Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #147
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 22 July 2005
Sub Genre: Exploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $19,390,029
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: Rob Zombie
Producers: Rob Zombie, Andy Gould, Mike Elliott, Michael Ohoven, Marco Mehlitz
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
Special Effects: John C Hartigan
Cinematography: Phil Parmet
Score: Tyler Bates
Editing: Glenn Garland
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Stars: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, Leslie Easterbrook, Dave Sheridan, E.G. Daily, Geoffrey Lewis, Priscilla Barnes, Kate Norby, Lew Temple, Danny Trejo, Diamond Dallas Page, Brian Posehn, Tom Towles, Michael Berryman, P. J. Soles, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Ginger Lynn Allen, Jossara Jinaro, Chris Ellis, Mary Woronov, Daniel Roebuck, Duane Whitaker and Tyler Mane as Rufus “RJ” Firefly Jr.
Suggested Audio Tutti Frutti
Lynyrd Skynyrd “Freebird”
Confession time for Keeper. You may well be nauseated to hear my frank admission that, up until the dusk just passed, I had never viewed The Devil’s Rejects. That declaration alone makes me want to vomit my own intestines forth and use them to jump rope. I can hardly look myself in the face although finally I can at least say the Devil’s Hymen has been broken. Decimated more like. Having just revisited the predecessor, the stars were aligned to finally see what has had folk clucking like hens for the past ten years. In my defense, some pig-ignorant cunt spoiled the ending for me upon release, ravaging my anticipation and forcing me into taking an extended rain check in the abortive hope of future dementia.
Having spent around two more glorious hours in the company of Johnny Lee Johns, Otis Driftwood and the ravishing Vera-Ellen Firefly, I feel a mixture of compunction and consolation. It is as though a breeze-block has been removed from my buckling shoulders and I can rejoin the rest of civilization in loving the shit outta this stunning movie but I left it rather late to join the party. Now I’ve arrived, I’m hell-bent on tearing shit up, letting the free world know just how vital a piece of art The Devil’s Rejects actually is.
So… style or substance. Both and a jumbo cone of fries. Finesse is a given when in the hands of such ample talent and Rejects oozes class and seventies funk in every single frame but, in addition to schmoozing us visually, Zombie proves his mettle as a screenwriter, creating the ultimate band of anti-heroes and managing to coerce you into caring about them and rooting for their safe passage.
Let’s consider the facts; the Firefly family are hardly neighborhood watch material, they’re a vile gaggle of merciless murdering bastards who have no right to having any redeeming qualities. Instead, they possess a multitude and Zombie turns the whole affair on its head by enabling you, this time out, to see them in their natural habitat. Ferociously committed to one another, they also bicker and square up like any regular family and we downright love spending precious minutes in their company.
The Devil’s Rejects is so much more than a straight sequel and is as far removed from its precursor as you could get. Sure, the links are there and the names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent but this is in stark contrast to the almost comic book-styling of the first. In essence it is more of a road movie than anything else, paying homage to the Exploitation pictures of the seventies with Zombie showing voluminous understanding of what made flicks from this era tick.
Restraint is a word few would choose to explicate the approach Zombie uses here, the censors taking exception to the overall tone and relentlessness of the violence on exhibit which resulted in cuts being made to the theatrical version (although reinstated for its DVD release). Keeper would argue that he actually pulls in the reins on a number of occasions throughout, without neutering the effect of what we are made privy to. If anything, such restriction makes these scenes all the more harrowing.
When violence is called for however it is supplied with startlingly frank openness and it cuffs with the intensity of a 10lb Block Buster. Walking a remarkably fine line with the effectiveness of a ballerina but all the subtlety of an epileptic in a strobe show, it goes full pelt for the jugular during these moments, leaving a metallic aftertaste as no mercy is displayed.
In the same manner as Alexandra Aja’s 2006 reboot of The Hills Have Eyes, the barbarity on exhibit is pretty fucking repellent but here there is a far greater moral code followed by our Rejects. One example of this is a ‘backward’ character who is granted a hasty execution, presumably as they have no interest in taunting one of visibly impaired faculty. All of this just makes us love ’em all the more, such a considerate bunch these Rejects.
A key character to proceedings is Sheriff Wydell. Out to avenge the death of his brother, he becomes increasingly drawn away from simply bringing the family to justice and begins thinking like a killer in order to snag himself some live ones to maltreat. William Forsythe has long been an actor Keeper has held in utmost reverence and here the casting couldn’t be better.
Think Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive and then ramp that shit up to twelve. By the time he gets his shot at some good old vigilante justice, the tables have turned remarkably. Forsythe relays the law enforcement officer’s nonchalant psychosis with pin-point precision and becomes our ‘Lost Reject’. Since first viewing Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice I have followed Forsythe with fervor but here he gives potentially his best performance to date. Bravissimo.
Also notable is the relationship between our three leads. They are genuinely affable when afforded the chance to simply ‘be’ and partake in all manner of impish banter en route to the infamous climax. When this arrives, we are desperate for their continuance, testament to Zombie’s writing chops as he injects plenty of charisma into their characters. Haig, Moseley and Moon-Zombie eat it up like famished prairie dogs and all excel in their roles as they did first time out.
Pay disputes thwarted Karen Black’s planned return as Mother Firefly but old-hand Leslie Easterbrook steps in amenably, making the transition a smooth one. In truth, it’s barely even perceptible that there’s any change in personnel which, once more, proves Zombie’s keen eye for casting. Speaking of which, it’s great to see Ken Foree being provided with his first truly notable role in years and he shows that he has lost not a smidgen of his capacity.
The Southern-fried Rock soundtrack fits hand-in-glove with Buck Owens’ Satan’s Got to Get Along Without Me, Zombie’s Midnight Rider and the unmistakable Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd all being used to marvelous effect and, once more, Zombie’s habitual freeze-frames and slow-mos succeed in creating a dizzying, almost carnival-ride, effect which he really has down to pat.
Audiences were invariably going to be divided by The Devil’s Rejects and that is fair enough. What irks me so is the fact that many critics sat on the fence, offering only ‘meh’ as a rejoinder. What the actual fuck? If these numpties had simply despised the movie then that would have been far less nonsensical than such blatant indifference. I assure y’all that when you have the experience for the first time, you’ll odds-on fall into one of the two camps but there is no discernible middle ground with a film like this as far as I am concerned.
As for Keeper, there is no question that The Devil’s Rejects is truly top-tier stuff. Corpses was a fine piece of work and barely put a piggy wrong but this shows a natural progression, not only for the story and its iconic characters, but also for Rob Zombie as a filmmaker. Like Tarantino he takes flagging careers and gives them the shot in the arm they richly deserve and the fact that these veterans come flocking shows just how highly regarded he is. It’s all justified; Rejects is one of those flicks which makes you wish to be back in the drive-ins of the seventies and reminds you why film is such a powerful and compulsive tool.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Rating: 4/5
For the Grue Guzzlers: Sadistic and uncompromising, there are plentiful moments of black-hearted excess but it is arguably the violence towards the female characters which juts out like a splintered bone. He pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable to the absolute limit on occasion, without ever finding it necessary to go too far.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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