Monday, July 25, 2005

Movie Review: The Devil's Rejects

I asked some friends if they were interested in seeing The Devil’s Rejects with me. Not surprisingly, they all said no. There are some roads the cinephile must travel alone. This was one of them.

The first five minutes of the movie serve as an overture, letting the audience know exactly what's in store. Open on a hulking deformity of a man dragging the nude corpse of a woman through the woods. Cut to a ramshackle country house surrounded by a cadre of law enforcement officers led by a shit-kicking, tough-talking sheriff. Cut to the interior of the house where the members of the murderous Brady Bunch at the center of the film’s plot arm themselves for combat with the "pigs," while collectively weaving a tapestry of expletives.

A moment of calm, and then, gunfire.

There you have it: the grotesque, nudity, profanity, and violence. The building blocks of a horror movie. Zombie experiments with different combinations of these four basic ingredients (seasoned with multiple references to bestiality, a morbidly obese woman, a pimp, a black toothed clown, a few lines of cocaine, a bottle of whiskey, and a backhanded tribute to Elvis Presley) for 85 more minutes and then the credits role. With the exception of the sheriff, whose sense of duty steadily unravels until he finds himself in morality’s gutter alongside the killers he’s hunting, the characters are static. But let’s be honest. Only a pathological optimist would go to a Rob Zombie movie expecting high drama.

For the most part, the acting is comically bad, especially in the case of Zombie’s eye-catching but talentless wife, who plays the bloodthirsty vixen, Baby. Baby is a sociopathic murderer, but delivering her lines more like a beautiful, bitchy cheerleader from a John Hughes movie, she’s fairly unbelievable in the role. To the director’s credit, every time I could sense the audience starting to roll their eyes at Baby’s bratty antics, Zombie pulled out the old razzle-dazzle and flashed a few seconds of her bare backside. Crowd pacified and crisis averted.

Though not a "good" director, Zombie is not incapable. He takes measures to temper the blood and guts with equal parts absurdity. The dialogue, which is about as subtle as a White Zombie song, is a welcome reminder that you shouldn’t take the movie any more seriously than it does itself. What saves The Devils Rejects is its sense of humor, best demonstrated in the southern rock soundtrack that provides ironic accompaniment to the onscreen action. The Allman Brothers "Midnight Rider," plays as Baby and her brother Otis murder a Good Samaritan and steal her car. The rising strains of "Free Bird" build as the Rejects bomb down the open road in a Cadillac convertible.

While I sat in the theater watching The Devils Rejects, I witnessed an interesting phenomenon. The crowd erupted into spontaneous applause when one of the killers got brained with a 2x4. Nothing out of the ordinary. But by the end of the movie, when a surprise attacker ambushes the sheriff, the crowd cheered even louder. They hated everyone. Generally speaking, an utter lack of likable characters is a mark of failure for a film. But for The Devil's Rejects, which has an uncanny ability to revel in its shortcomings, it came off as a grand achievement.

pic courtesy of

--Matthew McCoy