Tuesday, November 8, 2011

THE DEVIL'S REJECTS


This is director Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his own 2003 film “House Of 1000 Corpses” and while that film was a throwback to 1970’s horror (particularly “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), this film is a whole other beast entirely.

The film explodes into action right from the beginning with the police surrounding the Firefly residence in preparation to raid the place and apprehend the murderous family.  The task force is run by Sheriff Wydell, who has a very personal vendetta against the family, as his only brother (police officer George Wydell) was a victim of this deadly clan (as seen in “House Of 1000 Corpses”).  Inside the house, unaware of the situation they are in, is Baby, Rufus, Mother Firefly and the deadly Otis, who are awakened by the loudspeaker announcing to them that they are surrounded.  Quickly the family arms themselves as the police storm the place, where a violent and bloody gun battle ensues.  After the final bullet has been shot and the dust has settled, it is revealed that Rufus has been killed, while both Baby and Otis have escaped in the sewers out the back. Mother Firefly, however, is captured and taken into custody.

Knowing that every police officer in the state is after them, Baby and Otis know they have to find a place to hide out, but not before they get reinforcements.  Baby calls Captain Spaulding, the sinister clown from the first film, for help, where it is also revealed that Spaulding is actually Baby’s father.  They plan to meet at a pre-determined rendezvous point that turns out to be a cheap motel in the middle of the desert.  When the villainous siblings arrive at the motel, they proceed by taking a travelling band hostage, who they brutally torture and humiliate while waiting for Spaulding to arrive.

Meanwhile, Wydell’s passion for vengeance against the Firefly’s is boiling over into madness to the point that he himself could become more dangerous and violent than the Firefly’s themselves.

I will admit right up front that I am a huge fan of Rob Zombie’s talents as a director, and I believe that up until this point in time, “The Devil’s Rejects” is his masterpiece.  It is a film that works on every level and achieves everything that it sets out to do.  There is not a scene out of place, a bad performance, and it also has an amazing ending.

As I said at the beginning, “The Devil’s Rejects” is the sequel to “House Of 1000 Corpses”, but the two films couldn’t be more different.  Really the only thing the two films share is the characters themselves, but even they are different here too.  While “House Of 1000 Corpses” exists in a horror movie world with over-the-top situations, “The Devil’s Rejects” feels so real and nasty, and is stripped back to its barest elements, removing all fa├žade.  You actually feel dirty and in need of a shower after you watch this film.  Zombie has also wisely scaled back the number of characters in this film by leaving out the other-worldly characters that populated the first film and which just wouldn’t have worked in this world (sorry folks, there is no Dr. Satan this time around).  

The problem with most sequels is that they try to duplicate the success of the original film by replicating the same sequence of events that happens in the first, rather than taking the first film and building on it.  An easier way of saying this is that they tell the same story again, just with different characters.  This almost never works because the sequel is never fresh.  However, what Rob Zombie has done with “The Devil’s Rejects” is make a sequel right, to the point that it blows the original out of the water.  While the first film is very definitely a horror film, “The Devil’s Rejects” is more like a dirty revenge road movie.  A quote which I remember reading about the film at the time of its release (and I’m paraphrasing here) was that “whatever “House Of 1000 Corpses” owed to Tobe Hooper, “The Devil’s Rejects” owes to Sam Peckinpah”.  That gives you some indication of the differences between the two films.

Aesthetically speaking, also, the films are worlds apart.  “House Of 1000 Corpses” lives in a neon-lit candy coloured Halloween world, while “The Devil’s Rejects” is set in a grimy desert world full of washed out and sun drenched yellows, browns and golds.  It is an amazing looking film which is helped enormously by the fact that Zombie and his director of photography, Phil Parmet, shot the film on 16mm, which just adds to the gritty atmosphere of the piece.  The production design by Anthony Tremblay is also genius, as the world he has created just feels so dirty and old, and like it could fall apart at any moment, it is so seedy.  It is also believable that these characters would exist and be comfortable in a world like this.  Best of all, nothing looks like a set.  It is outstanding work.

