The Devil’s Rejects

It isn’t just rock-star posturing: Rob Zombie really does have sympathy for the devil. After proving his horror-geek cred on the dizzyingly edited, unrepentantly gory House of 1,000 Corpses, the hellbilly-turned-filmmaker has decided to turn the bloody, maniacal, serial-killing bad guys of his first film into the bloody, maniacal serial-killing heroes of this film. Yet Zombie has deluded himself into swearing that the film is not in fact a sequel. Hey, Rob, just because you don’t put a 2 next to the title doesn’t mean it’s not a sequel. xXx: State of the Union didn’t have a 2 or even the same star, and we all smelled that cheap sequel a mile away. Sadism, it seems, is a very subjective thing.

In any case, The Devil’s Rejects bills itself as a horror opus even more ambitious than its predecessor, and claims to be about a lot of things: murder, revenge, redemption, police brutality, whorehouses, Elvis, variety shows, the Marx Brothers, rodeo clowns, film critics. But it’s really just about Zombie’s hard-on for all things ’70s. It’s not very scary — it isn’t even all that gory — but as far as sick, funny trailer-trash black extravaganzas go, it sure hits home.

After a title card sets the scene in the late-’70s, a crack team of good-ol’-boy policemen descend upon a squalid shack where the killers of the first film le in drool-covered slumber. Despite the apocalyptic gunplay that follows, two of the homicidal family, Otis (Bill Moesely) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), manage to escape. Taken into custody is the seemingly demonically possessed Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook, replacing the inimitable Karen Black), who swears not to divulge any info to the unhinged, bloodthirsty Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe). Meanwhile, Otis and Baby take to the road, picking up their insane clown cohort Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) to round out the murder-spree posse. It’s what you might get if you crossed the cast of Boogie Nights with the Manson family.

The killings reach their creative zenith in a scene where a victim’s skinned face is used like a trick-or-treat mask; in terms of sheer shock value, it’s all downhill from there. The dialogue is laughable — only about half of it intentionally so — and the actors all have their knobs cranked up to 11, to quote Spinal Tap. Yet for some, shall we say, discriminating tastes, Rejects will still be worth a look. With a grainy, bleached-out look, butterfly-collar Western shirts and a kick-ass K-Tel Freedom Rock sound track, the film is like a surreal time machine. It may run out of gonzo energy in the last half-hour or so, but when the warped, Bonnie and Clyde-style finale rolls around — to the tune of “Freebird,” no less — it’s hard to wipe the sadistic smile off your face.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].