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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Devil's Rejects Robert Zombie 2005

Finally, a Film that Smells Like Dirty Hair

As revered cultural icon Rob Zombie could apparently shit on a piece of wax paper and have it hailed as a masterpiece, I’m fully aware that my review of this film will likely fall on many deaf – or at least tinnitus-afflicted – ears. So for those of you who refuse to accept that Zombie is anything less than an unextinguishable font of pure, untainted quality entertainment, you may just want to stop reading this now and go back to polishing your Living Dead Dolls.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk Devil’s Rejects. An interesting effort by fledgling director Rob Zombie (whose first feature, House of 1000 Corpses, was one of the most overhyped disasters of the past 5 years), Rejects marks a mild improvement in terms of Zombie’s ability to tell a story; the only problem is, there’s no story here to tell. The Firefly family run from their house after a police raid, kill a few people as they clumsily contemplate their escape, and get caught by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose understandable anger at the clan (for killing his brother) has turned him into a “monster”. Apparently, we’re then supposed to marvel at how the murderers have become heroes and the lawman has become the villain, and gasp as our expectations are dashed and we root for the Fireflies to escape unharmed.

Problem is, these characters are as annoying and useless as they come, and no amount of banter or torture-induced tears can pull a lick of empathy out of any discerning viewer who has been forced to sit through their tired routine for two whole films. And considering that we were already clearly encouraged to identify with the killers in the first film (the teen victims were completely unlikable), it’s just more of the same here. As for our supposed disdain for Wydell, fuck it – I was rooting for him to kill the idiot Fireflies and save us from another sequel. Seriously – anyone who legitimately identifies with a band of whiny, backward serial killers with dirty hair and a shared brain needs to do a reality check. As there’s absolutely no one in the film with whom to identify for more than 5 minutes (Wydell is the front-runner, until he goes apeshit), we basically sit and watch morons cuss at each other for the duration.

Sure, Rejects is not without its strengths. The opening standoff at the Firefly ranch is a lot of fun – when the Family comes out in archaic sheet-metal armor against the cops, it’s a setpiece with a truly iconic quality. The good times stretch through the opening titles (a seventies-tinged stretch of freeze frames and Southern rock that reminded me of James van Bebber’s far superior Manson Family) as Baby and Otis kill a diner waitress for her car and hit the road, and at that point things hit a wall. For a movie about a group of people on the run, there’s a stunning lack of urgency – the kids and papa Spaulding mill about at motels, stop for ice cream, and get drunk with hookers, apparently unconcerned that the entire police force is of course hot on their asses for slaughtering half of their men and 75 innocent teens. You never get the sense that the cops are anywhere near finding them, and the clan never seems to care – this is the most plodding run from the law I think I’ve ever seen.

The finale thankfully pulls things out of the doldrums (and woke me up from my nap), although like the opening, it’s really just a slow-motion music video (I will admit that it’s the best use of “Free Bird” I’ve ever seen) and still in the “too little, too late” category. Setting sequences to music is definitely Zombie’s strong suit, and when he’s on his game he can be a lot of fun to watch. But a few music montages do not make a feature film – beyond them, there’s just nothing here to see beyond a few flashy edits and an occasional glimpse of Sheri Moon’s butt. Are these characters really supposed to be intriguing? Scary? Amusing? Interesting? Why in God’s name would we want to watch them bitch at each other for and hour and a half? Please – scare me, shock me, make me laugh – do anything but bore me with redundancy and “homage”. It’s just too common, and too easy.

In exchange for actual horror (I guess I should mention that, while it is bloody, this is definitely not a horror movie), story, or interesting characters (or character development – we learn absolutely nothing more about the Fireflies this time around), Zombie relies on stagey, Tarantino-lite dialogue (which is hard enough to stomach when it comes from Tarantino, much less an imitator) and poorly-executed cameos to try to prop things up. Rejects boasts rare turns from horror legends P.J. Soles (as a mom in one blink-and-miss-it scene), E.G. Daily (as a hooker obsessed with Star Wars) and… um… well, that’s about it for the cameos, actually. If you can spot Rosario Dawson, Natasha Lyonne, or Mary Woronov, let me know – I certainly didn’t notice them (which is pretty funny considering that every website lists Lyonne as the star). Leslie Easterbrook (Callahan from the Police Academy movies) actually out-overacts Karen Black as Mother Firefly (she’s just a blaze of hair and teeth for most of it), and Geoffrey Lewis and Priscilla Barnes do a decent job as a kidnapped couple that Baby and Otis mess with for kicks. Indeed, the scariest thing about Rejects is the fact that Terri from Three’s Company turns in the best performance of the film.

I’m all for horror fans having their go at the genre and paying respect to the classics, and here Zombie clearly seems to be emulating the gritty, no-budget exploitation feel of Last House on the Left, Easy Rider, and the like. But affection doesn’t equal execution, folks – and at the risk of being the guy that points out that the Emperor is running around bareass naked, I’m going to ask: if this film didn’t have Rob Zombie’s name on it, would anyone really care? It’s just not a good movie, and no amount of respect for Zombie’s work as a musician or cult icon can change that. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in the case of The Devil’s Rejects, it’s a long, dull road indeed..

Rating (out of 5):