Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding
Bill Mosely as Otis
Sheri Moon Zombie as Baby
Ken Foree as Charlie Altamont
Matthew McRory as Tiny
Leslie Easterboork as Mother Firefly
Geoffrey Lewis as Roy Sullivan
Priscilla Barnes as Gloria Sullivan
William Forsythe as Sherriff Wydell
Kate Norby as Wendy Banjo
Lew Temple as Adam Banjo
Dave Sheridan as Officer Ray Dobson
EG Daily as Candy
Danny Trejo as Rondo
Diamond Dallas Page as Billy Ray Snapper
Even taken as a completely separate entity from House of 1,000 Corpses, Zombie’s second film is such a reprehensible and loathsome journey of excess that any redeeming value is well hidden.
After the Firefly Gang killed his brother, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) swears vengeance, and after a bloody gun battle that leaves only three of them alive, Wydell’s forces close In on Otis and Baby (Bill Mosely and Sheri Moon Zombie) as they weave a path of murder and mayhem across the South.
You may want to give Rob Zombie some credit for making a better film than his first one, House of 1,000 Corpses, but you also have to wonder what he was thinking when he sat down to write this faux-sequel The Devil’s Rejects. Although it was a dog and a half, at least “House” seemed more focused at being a straight horror film, compared to this revenge thriller, which wears its sadistic influences on its sleeve as it tries to be a mix of an old-fangled western with a ’70s exploitation flick. Sure, there are some interesting visual homages to Zombie’s favorite films, but he misses the most fundamental elements that make a good film, little things like having a solid story, and more importantly, creating characters that viewers will want to watch for 90+ minutes.
While I was more than willing to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, sadly, this isn’t the be-all-end-all of homage to ’70s horror that one might expect. Instead, it’s just a hodge podge of poorly conceptualized vignettes, most of them involving killing or f**king or a combination of the two.
It starts with a shootout taken directly from Australia’s armor-plated Ned Kelly gang, and after part of Firefly clan are killed off, Bill Moseley’s Otis and Shari Moon’s Baby go on the run, in hopes of hooking up with the clown-faced Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) before they’re captured or killed by the police. The set-up is fine, but as soon as it gets to the opening titles, using the over-used ’70s freeze frame, you know that that you’re in trouble. While the murderous carjacking isn’t so bad, Zombie’s choice to show it over the titles using this stop and start technique makes you scratch your head.
To think that this movie would be any less misogynistic than the source material would be foolish, as women are brutalized and used for all sorts of misdeeds right and left. The worst of them takes place in a hotel room when Otis and Baby come across country duo Banjo & Sullivan and their wives. Kudos to Zombie for casting Priscilla Barnes AKA Terry from “Three’s Company” for his movie, but watching Otis spend what seems like hours molesting her and then killing her off without a second thought makes you realize that there’s little way the movie can go but down.
The violence, torture and wanton killing wouldn’t be nearly as excruciating if it wasn’t interspersed with really bad jokes, mostly involving Sid Haig and the denizens of a whorehouse. Zombie’s attempts at putting humor into the story don’t work because these scenes are so sloppy and half-improvised, and there’s nothing particularly funny about them. At one point, Zombie snubs his nose at the critics by having an actor play a know-it-all Joel Siegel type, who tries to help the police find the Firefly gang by using the Marx Brothers connection. Not sure if anyone but Zombie and his critics would understand this jab.
Being a director gives Zombie the opportunity to hire all his friends as well as his favorite schlock horror actors including Dawn of the Dead star Ken Foree and the distinguishable bald pate of Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). It quickly becomes obvious why these guys have not been getting leading roles in the last thirty years. Police Academy vet Leslie Easterbrook’s performance as Ma Firefly is so over-the-top that you’re glad when she gets her just desserts. Then there’s the issue of Zombie’s own wife, Sheri Moon, who frankly, is the worst actress of the bunch, making you wonder if she’d ever get an acting job without f**king the director. At least she makes Bill Mosely seem like a Shakespearean actor by comparison. There’s probably little reason to mention the misshapen man-mountain Tinyit’s irony, get it?– played by former Howard Stern regular Matthew McCrory, who makes a brief appearance at the beginning then shows up at the end solely to commit suicide in a burning house. (It makes about as much sense as someone hiring Captain Spaulding as a clown at their child’s birthday party.)
The dialogue is embarrassingly bad, as if Zombie didn’t realize how fake it sounded, and his cast were too happy just to be working to say anything to him. How are you supposed to take killers seriously when they utter such gems as “I’m Willy Wonka and this is my f**kin’ chocolate factory” to their victims? Other obvious scenes are taken directly from movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre–the remake, not the original classic–such as when another Firefly victim is able to escape from being tied up in the hotel room and starts to run across the highway, shot with a handheld camera, no less. Anyone who can’t immediately figure out her fate obviously hasn’t seen enough of these movies.
Worst of all, Zombie never gives you any reason to like or care about what happens to any of the Firefly gang or the Sherriff, so you’re never sure for whom you’re supposed to root. Freddy vs. Jason, this most certainly is not. At least in that horror match-up, you could root for both of them; in this case, you just want it to be over as quickly as it can.
Granted, the soundtrack is a lot of fun with all sorts of classic Southern rock tracks that most people probably won’t have heard in quite some time, but even that goes sour in the end. Just when you’re thankful that this experience is almost over and you’re out of the woods, things lead up to the climactic shootout between the Fireflys and the police. When the opening refrain of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” kicks in, you know you’re in trouble, and sure enough, Zombie stretches what would be a minute-long ending stolen straight from Bonnie and Clyde and Thelma and Louise into a grueling slo-motion sequence that last almost as long as the epic song. I can honestly say that it was the most painful version of “Freebird” I’ve experienced since the one played at my junior high school prom.
The Bottom Line:
I’d strongly like to believe that there is some talent in Rob Zombie as a director and that someday he’ll make a movie that I can watch without being in complete and total pain. Maybe there will be a few people who’ll enjoy the gore, the violence and the bad jokes in The Devil’s Rejects, but frankly, I wouldn’t want to be left alone in a dark theatre with them.