In 2000, punk/hard rock hybrid Rob Zombie surprised everybody and made a movie. His House of 1,000 Corpses was a throwback to 70′s psycho-shock cinema, a sadistic vision of hell on Earth so disreputable that Universal Pictures stuck it in a dark vault for three years. Lion’s Gate Films liberated the movie, God love ‘em, and it made them a boatload of money.
The Devil’s Rejects , Zombie’s follow up, is of a different genre, but it’s just as remorseless. It’s the kind of movie that makes the legion of decency lock its daughters away from the film’s procreative vitality. It’s not really a sequel, though it contains some of the same characters, made less lurid. Now they have become a family of all-American mass murderers.
There’s Otto, with his long blonde hair hanging straight down, a black beard, and messianic eyes. Bill Moseley plays him with Charles Manson in mind. But he has none of Manson’s confusion, and is chillingly articulate about his mission: he’s Satan’s right hand man. Otto’s sister Baby, played by Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie, is a hillbilly flower child with a laugh like broken glass.
There’s also Captain Spaulding, an evil clown played with relish by Sid Haig; and Mother Firefly, Leslie Easterbrook, who looks like a used Faye Dunaway. Tiny, a hulking, childlike burn victim, is the deus ex machina.
In the pre-credits sequence, Sheriff Wydell, William Forsythe, leads a raid on their West Texas murder house. The Firefly Family – or as the news calls them, the Devil’s Rejects – are prepared for that. Otto and Baby gun their way to freedom. Sheriff Wydell’s idea of frontier justice is to catch the family, and do unto them exactly what they’ve done unto others.
A room in a fleabag hotel becomes an abattoir. Two couples have committed the mortal sin of being in Otto and Baby’s way. They huddle in terror, appealing to reason, but they are mice toyed with by cats. The scene can raise your gorge, or at least your indignation. You may not be interested that the acting and directing are brilliant.
Zombie was only a year old for Bonnie and Clyde . He was three for Easy Rider and the murder of Sharon Tate. The Devil’s Rejects is elegiac for that decade, and the music and movies that followed. But here we are in 2005 with plenty left to protest — not least that corporate ownership has etherized the movies to irrelevance. A truly radical film has an impossible job finding an audience when the midnight movie distribution channel has dried up. Is it for you? You know who you are. The Fantastic Four and The Dukes of Hazard make you feel dirty. For you, The Devil’s Rejects is a cleansing shower, scalding hot.
The Devil’s Rejects just opened at Showplace East, but check the listings to see if it’s been run out of town. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.