After slogging through the highly anticipated and ultimately underwhelming House of 1,000 Corpses back in 2003, I can't say that I was particularly excited to check out Rob Zombie's sophomore directorial effort, The Devil's Rejects. Sure, I said back then that I thought Zombie had potentialand I meant it. That didnt change the fact that House was a wildly uneven film that seemed far more like a Texas Chainsaw wannabe than one of the "most shocking horror films ever" (which was what all the pre-release hype would have you believe). I thought Zombie had potential as a filmmakerbut I didn't think it would ever be realized in the weirdo hillbilly clan and the nefarious Dr. Satan that populated his first filmand I'm here to admit now that I was wrong
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Zombie's second feature, The Devil's Rejects, is a lot what I'd imagined House of 1,000 Corpses should have been like. It's a gritty and (at least as far as mainstream audiences are concerned) unrelentingly brutal little film that pays homage not only to Zombie's cinematic influences (grindhouse exploitation flicks, road pictures, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but even has some thematic material underneath all the gore, nudity, carnage, and general unpleasantness. This is not to say that The Devil's Rejects is a particularly deep film or one filled with social relevance, but it's a bit more than the pure schlock exploitation that most mainstream critics would tell you it is.
The story follows the exploits of the "Firefly clan"those crazy rednecks from the first film. Uber-deformed Tiny, lecherous Momma (Leslie Easterbrooktaking over the role played by Karen Black in the original), psycho Otis (the always entertaining Bill Moseley), Hee-Haw girl gone crazy Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and demented ringleader Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig) are all back and up to their old trickswhich means bodies are piling up at the ranch. Unfortunately for our family of degenerates, the cops are on to them and Sheriff Wydell (the inimitable William Forsythe) has a personal score to settle with the killers (his brother was one of the cops killed in the original film). A mid-day raid on the Firefly homestead ends with Mom in jail and Otis, Capt. Spaulding, and Baby taking their torture show on the road before the inevitable showdown with the law.
Wisely, Zombie has dropped the whole "Dr. Satan" subplot from the first filmthe stars this time out are his demented rednecks, and Moseley, Haig, and Zombie are more than up to the task of carrying the film. Throw in a bevy of supporting characters played by cult genre actors (Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree turns up as Captain Spaulding's long lost brother) and you wind up with one of the most demented mainstream films to come along in quite some time. Factor in this film's brutality with the violence on display in last month's High Tension and it finally looks like mainstream genre cinema is regaining some of its formidable bite.
Yet the film isn't just some geek show for the gorehounds (although there's more than enough morbid material on display to keep the blood-and-guts contingent happy). Zombie shows a particularly deft touch in the latter half of the filmwherein he takes his marauding band of psycho killers and confronts them with something even more heinous than they are. It's in these moments that the film really reaches for something more than mere exploitationthe film becomes almost Nietzschean in the third act. Finding yourself feeling sympathy for the Firefly family is easily more uncomfortable than any of the sex, gore, and violence that comes prior to that point.
And believe me, there's some sex, violence, and gore that will unsettle all but the most jaded viewers on display in this film. Zombie is an avowed fan of the genre and pulls no punches this time out. Horror cinema should be horrificand this is a credo that Zombie seems to have taken to heart. The mood of the film is nihilistic, the violence stark and startling, and the horror almost too real in spots. These are the sorts of things all genre filmmakers should be striving to achieve in their own films.
Not only is the story and the narrative much better and more focused this time out (although some of the dialogue could still use some work), Zombie's grown quite a bit as a director as well. The film's visual look is so grimy that you'll want to wipe off the screen and if the subject matter doesn't leave you feeling in need of a shower, the dirt and muck of the setting surely will. Perhaps the only real flaw in the film's visual aesthetics is an over reliance on hyper-editing. Some of the action sequences have been hacked up more than the victims in the film and the end result is just as messy as the corpses left in the wake of our killers.
Despite these minor problems The Devil's Rejects is a very good film. Rob Zombie shows that he's not just a fanboy who can get a budget but is instead one of the few genuinely interesting voices in a genre continually wallowing in mediocrity. I look forward to seeing what the director has in store for us in future releases, particularly as he branches beyond his own unique brand of hillbilly horror. See this film.
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