THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is Rob Zombie’s sequel to HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, which has developed a cult following, spawning action figures and other merchandise. This new outing sees a change of direction as well as a wider release. The Firefly family are uprooted from their home in an exciting and stylishly shot police shoot-out. The sense of danger is slightly dampened by the use of body armour on both sides, although the homemade variety used by the Fireflys is an innovative touch. Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding go on the run, and are pursued by Sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe), brother of Lieutenant George (Tom Towles making an appearance in a dream sequence) who was murdered by Mother Firefly in the original film. The Sheriff becomes increasingly and ruthlessly obsessed with revenge, turning to torture and murder.
Zombie is clearly proud of his genre literacy and the film is packed with references and homages to other films, in particular THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. He has infused the film with a strong 70’s look and feel, harking back to some of the great exploitation movies. He also makes good use of familiar actors including Geoffrey Lewis, Ken Foree, DUSK TILL DAWN’s Danny Trejo and a welcome appearance by THE HILLS HAVE EYES’ Michael Berryman. Zombie also shows his fascination with vintage serial killers, referencing Ed Gein and Charles Manson. His music video background shows its influence in various conceits such as freeze-frames and wipes. Some set pieces too are shown as self-contained montages, such as an ambush scene that begins and ends with a body lying in the road, the victim’s body left echoing the position of the bait.
The violence is shocking and brutal, but as in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, the audience’s mind’s eye fills in much of the detail and many will leave the cinema swearing they saw elements that never actually appeared in frame. At the other end of the scale, there is a messy road-kill scene that outdoes the bus impact in FINAL DESTINATION and which is all the more painful to watch thanks to its cruel inevitability.
Nudity is a horror film staple and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is no exception. There is of course the mandatory shower scene, which is closely followed by an unpleasant sexual assault. The camerawork has a tendency to slip into voyeuristic lecherousness, trying to find titillation in scenes that are basically non-sexual, most notably the artistic opening sequence in which Tiny drags a naked blonde through the striped shadows of a wooded landscape features some angles which seem to have been picked specifically to show off the prone actress’ charms.
An attempt has been made to widen the scope of the story beyond the confines of the original, but although the film feels like a road movie, it never actually goes anywhere. Each excursion beyond the family home ends up back there, and even a supposedly surprising rescue is signposted from the opening frames, enforcing the sense of being stuck in a loop. Along the way, various humorous tableaux give the veteran actors a chance of some screen time, but many of these feel rather forced and overlong, although they do raise the occasional laugh.
There is a car-crash fascination in watching a hapless victim inadvertently provoke an apparently reasonable character into a psychotic response, as was demonstrated so effectively by Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS and this dangerous underlying insanity makes an appearance in virtually all the main characters in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Sid Haig’s foul-mouthed and psychopathic Captain Spaulding clowning, ever present in the original feature, is abandoned early on this time around, as we see him wipe off the makeup. Aside from some memorable set-pieces, particularly his scary-clown terrorising of a child as he hijacks a car, and an early sex scene with former porn-queen Ginger Lynne Allen, he is not given as much to do, sometimes seeming something of a third wheel.
Also forgoing his makeup, Otis (Bill Moseley) now sports a full beard making him look somewhere between Charles Manson and Kris Kristofferson or maybe Zombie himself. Otis provides one side of a strong religious theme that runs through the film. At one point, he proclaims. “I am the Devil, and I am here to do the Devil’s work” (reputedly, a quote from one of Charles Manson’s followers), before a violent slaying. He also goes on to be partially crucified in a torture sequence. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wydell believes that the police are doing the work of God. He briefly shows a gentle side when he makes effort to speak Spanish to console a witness (a maid who discovers bodies in a reference to events from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), but is rather abruptly demonised by his obsession.
The story is partly presented as a scrapbook of evidence (a theme introduced early on in the form of the mementos kept by the family and later recovered by the police), comprising montages, still images, and clips of home movies. At one point, characters are even used as human pages, with photos stapled to them. Perhaps the intention is that we should see enough glimpses of humanity in these scraps to make the lead characters more sympathetic. They are presented as antiheroes but their actions are so remorselessly unpleasant that it is almost impossible to feel much for them; given this, the THELMA AND LOUISE meet BONNIE AND CLYDE ending, to the strains of Lynard Skynard’s “Freebird” feels a little overblown.
Directed by Rob Zombie
English language, USA, 2005, 101 mins, colour
A Momentum Pictures release
Released in Cinemas on August 5th, 2005
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS