Boy, has Rob Zombie come a long way as a filmmaker! Mark my words, The Devil's Rejects will open quite a few doors for the good Mr. Zombie. Futhermore, I think it will prove to be one of the more important "mainstream" horror films of this decade. This is no mere homage-filled shlockfest like its predecessor House of 1000 Corpses...no, The Devil's Rejects is much more than that. It's a taut thriller, a gleefully violent exercise in revenge movie conventions, and a damned fine film besides. Plus, this DVD from Lion's Gate really gives this film, if you'll excuse the pun, the Devil's due. I hesitated to review the theatrical release of The Devil's Rejects, mostly because I knew at the time that a "director's cut" would be inevitable. In all fairness, the studios should have just gone with an NC-17 rating for the theatrical version, and saved everyone the trouble, but I digress. So, without further ado, here goes...let's dig right in and see what this flick has to offer.
Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), Baby Firefly (Sherri Moon Zombie), Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook), and Tiny (Matthew McGrory) find themselves awakened one morning (some time after the events depicted in House of 1000 Corpses) by the angry bullhorn-boosted ranting of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe). It seems that this Sheriff Wydell is the younger brother of the original Sheriff Wydell (Tom Towles) who, as you may recall, was killed by the Firefly clan in the earlier movie. This Sheriff Wydell is out for swift, elaborate, bloody vengeance, and he'll stop at nothing to get it. After a wonderfully-staged shootout that finds Mother Firefly captured by the cops, Otis and Baby escape through a subterranean tunnel and proceed to beat a hasty retreat. Soon, Baby calls her father, Captain "Cutter" Spaulding (Sid Haig) for assistance, who agrees to meet them at a previously agreed-upon rendezvous spot...a seedy motel in the desert. When Otis and Baby show up at the motel, they bide their time by cruelly toying with (and butchering) a touring country/western band in their motel room. It's in these sequences that The Devil's Rejects really begins in earnest, with Otis and Baby having a wonderful time brutalizing the band members. After Otis murders the roadie and sexually humiliates the wife of the bandleader, he departs with the remaining two male band members, leaving Baby "in charge" of the women. Otis takes the guys out to a remote desert location, where he intends to force them to dig up a hidden cache of weapons hidden there some time before. But, this is Otis we're talking about here, and soon, things end badly for the hapless country singers. Meanwhile, Baby almost loses control of things back at the motel, and when one of the female band members starts to escape, along comes Spaulding to "save" the day. Otis returns, and the three beat a hasty retreat to Charlie Altamont's wild-west town and brothel. Seems Charlie is Spaulding's "brother from another mother", and he takes in the titular rejects for "safe keeping" and much carousing. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wydell interrogates the captive Mother Firefly, but like the true homicidal matriarch she is, she never caves under questioning...or under the beatings dished out by Wydell, for that matter. Instead, she almost flirts with the guy, all the while taunting him over the murder of his dear big brother. Wydell's having none of it, of course, and he finally explodes in a rage. He hires two incredibly slimy and psychopathic "bounty hunters" (Danny Trejo and "Diamond" Dallas Page)...and let's just make this clear; these two lowlifes are nearly as sociopathic and evil as the Firefly clan. With the help of the bounty hunters, and a bit of "Lando Calrissian"-style betrayal, Wydell soon locates and captures Otis, Spaulding, and Baby. He takes them back to their house, ties them up in the basement, and begins to get a taste of sweet, seductive, sick revenge. Is this the end for our beloved "Rejects"? Will Wydell ever get the true revenge he craves? Will Otis, Spaulding, and Baby escape? And what happened to Tiny (who disappeard after making a brief appearance in the opening shots of the movie)? And finally, will the Firefly clan go down in a blaze of glory and a hail of gunfire?
Rob Zombie's maturity as a storyteller has increased dramatically, as evidenced by the delicate balance he strikes in The Devil's Rejects. Whereas in House of 1000 Corpses, the Firefly clan are painted as being just another band of sickos with no particular ties to anything, least of all one another, here they are portrayed as a band of sickos, mercilessly cruel villains, and a family, along with everything that title implies. They have real allegience to one another, and Zombie makes them uncomfortably sympathetic during key sequences. Clearly, Zombie is forcing a question on the audience, and that question is, put simply, "Who is worse...the villains or the cop chasing them?" The nice thing is that Zombie leaves the answer to that question totally up to the audience. Each side has its truly solid reasons for hating the other, and each side has its reasons for wanting the other side dead.
