De Niro. In their hands, Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley are brilliantly fleshed out and fascinating characters, and this is the scene that shows them stripped down. They show what haunts them and what drives them. There is no pretense between these men, and they realize that they are very similar despite being the flip side of each other. These are the only two people alike in this world of Michael Mann’s film that truly, undeniably understand one another. Furthermore, this scene is entirely integral to how the film’s climax unfolds.
Firstly, that shootout in the streets of downtown Los Angeles is one of the most ear-blistering sonic experiences ever, and that’s coming from a heavy metal fan. Michael Mann had considered using post-production sound effects for this, but realized that the realistic production audio created the true power and impact he wanted. It conveys the violent magnitude of real life gunfire and enhanced the danger of this sequence exponentially. The precision of every tactic is true to how Michael Mann approached his films. He made sure that every detail was accurate to life, and that mentality makes his films far more interesting to witness than the more over-the-top action sequences we get in the big, fun blockbusters.
The climax of Heat narrows everything down to what the whole film has been about at its core – Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley. These two men, who exist in a world separated from the mainstream of society and defined by its own rules, are now pitted against one another in an electrifying, tense, and suspenseful cat and mouse sequence that is absolutely pitch perfect, and showcases the unequivocal skill of Michael Mann. The moment where McCauley sees Hanna just as he is to ride off with Eady is beautiful, painful, and eloquent. Neil invokes his “thirty seconds flat” rule turning away from Eady for his own survival, and the ensuing chase towards LAX is wonderfully and smartly plotted. The climactic moment is excellent and poetic. Then, after it’s all over, these two men are bonded together in a strikingly profound moment that ends the film on an astonishing stroke of pure brilliance.
I had always taken Heat for granted as that great crime saga pinnacle for Michael Mann, but until now, I never peered deeply enough into it to see the subtle brilliance of it. Many of his films are easier to see the inspired breadth and depth, but Heat has so many fine brush strokes of detail, interwoven threads, and subtext that only a real immersion into it made me absorb it all. This is truly a brilliantly written, directed, and acted film that did not get the recognition it deserved during awards season. Michael Mann himself received no nominations for his screenplay or directing, and Pacino, De Niro, or Kilmer received no acting award nominations either. It’s amazing to me that so many incredible, mold breaking, and standard setting films were released this year, and those I hold in highest regard barely got any recognition from any major awards organizations. This is why I find it hard to put much weight into these organizations because they’d rather nominate a movie about a talking animatronic pig over brilliant masterpieces like Heat, Strange Days, The Usual Suspects, or Seven for Best Picture or Best Director. Today, nobody talks about Babe, but people still endlessly praise those others films because they launched careers, took stunning risks, set new standards, and blew peoples’ minds. And when Michael Mann finally got his just nominations, he didn’t win a single one for what no one will ever be able to tell me wasn’t the best movie released in the year 1999 – The Insider. However, for the next review, I go back to the beginning of Michael Mann’s feature film career with Thief.
For whatever reason, the Predator film franchise lied dormant after the release of Predator 2 in 1990. It wasn’t until 2004 that we got the highly anticipated Alien vs. Predator films. The first one I hated, and I still consider it the worst overall movie I’ve ever seen theatrically. The second film I did a rather positive review of as one of the last Forever Horror website reviews and one of the first Forever Cinematic reviews. However, the general consensus of both movies was decidedly negative, and thus, someone thought it was time to bring the Predator franchise back into its own. Such a person was producer Robert Rodriguez known best for making big scale action on tight budgets. Thus, twenty years after Predator 2, we are given another proper sequel. The question is, was it good enough to breathe life into a damaged franchise?
Awakening in freefall, a collection of strangers find themselves dropped into an unfamiliar land with danger awaiting them. Royce (Adrien Brody) is a mercenary who reluctantly leads this group of elite warriors in a mysterious mission on an alien planet. Except for a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers – mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members – human “predators.” But when they begin to be systematically hunted and eliminated by a new Predator breed, it becomes clear that suddenly, they are the prey!
I will admit that I wasn’t sold on this film pre-release. I thought the premise of Predators abducting humans from Earth and dropping them on another planet to be hunted was against the idea of what a big game hunter would do. You don’t take a lion out of his natural environment and throw him in your backyard to hunt him. However, a positive reaction from a strongly opinionated friend of mine motivated me to see it theatrically. Indeed, I really liked Predators. I would still rank it third in my list of favorites, but all three films are ranked very tightly together. They are all extremely well made with their own unique ideas, visual styles, and approaches which all work superbly.
Much like with Predator 2, you must find it peculiar to cast Adrien Brody as the lead in an action movie. This film will entirely change your perspective on that. He delivers incredibly in this role. Brody can play tough bad ass with the best of them. He brings the charisma of a leader, but clearly shows Royce is a man of sketchy origins and doesn’t mind being a loner. Royce is also very smart and perceptive. He would be fine going at it solo, but he sees that even his own survival holds better odds sticking with them than without. You also see that he’s not a cold-blooded man, but he can be a savage, hardened killer when he needs to be. The film’s climax sells every awesome thing about Royce, and solidifies that I want to see more of him.
Brody has very touching and honest chemistry with Alice Braga, portraying the Israeli sniper Isabelle. They surely butt heads in certain circumstances, but they connect on an emotional level that does resonate. They build a mutual trust and respect as the film progresses. The rest of these trained killers, including the Rodriguez obligatory Danny Trejo, certainly don’t measure up to Dutch’s elite team from the first film, but they are a mismatched group that are weary to trust one another. My favorite, who has extremely little dialogue, is the Yakuza member Hanzo. He creates a very intriguing mystique around him through some interesting actions, and demonstrates a unique sense of honor. Topher Grace portrays the aforementioned disgraced physician Edwin, and surely, the film didn’t require the presence of this character. He just adds an extra wild card element late in the game which may or may not be easy to spot early on. I think I had this reveal spoiled for me before I initially saw the movie. The concept behind Edwin is a clever one, but probably not executed nearly as smartly as it could have been.
