Rob Zombie surprises us with an intelligent and considerably superior sequel only two years after almost frying our brains with the atrocious first movie

Devil's Rejects

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Writ­ten and di­rect­ed by Rob Zom­bie. Star­ring Sid Haig, Bill Mose­ley, Sheri Moon Zom­bie, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew Mc­Gro­ry, Leslie East­er­brook, Dave Sheri­dan, E. G. Dai­ly, Ge­of­frey Lewis, Priscil­la Barnes, Kate Nor­by, Lew Tem­ple, Dan­ny Tre­jo, Di­a­mond Dal­las Page, Bri­an Posehn, Gin­ger Lynn Allen, Tom Towles and Michael Berryman

Here is some­thing cu­ri­ous to ob­serve: as you watch The Dev­il’s Re­jects, Rob Zom­bie’s fol­low-up to his atro­cious House of 1000 Corpses (2003), you may find it hard to be­lieve that it was made by the same per­son re­spon­si­ble for that film, whose gore fest was just re­pel­lent and no fun. And when you stop to con­sid­er that Zom­bie came up with this se­quel only two years lat­er, you leave with the im­pres­sion that he fi­nal­ly fig­ured out (and fast) what makes a hor­ror movie tick — as well as why House of 1000 Corpses was so dis­as­trous in the first place.

Let’s first con­sid­er the plot. As the film be­gins, we learn from a creepy de­scrip­tive text on the screen — a nod to the open­ing of The Texas Chain Saw Mas­sacre (1974) — that it takes place on May 18, 1978, when Sher­iff John Quincey Wydell (William Forsythe, badass) and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties led a “search and de­stroy” mis­sion on the de­cay­ing farm­house of the white trash Fire­fly fam­i­ly af­ter over 75 mur­ders. There, they found di­aries and scrap­books de­tail­ing their grue­some crimes and the fam­i­ly be­came known as “The Dev­il’s Re­jects,” an awe­some­ly col­or­ful name.

Then, the nar­ra­tive opens with the scene of a woman be­ing dragged naked through the woods by an enor­mous hood­ed man who shows us his scarred, burnt face — the guy we knew in the first movie as Tiny Fire­fly (Matthew Mc­Gro­ry). A pig head hangs over the en­trance of the in­fa­mous farm­house, through which the po­lice come in armed to the teeth, and we wit­ness — in a sur­pris­ing­ly well-di­rect­ed and well-edit­ed scene — the S&D mis­sion to take down the vil­lain­ous fam­i­ly — or what the “Lord would re­fer to as a cleans­ing of the wicked,” ac­cord­ing to the hi­lar­i­ous Sheriff.

Shot like in an epic West­ern made by Sam Peck­in­pah, this whole be­gin­ning is a sign that Zom­bie did his home­work and is ap­par­ent­ly a su­perb film­mak­er now, us­ing freeze-frames and a green­ish cin­e­matog­ra­phy that looks gor­geous in­side the house to­geth­er with the par­ti­cles of dust that fall in slow mo­tion. Next, we are hit by an open­ing cred­its se­quence (and mu­sic) that screams 1970s be­fore a creepy TV news archive tells us about body parts in a re­frig­er­a­tor and de­com­posed corpses found in the base­ment of that grotesque man­sion of mur­der and massacre.

From then on, the nar­ra­tive splits into three sub­plots: one fol­low­ing Otis (Bill Mose­ley) and Baby Fire­fly (Sheri Moon Zom­bie, look­ing more than ever like Eliz­a­beth Shue), who are on the run and hold a group of mu­si­cians hostage in a run-down mo­tel; an­oth­er with Cap­tain Spauld­ing (Sid Haig, al­ways hi­lar­i­ous) on his way to meet them; and fi­nal­ly Sher­iff Wydell try­ing to force Moth­er Fire­fly (Leslie East­er­brook, a step down from Karen Black, un­for­tu­nate­ly) to tell him where he can find the run­aways so that he can avenge the bru­tal tor­ture and mur­der of his broth­er in their hands.

Mak­ing use of a de­light­ful­ly dark sense of hu­mor even in the most grue­some sit­u­a­tions, Zom­bie fills The Dev­il’s Re­jects with wel­come ref­er­ences like Grou­cho Marx and the pres­ence of hor­ror icon Michael Berry­man of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Every­thing seems like it could have been made by Quentin Taran­ti­no: the elab­o­rate cam­era move­ments, the styl­ish edit­ing that slides the frames out to the sides and also the flaw­less dig­i­tal ef­fects used to cre­ate gore when ob­jects come in di­rect con­tact with the ac­tors’ skin.

And while the scene in­volv­ing a film crit­ic may seem un­nec­es­sary in its con­cep­tion, Wydel­l’s re­ac­tion to some­one’s com­ment on Elvis’s death is so fun­ny in its ab­sur­di­ty that it works bet­ter than any­one could imag­ine. The same can be said about an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment when two char­ac­ters dis­cuss the lo­gis­tics of how to ob­tain sex­u­al plea­sure from… chick­ens. Even so, it is in its pur­pose that Zom­bie stands out. There is a spe­cif­ic dream scene here that could­n’t be more mean­ing­ful in the way it makes us un­der­stand — hell, even root for — Wydell as he sets out to en­force the “wrath of the Lord” upon those Dev­il’s Re­jects, in a fab­u­lous in­ver­sion of the roles of vic­tims and executioners.

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble not to re­joice in Wydel­l’s ev­i­dent psy­chopa­thy as he uses his twist­ed sense of di­vine jus­tice to ob­tain re­venge against this fam­i­ly of un­ex­pect­ed anti-he­roes — and I found my­self sur­prised (though not that ashamed) to wish to see them die the most painful death af­ter all the hor­rif­ic things we wit­nessed them do in both movies. Not every di­rec­tor can pull this off with­out sound­ing ni­hilis­tic and de­spi­ca­ble (Eli Roth, I’m look­ing at you).

Find­ing a way to sub­vert any pos­si­ble ex­pec­ta­tions by re­fus­ing to end The Dev­il’s Re­jects like an episode of The X‑Files — which is where it seems to be go­ing for a shock­ing mo­ment — Zom­bie sur­pris­es us un­til the very last scene, not only for so many feel­ings it stirs but for also be­ing an out­stand­ing con­clu­sion. And be­cause of that, we should re­al­ly re­con­sid­er this man’s tal­ent. Mr. Zom­bie, your movie is awesome.


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