Devil’s Rejects, The

October 13th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, The West Australian

Former White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie knew he was onto a good thing with House of 1000 Corpses, even if the studio suits didn’t.

Finished in 2000 and shelved for 3 years while Universal panicked trying to decide how to crisis-manage the violent content, it eventually went to Canadian wunderkind Lions Gate Films, who released it to mild success but a ready-made cult audience that were sure to (and did) embrace it wholeheartedly.

That audience had enough clout of numbers to warrant a sequel, and Zombie had a much more assured time making The Devil’s Rejects. Set several weeks after the events of Corpses, a posse of Texas troopers surrounds the horror house where the Firefly family has carried out their atrocities on over 75 victims.

In the ensuing gun battle, Mama Firefly is captured but both Otis and Baby escape, meeting up with clown/museum curator/family collaborator Captain Spaulding to go on the lam and raise more hell while they try to stay out of the way of the sneering Sheriff (Forsythe) hell bent on the bloodiest revenge possible.

In between terrorising a travelling band, hooking up with Spaulding’s brother, a pimp who runs a ‘whoretown’ (as opposed to just a single whorehouse) and trying to stay out the cops’ way, Otis, Baby and Spaulding hardly have time for the sort of sadistic torture and murder they use to relax before the law catches up. Zombie then invites us to what appears to be a psychological sleight of hand during the climax. By portraying the villains in the classic light of the heroes — stuck between a rock and a hard place and captured by their enemy — he makes you wonder if you’re supposed to be hoping they escape, particularly when the former good guy turns into just the sort of violent psychopath he’s been trying to stamp out by hunting them down.

Whether Zombie intends this skewed perspective to be one of the major themes (to make us question the true nature of good and evil) isn’t terribly clear, but it lends an edge of exploration you don’t usually see in the genre; the whole thing might just be a huge joke he’s playing on our sense of good guys and bad guys.

If that’s not Zombie’s legacy, his sense of style surely will be. It’s not the most strongly plotted film ever, but he’s a much better filmmaker than he is a storyteller. In everything from the set design to the film stock, Rejects captures the distinctive Texas Chainsaw Massacre aesthetic perfectly — all broken down trucks, peeling paint, steer skulls on farm gates, cheap desert motels, blown lightbulbs, dust and hot wind. He frames the action from inches away guerrilla-style, and the result adds to the heatstroke grittiness.

It’s also a surprise to realise how serious Zombie is about the genre. Thanks to fan expectation (and the marketing, to some extent), House of 1000 Corpses seemed more of a horror parody from the Scream school. The premise of the kids driving through a Texas heartland crawling with inbred psychos and the presence of the comically evil Captain Spaulding seemed too kitsch to be serious, but Rejects makes it obvious Zombie wasn’t just poking fun, and it’s a departure that might polarise some viewers. With such distinctive design and execution however, it’s essential viewing for wannabe filmmakers everywhere.

Cameo alert; watch out for Dawn of the Dead’s Peter (Ken Foree) as Spaulding’s pimp brother and the enormous-breasted Lieutenant Harris (Leslie Easterbrook) from the early Police Academy movies as the chilling Mama Firefly.

2.5/5


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