Laurence Fishburne makes a wickedly cool appearance as Noland, a soldier whose been trapped and has survived this planet for several years. The result of that is hat Noland’s gone quite crazy in a delusional, psychotic type of way. He’s more than skillfully dangerous, he’s psychologically dangerous. Fishburne is entertaining and awesome in this fairly brief, very off-kilter role. More than anything, this character is designed to sell the futility of an escape from the planet, and the idea of two rival tribes of Predators hunting out there, making it all the more difficult to survive.
The film’s first act of sorts might seem a little drawn out to some. I believe I felt that way upon first viewing. The characters are exploring this world, trying to understand where they are, and even the first action sequence is not until more than twenty-five minutes in. Strange alien animals are throw at these characters as a test first, and so, there is a prolonged wait before the first Predator is actually revealed. However, once that occurs, the film settles into a very familiar feel and tone. Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal studied the first Predator in great detail to nail the vibe perfectly, and I think they got it just about dead-on while still adding to it. Antal focuses on building the atmosphere and tension so that there is a pay-off with the action.
The overall feel is great with some rich color schemes which still evoke a dark, ominous feeling. The cinematography gives this film scale and scope while still maintaining the isolated feeling. The night scenes look great with a more subdued color palette, but with an excellent use of light and shadow for a beautiful moody vibe. This really is a remarkably well shot movie with an abundance of artistic merit and dramatic visual weight.
The way the action plays out is very intelligent focusing on tension and imminent danger. There’s plenty of intense gunplay, but it’s definitely used in conjunction with smart tactics and strategies by these characters. The ominous feeling of being stalked and hunted is executed with great skill. It’s a whole package of the visual style, stellar editing, and a music score that stays true to Alan Silvestri’s work. This film definitely takes the filmmaking style and techniques from John McTiernan’s movie, and gives it a little more polish. Nimrod Antal definitely puts his own stamp on the film, but was able to make this feel cohesive with the rest of the main Predator franchise. The action scenes definitely reflect this as there’s really none of that modern shaky cam mayhem. It’s well plotted, shot, and cut together for an extremely coherent and effective experience. Beyond anything else, this film enhances the ferocity and frightening quality of the Predators. They feel even more merciless and relentless than before, if you could even imagine such a thing.
I can’t help but love two fight scenes in Predators. The first has Hanzo squaring off with his katana against the Predator. This is beautifully setup, and is shot so gorgeously with a lot of wide angles and a wonderful overhead shot showing the wind blowing through the high grass. It’s a graceful work of art. What trumps it on the bad assery scale is when the New Predator battles the Classic Predator, which is portrayed by Derek Mears. While I didn’t care for the remake of Friday The 13th, Mears was an awesome Jason Voorhees, and he makes for an awesome Predator. Two Predators ripping and tearing at one another is pure gold, and the scene doesn’t disappoint at all. This is savage, gory, and everything you’d hope it to be.
And indeed, the creature effects are excellent. Oddly, neither Stan Winston Studios or Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. – who were responsible for all of the previous Predator effects – returned to work on this film. Instead, the impeccable talents of KNB EFX were tapped, and they delivered on an amazing level. There are some familiar designs with the Classic Predator, but the newer, larger Predators are even more impressive. They do feel like a different breed, but are given a much better approach than what we saw in Alien vs. Predator. And of course, the gore returns in abundance, and no one better to also fill that task than KNB EFX. They’ve been the standard bearers for physical effects, especially those in the horror genre, for the last twenty years, and that quality is vastly on display here.
Predators does a great job of taking cues from the first movie, and adding its own flavor and ideas to them. The climax is a great example as Royce uses some of the same tactics as Dutch with the mud, but uses it in a different context. Instead of giving the Predator nothing to lock on to, he overloads the senses, and takes him on full boar while retreading some of Arnold’s quotable dialogue. It all really works greatly while delivering the graphic violence quota that fans crave from this franchise. The film ends on an excellent note that left me wanting to see where yet another sequel could go.
And thus, I do believe that Predators was indeed good enough to potentially breathe life back into this franchise. Everyone involved steered it back in the right direction where exciting new stories could be told, and even on its own, this is a very solid and satisfying science fiction action movie. However, with the same budget as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, it pulled in just about the same amount at the box office, but the reviews and reactions to this film were substantially higher. Predators set a good foundation for the franchise to build upon, but three years later, no news of a sequel has surfaced from Twentieth Century Fox. That is quite unfortunate, but I think there is a great deal of potential to tap with this series which is evident here. Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez did an excellent job bringing everything back to its roots, and while they chose not to acknowledge Predator 2, they did nothing to contradict it either. Again, I’d love to see more of Adrien Brody as Royce. He’s flat out awesome. While I’m sure some will view the film as leaning a little too heavily on the first movie, I really believe that what it takes from that movie was largely to its benefit, and the filmmakers still injected their own ideas and creativity to allow the franchise to move forward. They expanded the universe and possibilities in a lot of very good and intriguing ways. I do really like Predators, and I give it a strong recommendation. If this film has slipped under your radar for the last three years, definitely give it your attention. This is a franchise that deserves to live and thrive again under the watch of some really sharp and talented creative individuals.
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.