STARRINGSid Haig - Captain Spaulding
Bill Moseley - Otis B. Driftwood
Sheri Moon Zombie - Baby Firefly
William Forsythe - Sheriff John Q. Wydell
Leslie Easterbrook - Mother Firefly
Ken Foree - Charlie Altamont
Danny Trejo - Rondo
Diamond Dallas Page - Billy Ray Snapper
Priscilla Barnes - Gloria Sullivan
Year - 2005
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
In 2002, rock musician Rob Zombie wrote and directed a film called HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES that was to give horror fans what they wanted instead of the gorefests or PG-13 teen scares that passed off as horror films at the time. While the film was visually stunning and impressive for a first-time film director, the lack of character development and cohesive story and editing turned the much hyped film into an interesting failure of a film. All the right elements were placed, but they somehow were unable to merge into one. The film came off more like a tired remake of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE than an original film, with interesting villains but sheep for victims that not even their mothers would care about. Whether it was Zombie's or the studio's fault for the end product, the film didn't live up to its potential.
I remember hearing about a proposed sequel of sorts to the film called THE DEVIL'S REJECTS back in early 2005. Being underwhelmed by HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, I wasn't really excited to see Zombie's second film. After all, horror sequels are usually worse than the film it's based on. So while the trailers and TV spots looked interesting, I waited until DVD to watch it, waiting for more disappointment to set in. To my surprise, that feeling never came, as I was extremely glued to the screen from beginning to end. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is an underrated modern classic - something that HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES should've been but wasn't for whatever reason.
Taking place some time after HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, the local police finally catch up with the Firefly family (Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Matthew McGrory, Tyler Mane, and Leslie Easterbrook). Led by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), the police manage to invade the Firefly home, killing Rufus (Mane) and capturing Mother Firefly (Easterbrook). Baby (Zombie) and Otis (Moseley) escape and hit the road, killing people for different reasons as they try and find some refuge from the law as they wait for Spaulding (Haig) to help them. They end up at a hotel, taking a family hostage, torturing all of them one-by-one with glee to pass up the time. Wydell, who wants revenge on the family since they murdered his brother in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, decides to take the law into his own hands and do whatever necessary to make the Firefly family pay for their crimes. This eventually leads to an intense and memorable last act, as Wydell and the Firefly clan confront each other for the first AND last time.
What can I say? I love THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. This is one of the few sequels in film history to truly be superior to its predecessor. It joins the list that also holds THE GODFATHER PART 2, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and so on. Rob Zombie does not hold back with this film like he did with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Since the studio learned their mistake with the first film, they backed off Zombie with the sequel and let the man do what he needed to do. And it's for the better. While HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES was a haunted house film with freak show oddities, murder, and insanity brought to us through vibrant colors and flashy editing, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is the total opposite. It's not as brightly colored, and it's a road picture that deals less with horror and focuses more on characters and their morals when faced with certain situations. CORPSES was the action, while REJECTS is the consequence to those actions. This is a really ambitious, balls to the wall film that works a lot better from a second time director than it has any right to. Totally inspired by THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is what THAT film should've been. More serious in tone and a lot more realistic in nature, this film succeeds in every way possible.
Rob Zombie does a fantastic job with the direction of the film. He doesn't play safe and by the rules here, letting his full vision of murder, mayhem, and bloodshed be all out in the open. The pacing is a lot better, the characters are more developed, and the film has a miserable and depressing mood and tone that the last one truly lacked. Zombie definitely seems more confident in his abilities as a director as well, as you can tell he was truly having fun making a neo-70s exploitation film that not only horror fans could enjoy. The use of slow motion in the murder scenes, the slideshow edits that truly creates a 70s-flick feel, and the scenes where the rockin' 70s tunes did the talking as the action rolled is truly amazing and extremely well-done. I also loved how the film looked watered down and almost dirty somewhat, as if you kind of need a shower after you watch it. And I liked the quick edits and jump cuts in this film, because I think it enhanced the tension and emotions of these characters. And while the violence was heavy, it was mostly implied as we barely see gore. That makes the film more scarier I think. Zombie is like a veteran after two films, which shows what a good director he is for having learned from his mistakes from CORPSES. Every shot, every take, every sequence meant something. All of them powerful on different levels. You felt something as you watched this film. Only a good director can do that. And Rob Zombie is a good director. A lot of people like to shoot down Zombie because he's a musician and fanboy of horror. But Zombie is more than that. He has a vision and he knows how to project it onto the screen. The man is becoming quite the visionary genius.
The script was also a lot tighter and more interesting.
While the Firefly family was still the focus and the more developed characters of the film just like in CORPSES [and rightfully so], their victims and the other supporting characters were just as developed enough for us to understand where they were all coming from. Sure, the hostages in the hotel weren't really developed enough for me to truly root for their survival. But they were less annoying and more believable than CORPSES victims. They were just cannon fodder for this family, but they were innocent people just staying at a hotel. We've all stayed at a hotel at least once in our lives, so we can understand their fear when someone invades their privacy. And Sheriff Wydell was a great character as well, as he was truly three-dimensional. He wanted vengeance for his brother. Who wouldn't want to get revenge on someone when a family member is taken from us too soon? But he becomes the type of person he supposed to be protecting people from and goes off the deep end, turning the villainous Firefly clan from villains to victims themselves. And we actually sympathize with the killers at the end because while they deserve what they get, Wydell is no better in his actions like the Firefly clan were. Actually, Wydell is actually worse because he had a choice. The Firefly family probably didn't have that choice since they were all raised that way. This role-reversal is actually really interesting in context to the film, and Zombie deserves a lot of credit for that. I also enjoyed the dialogue a lot more in this film than in CORPSES. More believable and realistic, as I was really into these characters. And the end scene was truly magnificent and poignant. As the Firefly family faces off against a road block of cops, you only hear Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic rock song, "Freebird" as the shoot-out begins. I especially loved how it started off slow and then got really violent quick once the song picks up half-way through. And then it just ends when one side is completely dead. Just a fantastic film from script to screen.
Speaking of "Freebird", the rest of the music rocked. From David Essex's "Rock On" to "Midnight Rider" by the Allman Brothers Band to "I Can't Quit You Baby" by Otis Rush, the soundtrack really enhanced the film's story and atmosphere. Zombie knows his music and picked all the right ones. Great stuff.
The acting was really great here, especially the four main characters. Sid Haig was awesome again as Captain Spaulding. He was still hilarious, but with a more sinister edge than before. He's still the only clown I'd hang with. That sex scene in the beginning and his scenes with the fat lady had me rollin'. Truly one of the best written characters ever. Bill Moseley as Otis was a lot better this time around. He was more sadistically funny and a lot meaner. Moseley looked like he worked out a little bit for the role and it enhanced his sinister edge. He kind of had that Manson vibe about him, going from sympathetic to frightening to sympathetic again. Just a great job. Sheri Moon Zombie was also a lot more tolerable as Baby Firefly. The laugh was gone. The baby voice was gone. She was a lot bitchier and pretty funny. I also felt bad for her during her scenes with William Forsythe's Wydell. She gets a lot of flack for being Zombie's wife, but I think she's a pretty good actress. So I can't complain. And William Forsythe stole the film as Sheriff Wydell. He was totally intense and incredibly believable in his anger, confusion, and vengeance. I felt bad for the guy at the beginning but that quickly changed towards the end when he became the villain of the last act. Forsythe made the film for me. Just a really well done performance.
And the other characters were just as good. Especially Ken Foree as Charlie the pimp. Really funny dude. I liked him a lot. Danny Trejo and Diamond Dallas Page were cool as the gang members. I believed that they were bad asses. And Leslie Easterbrook did an admirable job replacing Karen Black in the role of Mother Firefly. I actually liked Karen Black more in the role, but Easterbrook was still pretty sexy and was very convincing in the role. Just a much better film overall compared to HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Thank you, Mr. Zombie, for creating a modern "horror" film that's actually GOOD. There's hope for the genre yet.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is a great film by a director who is just starting to come into his own. Great characters, great story, and great music, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is a must-see if you have the heart and stomach for it. If you don't, watch THE GRUDGE or STAY ALIVE you wimp! But if you want to be genuinely creeped out by something truly hardcore, this film is for you. The Devil is a fool for rejecting this film.