In terms of acting, I believe that this film is also the best performed of all of Zombie’s films which is due mainly to his ability to cast actors that fit their roles like a glove.  No-one gives a bad performance, and they are all so menacing and violent and scarily, it all feels so real.  The character of Baby has probably changed the most between the two films because in “House Of 1000 Corpses” she was portrayed much more immaturely, almost like a giggly schoolgirl, complete with high-pitched voice and all, and she was much more theatrical.  In “The Devil’s Rejects”, Sheri-Moon Zombie’s performance is much different (and for the better) and certainly darker, as Baby now seems very much an adult and it is now quite believable that she could commit the crimes that she is famous for.  Gone (well almost) is the trademark Baby maniacal laugh from the first film, and it is replaced with a much meaner and more demented Baby.  Believe me, you would not like to meet this incarnation of Baby, as she is seriously bad.

As I’ve said, the film is littered with amazing performances with the always great Sid Haig at his absolute best as the evil clown Spaulding.  A scene where the clown terrifies a mother and her small boy before stealing their car is both hilarious and horrifying.  Bill Moseley gives another great but equally different interpretation of the dangerous Otis.  If Baby is the character that has changed the most internally, Otis has definitely changed the most physically.  The sick albino look from “House Of 1000 Corpses” has been changed with a far more menacing bearded Otis, complete with long hair which often obscures his eyes, so you are never sure exactly what he is thinking or will do next.  Leslie Easterbrook replaces Karen Black in the role of Mother Firefly in this film and gives a much different performance than her predecessor that seems much more grounded in reality, while still maintaining that feeling of madness within her.  Like all the characters in this sequel, she also seems that much more dangerous here.

As good as everyone is in this film, the absolute standout is William Forsythe as Wydell.  He is simply amazing and the way he delivers Zombie’s dialogue just elevates the writing to another level.  A good comparison is the way Samuel L. Jackson always makes Tarantino’s dialogue sing, Forsythe does the same thing with Zombie’s.  He is just perfect and understands the rhythms of the written word.  Also his descent into madness is pitch perfect and incredibly scary too.

As usual for a Zombie film, the cast is filled out with genre stars of the past including Ken Foree, Danny Trejo, P.J. Soles, Michael Berryman and Mary Woronov to name just a few, and they are all excellent.

It is important to note that “The Devil’s Rejects” is Rob Zombie’s most positive filmmaking experience to date, with Lions Gate (who produced the film) just leaving him alone to do his thing, and trusting in his vision.  They believed in the film, and as such there was no interference (the only problem did have with Lions Gate was their decision to release the film during summer amongst the big blockbusters, causing it to get lost in the shuffle).  The results of this trust speak for themselves as this is Zombie at his most pure and “The Devil’s Rejects” is easily his best film (so far).  It would be remiss of me not to mention that currently as I write this review, Rob Zombie is in the middle of shooting his latest film “The Lords Of Salem”, where the producers of that film have been so impressed with what they have seen already, they have added extra shooting days to the schedule – could we see another Zombie masterpiece soon.

It needs to be mentioned that “The Devil’s Rejects” is a hard film to watch with certain scenes of torture and violence almost impossible to take, which has more to do with the intensity of the film as opposed to the gore factor.  It is an incredible tense film which may be too much for some viewers.  What Zombie does do brilliantly is make the viewer change who they are rooting for as the film progresses.  At the beginning of the film when the Firefly’s are torturing and humiliating the poor family at the motel, you despise them and hope that Wydell will catch up with them soon.  However, as the film progresses and the Firefly’s begin to get a taste of their own medicine, you may be shocked to find your sympathies leaning towards them, hoping they will escape.

Overall, Rob Zombie has created a rare sequel that is better than the original film.  It is an amazing film full of intense violence and revenge, and while it is certainly not a film for everyone, those viewers who like to take a trip into the dark side (and I do mean dark) of cinema, this is the ultimate trip that you will never forget.  Like all great films too, it has a brilliantly executed finale.  It is a film that I can not recommend more highly.

5 Stars.