A few years ago, a fellow film critic asked me if I enjoyed The Devil’s Rejects as much as he did. “No,” I replied. “But, then again, I have a soul.”
People who’ve seen rocker Rob Zombie’s gloriously fucked-up 2005 sequel to his 2003 horror debut House of 1000 Corpses know exactly what I meant. Essentially the exploitation-movie tribute Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino failed to achieve when they did the bloated Grindhouse two years later, Rejects is one fearlessly, ferociously amoral valentine to ‘70s grindhouse cinema. With its unironic mix of brutal violence, dark humor, pop-culture-drenched dialogue and a cast that’s littered with B-movie vets (P.J. Soles! Ken Foree! Leslie Easterbrook!!!), I’d say dude was trying to out-Tarantino Tarantino.
Virtually echoing every gritty, Me Decade-era horror show from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Last House on the Left, Rejects once again follows the saga of the murderous Firefly clan, a family of white-trash killers led by demon clown Captain Spaulding (played by exploitation staple Sid Haig). After their home gets raided by a vengeful sheriff (seething William Forsythe), Spaulding and the kiddies (Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie, aka Mrs. Rob Zombie) go on the lam, having too much fun sadistically terrorizing innocents.
Even though it’s a grimy, unrepentant throwback to the low-budget scuzz cinema of yesteryear, it’s a step-up from the slicked-out but banal Corpses (which made me doze off several times when I saw it). Zombie proves that he’s not a flash-in-the-pan filmmaker, coming up with memorable, surprisingly well-directed moments set to Southern-fried rock classics. (Zombie actually manages to make that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s oft-referenced stoner anthem “Free Bird” sound awesome again.)
Yet as much as I admire Zombie’s ballsiness in making this unapologetically vulgar and violent bit of hellish hicksploitation, even after all these years it’s still a movie I feel uneasy actually getting behind. A cinematic acquired taste if there ever was one, The Devil’s Rejects is a movie only those who savor the nastiest of cinematic rotgut can truly appreciate. As I told one person after I saw it, “It was entertaining — but I still feel awful!”
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