31 Screams in October, #8: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Movie Review
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The Devil's Rejects (2005)

Director: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory

It has always been the case that murderers are more glorified (getting their names in the news, etc.) than their victims. It’s even worse when the press gives them a nickname. All that does is give them what they want: instant celebrity and immortality. Something about evil is morbidly fascinating. Still, there’s no doubting that it would all be less fascinating if you or someone you care about were their latest target.

“The Devil’s Rejects” begins with a shootout between the infamous Firefly family… wanted for at least 75 known murders… and the cops, led by Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (William Forsythe), whose brother, also an officer of the law, was a victim of the Fireflys. Only Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s wife) escape the firefight, while Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) is taken into police custody.

While waiting to rendezvous with the last of their merry band of serial killers, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis and Baby terrorize and murder a traveling family of musicians known as Banjo & Sullivan. Meanwhile, as it is made clear to the police that the Fireflys all have names corresponding to characters played by Groucho Marx in the Marx Brothers’ films, Sheriff Wydell is slowly losing his sanity and is plotting his revenge. The sheriff and his three enemies are destined to butt heads once again, and if anyone on either side makes it out alive, they’re going to wish they hadn’t.

Setting aside the incredibly high count of profanity in “The Devil’s Rejects” (overkill, no pun intended), it remains a remarkably fascinating picture. There are no such things as “good guys” in this movie. The “bad guys” are the protagonists, and Sheriff Wydell is so short-tempered and unhinged himself that there is little to separate him from these people for whom he has nothing but hatred, contempt, and a strong desire to see them all dead by his own hands. This movie shares in common with “The Last House on the Left” that strange moral dilemma of whether any amount of violence in the name of vengeance is any different from the same done in the name of evil/just for the hell of it. “The Devil’s Rejects” takes it another step beyond that, asking: Can you root for the bad guys? If you root for anyone in this movie, then yes, you do root for the bad guys, because everyone here has a bit of evil in them.

“The Devil’s Rejects,” being set in the 1970’s, is powered by a period rock soundtrack. This includes “Midnight Rider” by The Allman Brothers Band, “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh and, of course, “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Writer/Director Rob Zombie couldn’t have given this movie more appropriate music if he’d supplied his own material.

Everybody in the main cast creates extremely memorable characters, but Sid Haig is definitely the standout. Captain Spaulding is the creepiest clown since Tim Curry’s Pennywise from “Stephen King’s It.” An overweight, insane makeup-wearing serial murderer, Captain Spaulding is every bit as foul-mouthed as Baby and Otis, and is the only one with the ability to slap down or flat-out embarrass Otis to keep him in check. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of 1970’s horror icons Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”) and Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”).

I didn’t know until after the first time I saw this movie in late 2005 that it was actually a sequel to Rob Zombie’s debut film, 2003’s “House of 1000 Corpses.” While that film plays out like some kind of psychedelic, macabre music video, “The Devil’s Rejects” is more focused. This one plays with much different conventions than the first film did. “House of 1000 Corpses” owed more to the movies of Tobe Hooper (i.e. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” & “The Funhouse”), while “The Devil’s Rejects” is more of an anti-hero road picture like “Bonnie and Clyde.” Granted, it’s far bloodier and more profane, but the comparison is still valid. If you’re not into that sort of thing, and if you have a hard time getting behind a movie without a clear black & white, good guy/bad guy struggle, this may not be the movie for you. But if you’re like me, and you enjoy horror films that take risks and push the boundaries of what’s acceptable… then, my friends, you will find that Rob Zombie actually does have at least one decent movie in his filmography.

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