MoreHorror March Movie Request Month: The Devil's Rejects

The Devils Rejects Movie Review
by Mike Pickle,

Well, MoreHorror Hounds; March is request month. This week's review request was one that I was more than pleased to honor. Rob Zombie's modern Horror classic The Devil's Rejects. When I first watched The Devil's Rejects years ago I thought it was one of the most starkly brutal films I had ever seen. I've always liked it, but it seemed like violence for the sake of violence. Now that this type of realistic brutality is more common; I recognize beauty in the carnage. I can see the many layers that make this a relevant piece of Horror cinema history. The Devil's Rejects is a film that defies convention. You would think that, in a time when everything has been done, films that take chances like this would be more prominent, but they're not.

Many horror filmmakers are tied down to age-old clichés trying to make their films fit into a safe dynamic that will please horror fans that become increasingly diverse. Even director Rob Zombie himself has resorted to making mediocre remakes rather than traveling further down the road of uncompromising originality that Rejects took us down. No one breaks the rules anymore because it's too easy for it to backfire. In this film, everything just works. The best and most memorable sequences are the ones that laugh in the face of horror convention. There's no protagonist here for you to root for and there's no hero that's going to come save the day. Just killers and victims. The Sheriff tracking down the murderers is even a killer albeit for different reasons. As inspiring as this movie is to up-and-coming Horror filmmakers; the most effective scenes can't really be emulated. I've seen filmmakers attempt it and it doesn't work. It worked exclusively for this film and I can't really see it working so well anywhere else.

The film opens with a dynamic similar to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but quickly changes to something entirely different. It does revisit this Texas Chainsaw-like atmosphere at certain times in the film, but only to maintain the gritty '70's feel. After the immediately disturbing image of the deformed giant, Tiny (Matthew McGrory) dragging a nude girl's corpse through the woods; we see Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) leading his men on a search and destroy mission to apprehend the killers Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) who are in their house fast asleep after a night of murder and mayhem (i.e. House of 1,000 Corpses).

The action kicks in fast and furious with a huge shootout which would normally be reserved for the climax. It is surprisingly climactic for an opening scene and elevates the film to a level of intensity that it rarely loses. The very few times when the film slows down are like the calm before a storm. These scenes turn out to be even more frightening and unnerving than the horror and action sequences because you know with every calm comes an explosion of violence and bloodshed that shocks you out of your comfort zone. The same can be said for the comedy. The comedy is there, but you're afraid to laugh because you know the most disturbing scene of the film is seconds away. Mr. Zombie is not going to let you laugh it up without paying the price.

When addressing the many things that made this film work you have to mention the actors. Their performances are sublime as a cast and each individual character gives added depth to make the experience of watching it disturbingly fun. William Forsythe is as intense and powerful as ever as Sheriff Wydell. A lawman turned vigilante who spits out dialogue that sounds like redneck poetry. The Sheriff has a personal vendetta against the murderous trio for killing his brother. It's his performance as a vengeful cop coming apart at the seams that blurs the lines between good and evil. His personal demons threaten to consume him and this forces the viewer to identify with the killers more than the guy who's trying to stop them. Case in point: Bill Moseley as Otis. He plays the unspoken leader of the group like an evil prophet. His verbal abuse is just as disturbing as the physical abuse his character inflicts on his victims. He has such a clear and concise way of speaking that his biting dialogue while taunting and murdering his victims feels like something out of a nightmare. Why then, do we identify with him? That's what's so great about Moseley and the way Zombie directed him.

Otis is a brutal, sadistic killer that you want to hang out with for some strange reason. The same can be said for the incomparable Sid Haig as the hilariously sinister Captain Spaulding. Whether he's cracking jokes during a graphic sex scene in full clown make-up or brutalizing his victims, he is a pure joy to watch. He's disgusting, heartless, unpredictable and downright hilarious. Sheri Moon Zombie rounds out the gruesome threesome with, by far, her best performance in a Rob Zombie film. The character of Baby seems to fit her style of acting and she visibly became immersed in it. Her performance had to be strong to hold her own with Otis and Captain Spaulding and it was. She portrayed Baby tenaciously with a fleeting sense of vulnerability like a baby rattlesnake that bites and doesn't know how to let go.

One thing about this film that firmly grasps the viewer's imagination is the music. The score is pitch perfect and has a lot of interesting percussion and instrument experimentation to get a unique soundscape to match the content. It compliments the soundtrack of the film so well that you feel the emotions that it provokes before you even realize that music is playing. The Country, Southern Rock and Blues that make up the highly charged and memorable soundtrack fit the story and the characters perfectly.

Unlikely musical breaks make for a more unique and disquieting atmosphere that keeps the viewer in a permanent state of uneasiness just as much as the musical score. One such scene is the opening credits. Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers plays full volume and you expect the escaped murderers to ride away from the scene of the crime looking cool and evil. Instead they trick a woman into pulling over so they can brutally stab her in the street and drive off in her car. Meanwhile the music is still at full volume. Yes, it establishes the tone of the film and the ruthlessness of the killers, but it does so in a way that you don't expect. This technique comes full circle at the end of the film in which Lynyrd Synyrd's Freebird plays, almost in it's entirety, as Captain Spaulding, Otis and Baby careen toward their deaths in one last slow motion shootout with the police.

This film is dark, gritty and violently graphic, but it's violence that makes you feel uncomfortable in it's realism rather than making it exciting, exploitative or derivative. It's an unconventional story with unconventional characters. More interesting than the story is the way it plays out. You're more concerned with what happens to all the characters (whether good or evil) than you are about their journey.

The tapestry of this film is so rich and it is such an important addition to the legacy of American Horror, in my opinion, that it deserves a much more in-depth analysis. Too much to pack into one review. I'm already calling to mind many characters, scenes and aspects I didn't mention. Things like perfectly placed slo-mo shots, freeze frames, rich colors and clever cut-aways that make this film a modern American horror classic.

I suggest you rent it again or buy it and give it the many viewings that it deserves. Who knows. When you watch it for the tenth time, like I just did, you might learn something about how to make a great Horror film, but don't try to imitate it. This one broke the mold.

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