The Devil's Rejects
Horror icon Rob Zombie pens and helms The Devil's Rejects, the follow-up to his 2003 directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses. But don't expect much headway in the gloomy gut-gusher--it's just as dismally hollow.
Last we visited Ruggsville, Texas, some naive teens had fallen prey to the Firefly family's underground living-dead chamber, only to be slaughtered in dreadfully diverse ways while attempting to escape. Now, after finally catching wind of the Firefly's goings-on, authorities, led by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), ambush the corpse-crammed farmhouse but only manage to take Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) into custody. Just like cockroaches fleeing light, second-generation Fireflys Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and his sister Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon) escape through an underground passageway--but not before warning their dad, the carney-faced Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), the homicidal jig is up. Spaulding, the owner of the Museum of Monsters and Madmen, which doubles as a gas and fried chicken stop, arranges to meet the kids at a backwater motel to plot their next move. The fugitive Firefly family continues to kill and pillage while on the lamb from Sheriff Wydell, the self-proclaimed ''Lord's arm of justice,'' who is intent on bringing the cruel clan to justice.
The most electrifying entity in Zombie's horror franchise is the crazed Captain Spaulding, played in both flicks by veteran B-list actor Haig, who ingeniously permeates his character's insanity with an iota of common sense. Underneath that mad PT Barnum face paint rests a man smart enough to run his own business and function within the norms of society. For that, we gravitate towards him--and the hopes he will bring an end to slaughter before the sheriff has to. But it is Wydell, played by Forsythe (City by the Sea), whom we end up rooting for, if not by default, even when the God-fearing, Elvis-loving lawman turns vigilante. Motivated by grief after the Firefly's killed his brother, Forsythe's Wydell is menacing yet unexpectedly empathetic. And while Moseley and Moon--reprising their roles as Otis and the psychotic Baby Firefly, respectively--speak volumes here compared to House of 1,000 Corpses, both junior Fireflys unfortunately fall victim to the films' zapped character growth.
Zombie demonstrates he knows how to scare and repulse moviegoers, but House of 1,000 Corpses and its follow-up have yet to produce any memorable central characters. As evil antagonists, the Firefly family--and only recurring characters in both horrors--need to be the folks you root for. Sure, Baby, Otis and Captain Spaulding are despicable, but why not let your audience know what makes them tick? What's their back-story, flaws, and weaknesses? And why does Tiny (Matthew McGrory) look like that? With his '70s-style cinematography and intriguing storyline, Zombie has any horror fan hooked--but even Jason and Michael Myers had pasts that formed their presents. Without adding intensity to the Firefly clan, The Devil's Rejects is a one-dimensional tale of slaughter, one in which you end of cheering for a Sheriff and religious zealot by default. There's no entertainment value in the torturous killings of the Firefly's victims, either--including the traveling rodeo troop (lead by Priscilla Barnes, better known as nurse Terri on Three's Company). If we don't identify the motive behind it, even one as straightforward as insanity, there's no point.
The creepiest part about The Devil's Rejects-type horrors is that deep down, most urbanites believe decrepit dwellers like this blossom in the backwoods of America. Had he fleshed-out the folklore--and his brood of rejects--Zombie's pic would be a more powerful permutation. Instead, The Devil's Rejects is just gory eye-candy.