Rejected By The Devil, Embraced By The Stupid.
The Devil's Rejects
I hate House of 1000 Corpses. Or rather, I hate people who like House of 1000 Corpses. The movie itself isn't so bad, if you like flashing lights, loud noises, and get scared at carnivals, but the film has engendered a rabid fan following. You know the type of fan I mean, the kind that overhears a disparaging Lord of the Rings comment and then leads a savage gang beating with a gnarled oak staff and a bag full of twelve sided dice. These folks tend to get personally insulted if you disagree with their opinion, particularly if your contradictory remarks contain words with more than one syllable, and the arguments than ensue tend to involve a lot of sputtering, which is a problem for someone like me who's morbidly revolted by bodily fluids. In director Rob Zombie's first film, he did what most genre fans who get a chance at the big time do, which is make the type of movie they want to see. Generally, this works, but if the only movie you want to see is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, things can get a little derivative.
Thankfully, in The Devil's Rejects, Zombie chooses to rip off a plethora of horror films, instead of just the one. His targets are still 1970s exploitation films, but the focuses is skewed more towards the action end of the spectrum, like The Hills Have Eyes and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, broadening the scope of his copyright infringement. While the lifts from Texas are still prevalent, there's a lot here to spot and identify via loud stage whisper to your date or, barring that, to the group of underage skateboarders in the row in front of you who snuck in by buying tickets for Bad News Bears. It's like Kill Bill for people who wear black jeans in the summer. The film follows some of the more colorful members of the Firefly clan introduced in the first film, except instead of focusing on surreal comedy and a last act clearly inspired by a Floria Sigismondi video, this is more of a graphically violent road picture than anything else. It does have its moments of comedy, but many of them are unintentional, like the moment that you realize that the Leatherface character's makeup is the same as That Yellow Bastard's from Sin City, only not quite so jaundiced.
What annoys me most about this movie, and others like it, is that it seems that horror fans today don't realize that blood, tits, and scary clowns do not a horror film make. The best horror movies were soulless and depraved, true, but they either had something to say, or barring that, at least said nothing by touching on a sub-conscious cultural fear that spoke to the time period. The 60s had the cold war paranoia, followed by the degeneration of the family as a primary concern in the next decade, and the 80s engendered a fear of franchise sequels and plastic masks. What, pray tell, am I supposed to be afraid of after watching this film? 70s exploitation movies? Music videos? For all Zombie's attempts to recapture the gritty, panicked quality of that era, it's difficult to imitate the low-budget immediacy of an underground horror film when you have crane shots and a helicopter, and cut every ten seconds like you're trying to match a Destiny's Child beat.
There are some pluses in the film, like the performance of Sid Haig, but there are even bigger minuses, like Zombie's wife Sheri Moon, who's cute as a button, but seems about as dumb as one. Also, Karen Black has been mysteriously replaced by a cheap, less Down's Syndrome-y knock-off, which knocks a leg of credibility out from under the movie. This lack of credibility, as well as any real point, is a real weaknesses of the film. There are moments where it seems as if The Devil's Rejects might be rising above just a mindless excuse for filming torture and butchery, like a sequence near the end of the picture when cheesy music and super 8 footage makes it seems as if Zombie is playing with us and the American obsession with glorifying the anti-hero. Then, it quickly becomes evident that those are really big words and he just wants to see someone get raped with a knife blown up on a 20 foot screen. The biggest problem with the film, however, are the characters. Zombie seems to have fallen into the trap of every single 18 year old high school drop out who decides that they've seen enough horror movies that they can write a good one in between shifts as a dishwasher . Clearly, too much time has been spent plotting out the villains, their one-liners, and their murderous quirks, and not enough on plotting out the story or removing all the awkward lines your stoned buddies came up with while playing Madden '04 at 3 am. This whole movie is one big circle jerk for gore-hounds fed up with character motivation, plot structure, or anything else that gets in the way of quotable dialogue for voice mail greetings and a cool T-shirt. If you're looking for a fun time spent picking out cameos by Michael Berryman and the babysitter from Halloween, then you're going to be one happy camper. But if you're not an idiot, then you might want to return to Zombie's source material for some challenging fare.