You’ve got to hand it to Rob Zombie – the man loves horror movies. The former White Zombie frontman made his directing debut in 2003 with House of 1000 Corpses, a successful low-budget shocker that showed a willing nastiness and considerable visual panache, if not much else. The Devil’s Rejects is Zombie’s quasi-sequel, and actually proves a much superior film, the director swapping the flash for gritty, unsettling intensity.
The film opens as police lay siege to the Texan home of the family of depraved murderers known as the Devil’s Rejects. This motley clan have dozens of corpses buried beneath their house and body parts littering every room, and on-the-edge Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) is out for revenge after the gang killed his brother. Unfortunately, two of the family – siblings Baby (Sheri Moon) and Otis (Bill Moseley) – escape and hit the road for further mayhem.
Zombie’s biggest influence here is obviously The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and while much of this seventies-set film is pure homage, he does succeed in generating a sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere. The Devil’s Rejects is played relatively straight – Zombie opts for urgent handheld photography and grainy 16mm film stock and although some of the editing is overly stylised, he is largely successful in drawing his audience into the story. Apart from the climax, the entire film is set in the blazing light of the Texas sun, and the violence – a veritable hoedown of knifings, shootings, axe attacks plus a spectacularly nasty splatting-by-truck – is unflinchingly shown.
As in House of 1000 Corpses, the most colourful character here is Captain Spaulding, the part-time clown and full-time psycho played with cackling glee by imposing B-movie veteran Sid Haig. Spaulding is also Baby’s father, and he, Baby and Otis end up hiding out at the Wild West-style brothel run by sleazy pimp Charlie (Ken Foree). The characters in The Devil’s Rejects are certainly memorable, but the cartoonish, exaggerated performances keep the film from truly embracing the harrowing realism that Zombie is aiming for. Everyone – from the Manson-esque Otis and Southern seductress Baby to the quartet of musicians held captive by the gang or the growling, vengeful sheriff – is played with over-the-top fervour, and much of the dialogue is simply a cacophony of shrieked obscenities. The film is also filled with B-movie cameos and appearances – as well as Dawn of the Dead’s Foree, watch out for Michael Berryman, Steve Railsback, Tom Towles, Danny Trejo, P.J. Soles and porn-queen Ginger Lynn Allen, plus A-listers Rosario Dawson and Natasha Lyonne.
Originality isn’t Zombies strong point, but he does deliver some gruesomely impressive set-pieces. Bill Moseley revisits his previous career highpoint – Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s Choptop – by removing one unlucky fellow's face and placing it over that of his victim's traumatised girlfriend, while the scene in which Sheriff Wydell turns the tables on the family is both gruelling and strangely satisfying. But the most audacious sequence is saved for the very end, where the gang’s final showdown with the law is set in slow-motion to virtually all of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s epic Southern anthem ‘Freebird’ – it’s a moment that’ll either make you roll your eyes or triumphantly punch the air at its sheer ridiculousness. Yee-haw!!
American musician turned horror director. Born Robert Cummings, Zombie fronted cult metal band White Zombie for a decade, before making his first movie in 2003, the gaudy shocker House of 1000 Corpses. A sequel, The Devil's Rejects, was released in 2005 after which he contented himself with two reimaginings of the Halloween franchise. His Satanism-themed next film was The Lords of Salem.