The Devil's Rejects


Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 
The Devil's Rejects
Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Avenging his brother's murder, one among over seventy-five, Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe, "City by the Sea") leads a surprise police attack on the farm of the notorious Firefly family, killing one (Rufus 'R.J.' Firefly Jr, composer Tyler Mane) and capturing their Mama (Leslie Easterbrook, the "Police Academy" movies' Debbie Callahan). But two of the gang, Otis B. Driftwood (Bill Moseley, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," "House of 1000 Corpses") and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie, "House of 1000 Corpses"), escape through the home's labyrinthian underground tunnels and arrange to meet with Baby's daddy, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig, "Jackie Brown," "House of 1000 Corpses"), at the Kahiki Palms Motel.  The outlaws on the run trail a path of mayhem in their wake.  The media dubs them "The Devil's Rejects."                 

Laura:
Fans of 70's exploitation horror get ready to get jazzed - "The Devil's Rejects" is the real deal, a gritty, nasty, stylish piece of work from Rob Zombie, whose sophomore film showcases one of the greatest leaps in filmmaking artistry from first to second films ever. "House of 1000 Corpses" may have been a low-rent "Texas Chainsaw" ripoff, but this sequel has echoes of "The Wild Bunch" and "Bonnie and Clyde" with a soupcon of the Manson gang and Spahn Ranch.  The "Saw's" still there as well, but this time it's pure homage from the opening black screen voice over to a real freak-out mid-point climax.  The killer soundtrack, with such brilliantly incongruous selections as "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and "Shambala," shows as much wit in its composition as a Tarantino movie recording.

"Corpses'" cheesy funhouse atmosphere is dispelled immediately as the grisly nature of the Firefly crimes is made evident (in fact, the film opens with a garishly nude female corpse being dragged through the woods by Tiny (Matthew McGrory, "House of 1000 Corpses," "Big Fish"), another member of the family who avoids capture).  The opening shootout, which kicks off with "Wild Bunch" style freeze frames, is not only terrifically choreographed, but actually creepy, given the Fireflys' "Zodiac killer meets Monty Python's Black Knight" helmets and body armor.  And THEN we get to the opening credit sequence mini-story, where Otis and Baby exploit a Good Samaritan in the most brutal way, all dreamily set to The Allman Brother's "Midnight Rider," a nightmare collage of still photographs.

Zombie's script is also well-stocked with dark humor, thankfully not of the self-aware, "Scream" kind.  Our reintroduction to Spaulding is within a wishful thinking dream of his. His reality is a hilariously gross counterpoint, accentuated by Haig's delivery and choice editing.  His acquisition of a vehicle isn't quite as brutal as his daughter's, but he does create a new coulrophobe along the way.  Ironically, the regrouped Fireflys' first victim wants to be a clown - a rodeo clown.  Jimmy (Brian Posehn, "Grind," TV's "Just Shoot Me") is the road manager for Banjo and Sullivan, the unlucky C&W act who've stopped off at the Kahiki Palms.  After Jimmy is executed, Otis does the devil's work with Roy (Geoffrey Lewis, "High Plains Drifter," "The Way of the Gun") and Adam (Lew Temple, "21 Grams") while Baby torments their wives.  What the gang leaves behind for motel maid Maria (Jossara Jinaro, "Collateral Damage") is a vision of hell.

The trio move on to Spaulding's old buddy Charlie's (Ken Foree, "Dawn of the Dead" and its remake), Frontier Fun Town.  Wydell catches up with Charlie, forcing his cooperation in apprehending his buddies, then points his hired guns, the Unholy Two of Rondo (Danny Trejo, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico") and Billy Ray (the WWF's Diamond Dallas Page), at Charlie's Texas whorehouse.  The tables are turned with the Holy Rolling Sheriff out to inflict as much pain on the Rejects as they have on their victims, but he makes a fatal mistake bringing them back to the own home turf.