Likewise, the performers have grown. The three Firefly "leads"; Sherri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, and Sid Haig, have not only found their individual comfort zones with their respective characters, but they deliver pretty damned good performances all around. The award for "Most Matured" actor goes to Sherri Moon Zombie, though, as her "Baby" character has grown from the gratingly annoying and one-dimensionally-evil 'n' sexy role in House of 1000 Corpses. Here, she is given a bit more room to experiment with the character...as if Rob Zombie decided one day that there was a decent actress in there just clawing to get out. Baby is the perfect evil bitch, but she's also quite a sympathetic character this time out, as she carries the burden of most of the visible anguish over the tortures and proverbial slings and arrows lobbed at our "family" over the course of the story. Make no mistake, though...she ain't a fuzzy bunny with a heart 'o' gold. She's a killer, plain and simple, but she's a killer who seems to truly love her twisted little family unit. When I first saw House of 1000 Corpses, I felt (and still do) that Bill Moseley's manic, over-the-top performance as "Otis" was merely a subtle reworking of his "Chop-Top" character from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Otis was an ever-spewing fount of idealogical and quasi-political psycho-hyperbole even whilst in the process of slicing and dicing his victims. Here, he does some of that, too, but he's also got a bit more spirit and purpose here. He's still (arguably) the craziest one of the bunch, but he's also the most "serious" one...the one who actually seems to have a plan somewhere in his mind. Otis is also vying for the position of "leader" of the Firefly clan...a position whose only other real candidate is Sid Haig's "Captain Spaulding". The two are always at each other's throats, if only to decide how to get the family from point A to point B most safely and efficiently. Captain Spaulding was probably the most interesting character from the original film, and he follows suit here. He's a father figure, a merciless smart-ass, and probably the most intelligent member of the family, and as such, he has a bond with Baby. He's her daddy, but he's also her teacher and her friend. John Forsythe, as Sheriff Wydell, seeths and tics his way through the film, channeling the character's hideous rage at the murder of his brother. He is the classic revenge anti-hero, evoking everything from Buford T. Pusser in Walking Tall to the quiet, terrible angst of Michael Rooker's titular portrayal in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. There are some priceless cameo/special guest roles, too...namely, fan favorite Ken "Dawn of the Dead" Foree's portrayal as Charlie Altamont. Foree is always good, but here, he eschews fanboy glamor for a fairly touching performance. Also appearing in welcome cameo roles are Michael Berryman, P.J. Soles, Ginger Lynn Allen, and E.G. Daly, and more. The presence of these actors alone stands as evidence of Rob Zombie's knowledge of and respect for the films that came before his.
As mentioned before, Rob Zombie has really grown as a filmmaker. Gone are the jumpy, distracting, and wholly unnecessary MTV-style edits and corny photographic effects that bogged down House of 1000 Corpses. Here, Zombie paints his environment with richly detailed sets, grimy locales, and colorful characters, and then he leaves those brush-strokes to speak for themselves, rather than pushing them on the audience with the overzealous and all-too eager to impress ferocity of his first film. Additionally, Zombie uses music to great effect here, and he fills his soundtrack to the brim with interesting and hum-worthty 1970's southern-rock staples like Lynyrd Skynyrd and more. The result is a soundscape that firmly places the action in the era Zombie intended, rather than merely relying on quasi-"retro" costuming as he did in the first film. The film just oozes 1970's grimyness and tackiness, and within 15 minutes or so, the audience never gives it a second thought.
Now, this flick isn't for the faint of heart. It's not exactly wall-to-wall gore, but it has its moments (courtesy of Wayne Toth and KNB's collaborative work). When the gory moments come, they have real impact, and they generally punctuate truly sadistic and scary moments onscreen. Zombie knows when to show the guts, and he knows when not to show 'em, as well. He really pulls off the balance between what he actually shows us and what he makes us think we've seen. This unrated director's cut lingers a bit longer on the effects, as would be expected, but it's never overbearing or trite.
This Two-Disc Director's Cut from Lion's Gate is remarkably put together, and is absolutely chock-full with special features, including two great commentary tracks (the first with Rob Zombie, the second with select cast members), a "blooper reel" (which is cute, but sadly these blooper reels are never quite as funny as the should be), a full-lenght "talk show" segment from the fictional "Morris Green Show" that appears in part in the film, the complete "Mary the Monkey Girl" commercial, a tribute to the late Matthew "Tiny" McGrory, makeup tests, deleted scenes, and finally, the second disc has a nearly two-and-a-half hour documentary called "30 Days in Hell: The Making of The Devil's Rejects". This documentary is pretty much worth the price of the package on its own, and it's probably one of the better and more complete accounts of the entire production process of a film that I've seen outside of the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition releases. The film itself is presented in it's original 1.85:1 Widescreen aspect ratio, and the print is free of artifacting and has solid blacks and vivid colors...keeping in mind that the film has an intentional "aged" look to it. The sound is presented in both 5.1 Dolby and 6.1 DTS tracks, but this ain't the kind of movie that will give your high-end speakers any real exercise. All in all, a pretty much flawless presentation...especially due to the huge number of extras.
The Devil's Rejects is going to be one of those films that fans will really hold dear for decades to come. It not only blows House of 1000 Corpses clean out of the sky, but it will prove to be the film that Zombie is remembered for...unless he tops himself with his next effort. I think that, within a few years, young filmmakers will be trying to emulate The Devil's Rejects in the same way that previous generations emulated and copied the original Chainsaw and Friday the 13th. For all of these reasons, this exemplary release of The Devil's Rejects gets the coveted Atrocities Cinema Essential Award. Now get your butts out there and buy it today!