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The Devil's Rejects (2005)
Writer and director: Rob Zombie

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock gave us perhaps the first human-based monster in Psycho. In that film, the gentle-mannered Norman Bates captivated audiences worldwide. The 1970s further refined what some would call 'reality-based horror, with films like The Last House On The Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes demonstrating that degenerate human beings could effectively compete with traditional monsters, such as vampires and werewolves. In 1986, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer pushed the envelope even further by dragging audiences into the disturbing world of a serial killer.

Now comes the latest instalment of this genre, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. A progression from House Of 1000 Corpses, this film attempts to skirt the weird and supernatural elements of the first film, and instead bares an unflinching eye toward the hideous nature of evil. The end result works well, so well in fact that fans and critics alike have dismissed the film outright.

With the DVD out, perhaps now is the time for the film to finally connect with its audience. Ideally, The Devil's Rejects is a drive-in film, one that should be watched in the company of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Natural Born Killers. Indeed, Zombie has patterned his plot this time around right out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. So, instead of Dennis Hopper essaying the role of Lieutenant 'Lefty' Enright, whose singular goal is to hunt down the psychotic family of the first film so that he can avenge the death of his family, we instead have Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) pursuing the Firefly family so that he can avenge the death of his brother, a law-enforcement officer slain by Mother Firefly (Karen Black) in the first movie.

There's a gritty sense of reality running through this film that has alienated much of the fanbase established with the release of the first film. This feature really strikes home during a series of scenes in which the Firefly clan torments a pair of country singers (known as 'Banjo and Sullivan,' played by Lew Temple and Geoffrey Lewis) and their wives. It is here that Zombie displays considerable skill in developing tension and maintaining a repulsive sense of reality. He holds nothing back, and just like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it's not what you see, but rather what you don't see, that makes these scenes painfully dramatic and unforgettable.

To maintain this sense of realism, Zombie has changed many elements from the first film. For example, Otis (played by Bill Moseley, who played Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is no longer an albino patterned after Edgar Winter and his character becomes much angrier. Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) loses her signature cackle and much of her hillbilly charm (no more dressing up like a glamour queen) and instead comes off as a waif who was raised on violence instead of shiny beads and shallow flattery. Captain Spaulding, whose evil streak of humour helped solidify the first film, loses the clown shtick and even the makeup. Gone are secondary characters such as Dr Satan and the Professor, and minimised is the surreal nature of the first film. So, what's left and why bother?

The Devil's Rejects is outrageously hilarious and concurrently bloodcurdling in its execution. Fans of filth will revel in its excesses and will feel guilty afterward. For example, those in the know will relish the scene between Sid Haig and Ginger Lynn, laugh out loud at the scene between Sheriff Wydell and the critic/movie expert, and snicker during the "you ain't gonna fuck these chickens?" scene featuring Ken Foree and Michael Berryman.

On the other hand, there are some genuinely tension-filled scenes populating the film. The most crucial is the humiliation/ murder of Banjo and Sullivan, their wives, and their roadie. The documentary-like feel to this scene comes out of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, in which that film's Otis (Tom Towles, who reprises his role of Lieutenant George Wydell in The Devil's Rejects) participates in his first murder with Henry (another unforgettably hideous sequence). Another key scene is when Wydell turns the tables on the Firefly family and begins to humiliate/ torture them (ingots hammered into the hands, for starters). These two sadistic and brutal scenes will leave you feeling empty.

Other scenes are stylised action-fests, such as the assault on the Firefly home early in the movie and the final slow-motion sequence in which the Firefly family has its final confrontation with law enforcement. These stylised scenes are clearly inspired by movies such as Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde.

And that's another thing about this film: you get to see genre vets play eclectic roles. Ken Foree (Dawn Of The Dead) plays a slum-pimp, Michael Berryman (Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes) plays Foree's sidekick Clevon, P.J. Soles (Halloween) plays a mom, E.G. Daily (voice on The Incredibles and Rugrats), and Deborah Van Valkenburgh (The Warriors), play whores, and Priscilla Barnes (ditsy Terry on Three's Company) plays a humiliated victim.

Giving the film even more punch is a serious soundtrack. Key songs include The Allman brothers' Midnight Rider, Elvin Bishop's Fooled Around And Fell In Love, Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way, Otis Rush's I Quit You Baby (more often remembered as the Led Zeppelin redux), and, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird.

Bottom line: you will have to be in a certain frame of mind to enjoy this movie. Although the movie itself revels in gritty and smarmy sex and violence, as a viewer you must have the ability to simply go along for the ride. If you are seeking the weirdness of the first film, you will be disappointed. If you want supernatural horror, you won't find any. And if you're looking for straight-ahead horror (say, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer), it ain't here. If you enjoyed Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and The Hills Have Eyes, then you have what it takes to sit back and enjoy this sick and twisted movie.

The two-disc DVD of The Devil's Rejects comes with a plethora of extras. The first disc comes with two commentaries. Rob Zombie's commentary is very good. He not only discusses technical and storytelling challenges, but he also presents his thesis for the movie and actually articulates why certain scenes are included while others were excluded. The secondary commentary features actors Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Bill Moseley. This commentary is not as good, but the actors had fun doing it, and such fun is contagious. Other extras include a blooper reel, full versions of the Captain Spaulding commercials and the 'Morris Green Show,' an Otis home movie, a Buck Owens video of Satan's Got To Get Along Without Me, deleted scenes, makeup tests, trailers and television spots, and a still gallery. The second disc contains an extensive behind-the-scenes diary that will exhaust even the most dedicated of fans but features lots of interesting titbits about the production.
The Devil's Rejects

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Captain Spaulding in Devil's Rejects





Sheriff Wydell in Devil's Rejects





Tiny at the Fireflys' house in Devil's Rejects

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