The Devil's Rejects
Directed by Rob Zombie. Starring Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, Leslie Easterbrook, William Forsythe, Michael Berryman, Mary Woronov, Danny Trejo, Daniel Roebuck, P.J. Soles. (2005, R, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 22, 2005
Any film that reunites Rock 'n’ Roll High School alumnus Riff Randall (Soles) and Principal Togar (Woronov) is aces and eights in my book, but Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his disappointing debut, House of 1,000 Corpses, does more than just exhume a morgue full of genre favorites – it’s also the year’s most viciously entertaining psycho-road-movie-revenge-'n’-wreckage-romance. If that last hyphenate doesn’t tip you off that this warped rechristening of American Family Values isn’t for the squeamish, nothing will, so I’ll bite my tongue off and chew the fatted calves of Leslie Easterbrook, here seen channeling something akin to Gena Rowlands on mad, bad biker speed while William Forsythe gives us a remarkably accurate Warren Oates. What’s not to love? Zombie’s 2003 outing, helmed after handling directing duties on a number of White Zombie videos, was a scattershot take on Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that never quite gelled into a cohesive shocker despite some winning grue and a bizarrely wacky turn by former Spider Baby Sid Haig as the Marx Brothers-loving killer clown Captain Spaulding. Haig and the Captain are back for this semi-sequel, which reunites the greasepainted schnorrer with his lunatic brood, including wife Mother Firefly (Easterbrook), daughter Baby (Moon Zombie), and son Otis P. Firefly (Moseley, "Chop Top" of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). This time out they take it on the lam as Forsythe’s rogue Sheriff Wydell, seeking revenge for the death of his brother in House, stalks them at every turn, operating in and out of the legal parameters with enough savagely righteous glee to render him both a worthy nemesis for this murderously perverse band of outsiders and, ultimately, a force for good twisted horrifically asunder. That Zombie’s decidedly un-P.C. film makes the Firefly clan as borderline sympathetic as it does is something of an accomplishment in and of itself and echoes The Devil’s Rejects most obvious antecedent, Wes Craven’s sly class-war horror show The Hills Have Eyes. But Zombie, who gets top-notch performances from virtually his entire cast – including former Craven-iac Berryman – has as much if not more on his mind, and his film benefits immensely from not only being truly nightmarish and disturbing, but also being laugh-out-loud subversive. It’s got to be some sort of Cinema of Transgression high-water mark to find yourself chuckling away at Zombie’s wittily profane dialogue and relentless forward motion even as the Manson-esque offspring commit motel-room atrocities that’d have Norman Bates shrieking like a little girl. The Devil’s Rejects fairly spurts off the screen like blood from a freshly lacerated jugular, rarely pausing for breath (except, of course, to linger lovingly over some obscene new act of random violence) until the film’s final moments, well calculated to make Sam Peckinpah grin in his grave. You can already hear the clamor of the politically correct calling for Zombie’s film to be banned, but if you watch closely, you’ll see that The Devil’s Rejects isn’t so much celebrating the act of violence as it is paying heartfelt homage to the high-grain, Seventies-era bouquet of cinematic sleaze (as well as that decade’s most loved/loathed classic rock ditties; you’ll never listen to "Free Bird" quite the same way again). And speaking of impending backlash, if the first half-decade of the new millennium has taught us anything, it’s that the human race is more abysmally mired in real-life ferocity and bloodlust than ever before, so perhaps viewing Zombie’s Super-16 death trip as both a snarky commentary on the American zeitgeist and an ode to hell-bound debauchery is right on the blood-money after all. If for some reason you feel the need to see a real atrocity exhibition, go turn on CNN. As the old tagline for Craven’s Last House on the Left so accurately put it, this is "Only a movie ... only a movie ... only a movie."