And this is the audacity of Zombie's story - he turns his evil threesome into folk heroes. He gets away with it because despite their horrific acts, they're fearsomely loyal to each other and damn entertaining to be around.  As long as they're on celluloid.  If there's a weakness to Zombie's story, it's with his new law enforcement.  Forsythe gets some pithy dialogue, but Wydell's crossing into madness is handled a bit abruptly.  His sending for a movie critic to help connect the dots between the Fireflys' names and Groucho Marx characters is an amusing in joke - at first.  The torture Wydell inflicts isn't tailored enough to its victims' crimes, although his final act is neatly linked to their savior.

Gone are the overblown campy theatrics of "House."  Zombie has directed straighter, better performances from his cast while still retaining their earlier characteristics.  Haig is more menacing, Moseley more coherent and both are terrific.  Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon, is a killer sex kitten too hot for Russ Meyer to handle.  The recasting of Mama with Leslie Easterbrook (replacing Karen Black), who resembles Faye Dunaway crossed with Cathy Moriarty, is a very good thing.  Easterbrook makes the character her own and makes her lasciviously larger than life. Other cast members include "The Hills Have Eyes'" Michael Berryman as Clevon, Charlie's handyman (who's given a bit like a subplot from "Deliverance" as written for "South Park"), Deborah Van Valkenburgh ("The Warriors") and E.G. Daily (voice of Rugrat Tommy Pickles and Powerpuff Girl Buttercup) as hookers Casey and Candy and P.J. Soles ("Carrie," "Stripes") as a carjacking victim.  Priscilla Barnes ("Mallrats," "Mumford") brings a touching humanity to Gloria Sullivan that makes her troupe's victimization all the more horrific.

The film was shot in the desert communities of Lancaster and Palmdale, California on Super 16, coating it in a loving, drive-in era patina (cinematography by Phil Parmet, "Harlan County USA," "Four Rooms").  Other antiquing devices include split screen and scene switching frames shuttled sideways across the screen.

In a coy come-on, Baby flatters Ray, telling him 'I love famous people.  They're so much better than the real thing.'  This foreshadows her own fate with an ironic profile - how could these monsters be real?  Nonetheless, Zombie sends them out in a classic blaze of glory, with a most unironic accompaniment of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."  I want to see it again.

A-

DVD - Disc 1

The Movie

The movie itself is, of course, reviewed above and it looks just great letterboxed (1.85:1 aspect ratio) on DVD.  It's being touted as the 'director's unrated' edition, which, as best I could tell, extends a few of the gore effects by frames.  There is nothing significantly new in the movie itself, which is definitely not a bad thing.

Director's Commentary

Zombie initially seems unpracticed at this type of thing, verbally running after his film, but he quickly gets into the groove and provides all kinds of terrific information.  If there's even a slight fault here, it's that once he starts going he rarely lets up, so don't expect to actually hear much of the movie's dialogue while listening to this track.

As if the shootout scene which opens the film weren't amazing enough, Zombie informs us that he never used the same camera shot twice.  Fans wondering about the disappearance of Dr. Satan will discover that he's the guy taken out in the ambulance in this scene, but Zombie professes to never having been comfortable including this 'fantasy' character in his second film.  (In fact, in the documentary feature "30 Days in Hell" we find out that a whole day's shooting with Dr. Satan and Rosario Dawson was scrapped, but the scene appears in the Deleted Scenes.)  Zombie points out one flub (Mama Firefly's handcuffs disappear and reappear in one jail cell scene), notes the few places CGI enhanced reality and marvels at the difficulty of creating a realistic skin mask 'cuz once you cut out the eyes it doesn't look like the person.'  The director clearly appreciates his crew and takes every opportunity to point out their fine work.  I still never did learn, though, what was up with a newscaster named after former Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson (was it really him?).

Cast (Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie) Commentary...

...in which we learn, among other things, that Connecticut is the nutmeg state and wife of rocker Zombie does not know the difference between Otis Rush and Otis Redding.

And as the wife of director Rob, Sherri Moon Zombie cannot resist the urge to attempt to direct this commentary, prodding her costars along, parroting observations hubby had made in his own track and acting as a product pitchwoman by noting features of the DVD, selections on the soundtrack CD and thanking Lions Gate Films, but clearly these three get along famously and their comments are quite amusing if rarely as illuminating as the director's.

