Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Devil's Rejects

The Devil's Rejects is a mathematical anomaly.  The film is a direct sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, which is one of my Most Hated Movies, and is a sequel that is better than its predecessor.  That's unusual, but not unheard of.  What is unusual is just how much better it is.  In my own conservative estimate, The Devil's Rejects is at least thirty bajillion times better than House of 1000 Corpses.  I know, riiiight?  And I proved it with math!

You might have noticed that I call this a "direct" sequel.  That means that the events in this film have definite and explicit ties to those in the previous movie.  Does this mean that you need to see House of 1000 Corpses to understand or appreciate this movie?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Do not, under any circumstances, watch House of 1000 Corpses, unless you want to not enjoy six hours of your life; it might only be an hour and a half long, but you'll spend close to five hours scrubbing your eyes raw in the shower.  All you need to know about the evil Firefly family is explained in this movie.  Trust me.

The movie begins with the Firefly family in their home (of 1000 corpses), sleeping in after a night of killing, skinning, raping, or whatever they do at night.  Unfortunately for them, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) is leading a bunch of state troopers to their house (of 1000 corpses) with a Search and Destroy order.  The troopers attack, the family fights back, and all of a sudden the house has more than a thousand corpses in it.  One family member --- this is more of a Manson family than a blood family, mind you --- is captured, a few die, and two escape.  Well, two escape and Tiny (Matthew McGrory, the giant from Big Fish) happened to be wandering through the woods with a body, so he misses the whole ordeal.  The two escaping members are Otis (Bill Moseley), a frightening and hairy creep, and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), a psychotic but busty blonde with an annoying voice.  They meet up with Baby's father, Captain Spaulding (Sig Haig).  The Captain is a loud, fat man in clown make-up, who runs a oddities tourist trap.  Together, the three remaining Firefly family members attempt to avoid getting caught by the police.  On the way to their hideout, these three opt to torture and murder a family-style country band (which included Brian Posehn) as a time-wasting activity.  Their hideout is actually a brothel run by an old friend of Spaulding, Charlie (Ken Foree).  While they were on the run, Sheriff Wydell learned from his captive that the Fireflys had killed his brother; he decides to go around the law, and hires two bounty hunters (Diamond Dallas Paige and Danny Trejo) to help him hunt, capture, and torture the remaining Fireflys to death.  I would like to tell you that Charlie's place is a secure womb of safety for the Fireflys, but bad things happen to bad people, too, sometimes.

Writer/director/rock star Rob Zombie did not impress me with his first attempt (the prequel) in any way, shape or form.  This movie, while vile, angry and somewhat gory is actually surprisingly entertaining.  The script, which could be described as an F-bomb minefield, gives the characters some decently smart dialogue.  Some of it is funny, some of it is just angry or mean, but I thought it fit the characters well.  The characters are all unsympathetic, but that's okay --- this isn't the kind of horror movie where you root for the bad guys.  Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding are all terrible people, and you're hoping that they get what's coming to them.  There are many points where one of the innocent victims of the Firefly family could conceivably escape or overpower their tormentors, but these situations are handled so brutally that you have to admit it...these villains might be bad, but they're really good at it.

Rob Zombie also deserves a special kudos for the best use of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" in any movie.  Ever.

The acting is a little overwhelming at times, especially from Otis and Baby, but it generally fits the tone of the movie.  They are all horrible, dirty characters, and the world they live in is a horrible, dirty place.  Bill Moseley, in particular, was especially vile as Otis, the male lead and the man who mentions the title in his dialogue.  Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's wife, was one of the worst things about House of 1000 Corpses, but she's pretty tolerable here.  She's nothing great, mind you, but seeing an attractive person being so evil makes her actions seem so much worse.  Veteran horror movie actor Sid Haig rounds out the titular characters; he's always been a B-movie actor, but never tries to be anything else.  He delivers his lines well and is pretty disgusting to look at, so I think he performs above and beyond the call of duty.  William Forsythe isn't a great actor, either, but this is the best role I've seen him in; he plays a skeevy guy so often that having him play a vigilante cop is interesting and yet a logical extension for him.  The rest of the cast might be noteworthy, but they have little screen time and less development.  Still, it was nice to see P.J. Soles pop up as a prostitute, Ken Foree (from the original Dawn of the Dead) as the brothel owner, former pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page as a thug, and Danny Trejo as a tough Hispanic guy (way to try something new, Danny).

I think what makes this movie effective is that it takes place out in the open.  Instead of some stupid teenagers that are having sex and abusing drugs wandering in the woods, the victims in this movie are seemingly nice people.  The film doesn't focus on these characters too much, since it is not their story, but it is rare to see a Good Samaritan getting shot in the face in any movie, even a horror flick.  I think the notion that, at a moment's notice, a normal group of people could be getting ready for a road trip, minding their own business, and the next moment be living and dying at the whims of psychopaths is a frightening thought.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best horror films ever.  It is dark, disgusting, and horrifying.  It is also sincere, which makes some of it kind of funny.  The acting is excellent (for a horror movie), if only because there are no terribly designed characters that take you out of the moment, forcing you to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a razor-fingered dream monster and that you're watching a dumb slasher flick.  This manages to avoid the trappings of other villain-focused horror movies by giving the bad guys some serious (and seriously painful) obstacles to overcome; even though the Fireflys are big and bad, this movie never becomes a snuff film for their victims.  This is not a movie for casual horror fans.  If you get nightmares easily, you should avoid it.  If you watch the scary parts with your hands over your eyes, don't bother taking them off during this movie.  This is a film for the discerning horror fan.  It might not have the widespread appeal of Halloween, the rawness of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or the art of The Shining, but this is the meanest and strangely unembellished horror movie in years.

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