The Devil’s Rejects

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Rob Zombie’s 2003 film “House of 1000 Corpses” lives in my memory as one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever witnessed. It was not with great eagerness, then, that I approached “The Devil’s Rejects,” Zombie’s follow-up and sequel, which I had every reason to believe would be more of the same. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that “The Devil’s Rejects” is actually MORE unpleasant than its predecessor. Here I had thought “House of 1000 Corpses” was as repugnant and despicable as filmmaking could be, but no. It gets worse.

“The Devil’s Rejects” is a film of unrelenting ugliness. It features ugly actors playing ugly characters who say ugly things while performing ugly deeds. The awfulness continues unabated for all of the film’s 101 minutes. There is nothing redeeming or worthwhile about a single moment of it, not even in a prurient, I-love-to-wallow-in-debauchery sort of way. It is simply rancid, unbathed, country-fried filth.

It’s set in the South in 1978 (so it LOOKS ugly, too, and I’ll give Zombie credit for vividly re-creating that era), a year after the events of “House of 1000 Corpses.” You’ll recall, perhaps despite hours of therapy, that the central premise of that film involved a white-trash family in the middle of nowhere who killed lost teens who wandered into their territory. As “The Devil’s Rejects” commences, the police are raiding the killers’ home, taking Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) into custody and killing several others, but letting Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, the auteur’s wife) escape.

The two, who are either lovers, siblings or both, make contact with Baby’s absentee father, a massively loathsome man named Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who runs a nearby “house of oddities” tourist attraction and dresses as a clown. They tell him the jig is up, so he plans to meet them at a designated motel, whereupon they’ll head to a brothel owned by their friend Charlie (Ken Foree) for safekeeping. (For if a whorehouse cannot provide safe harbor, what can?)

So Otis and Baby head for the motel, perpetrating a killing spree on their way and taking a traveling family of musicians hostage once they arrive. I note that, to ensure NO ONE in the film is sympathetic, not even the victims, the patriarch of the musician clan is an adulterer.

In the spot where a good guy should be, we have Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), a vile, cursing pig who believes he is doing God’s work and who kills a suspect in cold blood while that suspect is unarmed and in custody. In the film’s last act, he captures the outlaws and tortures them, effectively reversing their roles: The murderers are now in the position that the heroes are usually in at the end of a movie (i.e., trapped by a madman, no chance of escape, and then they escape), and the “hero” is behaving like the villain. Zombie’s point? I don’t know. I get that he hates us and wants us to hate his movie, but beyond that, his intentions are lost on me.

It is interesting to note that there are relatively few actual killings in the movie. The unpleasantness comes not from the violence (though it is plentiful, make no mistake), but from the ideas. Spaulding, Otis and Baby all seem to hate each other in addition to hating mankind, and I have already mentioned the malignant nature of Sheriff Wydell. People abuse each other physically, emotionally and sexually. Even the women in the traveling band are mean to each other, before they ever encounter the killers. Zombie shows his women unclothed whenever possible, always in a voyeuristic, mean-spirited way: The first shot of the movie is of a deformed hillbilly dragging a dead naked woman through the woods. The film is ripe with naked misogyny, bald-faced sadism, and even some sacrilege, thrown in for good measure.

Understand: I LIKE slasher movies. When they are done well, they are scary and haunting, or at the very least they feature people being killed in creative or amusing ways. When they are done badly, they are usually still entertaining for their outrageousness and for their “what were they thinking?” misguidedness.

But “The Devil’s Rejects” fits in neither category. It is not well done — the killings are matter-of-fact and unalarming — but neither is it so-bad-it’s-funny. It is simply hateful. I can’t think of a better way to describe it than that: pure, unadulterated, black-hearted hate. I will not hate it back, though. You can go to hell, “Devil’s Rejects,” but you’re not takin’ me with you.

F (1 hr., 41 min.; R, pervasive harsh profanity, some strong sexuality, a lot of nudity, abundant violence and some torture.)

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.