'What happened to the 1,000 corpses?  How come there's only 75?' Moseley asks as Firefly crimes are detailed at film's beginning.  'People exaggerate' Haig tells him.  These are the kind of quips one wishes there were more of.  The actors spend a lot of time discussing how uncomfortable it was for all of them to film the motel room scene with Priscilla Barnes ('art is not safe' are Zombie's words of reassurance) and all the bruises they had to inflict and endure.  Haig has a good rat anecdote and Moseley points out his character's justification for handing Spaulding the biggest gun in the film's finale.  Sherri shoots down Moseley's suggestions of a sequel or prequel (hopefully the Zombies may reconsider that latter idea). 

Extra Material

A blooper reel contains a couple of good laughs and fans will appreciate Spaulding's two commercials in their entireties.  The full length 'Morris Green Show,' which the cast and crew seem to find hilarious when filming but is used only for a few seconds in the movie, is for completists only.  The Buck Owens video which plays on the motel room TV is also included.

Otis' home movie, "Cheerleader Missing," isn't as lengthy or graphic as one might expect.  The deleted scenes, though, are the real treasure trove and include the extremely bloody Dr. Satan attack, akin to Hannibal Lecter's "Silence" attack on a nurse, and other tidbits like Baby's telephone call to 'daddy' and the Rejects interrogation before entering the gates of Frontier Town.  Best (and funniest) of all is an extensive scene between Otis and Candy, both drunk and going over her menu of offerings.  A Matthew McGrory tribute is short, limited to Rejects footage, but sweet (the film is dedicated to him).  Makeup tests are not terribly exciting, but like Disc 2's content, give a very good idea of all the work that goes into filmmaking.  There are also the usual stills gallery, theatrical trailer and TV spots.

Note that navigation of the extra material requires a flip to a second menu screen by highlighting the right arrow and hitting enter, something which this reviewer fumbled around with for a bit.

DVD - Disc 2 - "30 Days in Hell: The Making of the Devil's Rejects"

This is a feast of filmmaking nuts and bolts, longer by almost thirty minutes than the resulting movie itself, but absorbing and entertaining throughout.  The only thing lacking here is the wrap party and film premiere.

The documentary begins with pre-preproduction.  The director proclaims storyboards a weird thing that he never goes back to but uses to work out filming bugs in advance and save celluloid.  Zombie's engaged at every level, appalled at the cost of costuming (Tiny's overalls set the budget back $500!) and admitting a pet peeve with unrealistic looking wigs (Moseley's head was shaved to achieve a natural looking scalp beneath his wispy rug). After the moment Zombie calls the most gratifying, the cast table read, the 'making of' morphs into a diary, giving a condensed version of every single day of "Rejects'" thirty day shoot.  It's fascinating stuff, from the difficulty of actors maintaining character while working with complex prop shots (Mary Woronov is the victim of Moseley's bad aim) to Zombie's reflections on what made the 1970s such a prime decade for horror.  "30 Days in Hell" documents a director in command of his film on many levels.

The Whole Enchilada

This is a classy package and should delight fans of the film while hopefully drawing in a whole new audience.  There's a lot of bang for the buck here and this is easily a film that can endure repeated viewings. Additionally, "The Devil's Rejects" DVD does not simply repeat material that has been included in other packages, such as the film's promotional featurette or the bonus DVD section of the soundtrack CD, but complements what has come before.

A-

Robin:
The Firefly family’s murder spree is finally over and their house is surrounded by the local police led by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe). Family head Rufus Firefly (Tyler Bates) is killed in the ensuing gun battle and Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) is taken prisoner. But, Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) escape to continue their mayhem, with the help of their killer clown friend, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), in “The Devil’s Rejects.”

Helmer/writer Rob Zombie has come a long way since his 2003 debut film, “House of 1000 Corpses,” where he first introduced the Firefly family and their friends. That film was a blatant rip-off of (some might call it homage to) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and had a distinctly amateur look and feel. But, it did have outrageous and campy performances, especially by Sid Haig, and the obvious devotion to the genre by its creator.

Zombie’s continuation of the Firefly family saga is a quantum leap over his first work. While “The Devil’s Rejects” is definitely not for all tastes, especially the faint of heart, it is a nicely crafted slasher/horror film that effectively intersperse black humor with the copious gore. The director has learned a thing or two about filmmaking since his debut effort and, smartly, continues the Firefly family saga and adds the element of revenge with the introduction of Sheriff John Quincy Wydell.

Acting, too, has moved up a goodly notch since the first film, putting Sid Haig’s larger than life presence as the murderous Captain Spaulding to good use. Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s wife, is far better the second time around as wickedness personified Baby Firefly. Bill Moseley plays Otis Driftwood more or less straight to chilling effect as he blithely butchers his victims. William Forsythe (where the heck has he been?) layers on the camp as Sheriff Wydell, hot on the Firefly family’s tail to exact revenge for the murder of his beloved brother, George (Tom Towles), in “Corpses.” Another smart move in casting was replacing Karen Black as Mother Firefly in the first film with the much more capable Leslie Easterbrook (Lt. Debbie Callahan in the “Police Academy” film series).

Geoffrey Lewis (Clint Eastwood’s sidekick in the Every Which Way But Loose” franchise), Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead (1978)” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3”), Danny Trejos (“Bubble Boy” and “Spy Kids”), Michael Berryman (Pluto in “The Hills Have Eyes”), Deborah Van Valkenburg (the babe, Mercy, in The Warriors (1979)”), P.J. Soles (“Carrie” and “Rock and Roll High School”) and Steve Railsback (“The Stuntman” and as Charles Manson in TV’s “Helter Skelter”), all “where are they now?” character actors, are put to decent use in their varied roles. Former porn star Ginger Lynn Allen makes an appearance as the thing of dreams for Captain Spaulding.

Of course, Rob Zombie’s musical background makes its presence felt with the excellent use of classic rock songs: The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” “Rock On” by David Essex, Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Shambala” by Three Dog Night and Joe Walsh’s Rock Mountain Way” are just a few of the tunes that pepper “The Devil’s Reject” and set the proper drive-in movie temperament.

Techs are also a big cut above “1000 Corpses” showing that Zombie and company have learned their craft and are well on the road to cultdom.

There were several walkouts during the screening of The Devil’s Rejects” and, after seeing the film, I can understand why. Between the violence, gore and copious foul language, this is a film for fans of the horror genre that love “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Last House on the Left” – though “Rejects” is better than the latter two. This is the kind of movie where the “R” rating is well deserved so do not take the warning lightly – “the Devil’s Rejects” will repel many but will thrill the fans and the daring. I think Rob Zombie has an instant horror classic on his hands. I give it a B+.

DVD

When I saw “The Devil’s Rejects” at the theater I was bowled over by the creative leap director Rob Zombie has made since his feature debut with “House of 1000 Corpses.” The latter film was amateur, derivative and not very interesting to someone other than an avid horror film fan. His second shot at filmmaking proves that the man can learn from his mistakes, resulting in a taut, violent, scary satire that doesn’t let up.

The newly released DVD of “The Devil’s Rejects” is a mixed bag that has some superior additions and some that are less than stellar. Most DVDs provide a making of” featurette that is usually about an hour long. This is normally sufficient for the filmmakers to say their piece on how tough/fun/hard it was to make the film. Rob Zombie takes his making-of a quantum leap away from the convention and gives us a blow-by-blow, day-by-day chronicle on the 30 days it took to shoot the film. The segment is, at 144 minutes, far longer than the film itself, but Zombie offers so much information and anecdotes that it never lags – though by the time he gets to day 20, you want him to speed things up.

There are two other versions of the film: one with Zombie narrating as the film plays, with his scene by scene commentary; the other has “Rejects” stars, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sherri Moon Zombie (Rob’s wife) kibitzing about the movie. The former audio commentary, by Zombie, works far better than the latter.

There are a bunch of other extras in the two DVD set with a blooper reel, deleted scenes, stills, a trailer, makeup tests and a nice little tribute to the late Matthew McGrory, the film’s monstrous-looking Tiny, who died not long after completion of shooting. There is a lot of stuff to digest in “The Devil’s Rejects” DVD, maybe more than the average bear would care about. It is a treat for fans of the horror genre. I give the two DVD set a B.
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