Metal maestro Rob Zombie has a somewhat checkered history as a horror filmmaker. Critics complained that House of 1000 Corpses was too derivative. Fast forward several years and Zombie turned in a half a good movie with his Halloween remake. Though Zombie flashed some cool ideas with the sequel, his tendency towards ugliness overpowered the second go-around with Michael Myers. But The Devil’s Rejects marked the first time that Zombie flirted with critical acceptance. Released on July 22, 2005, The Devil’s Rejects is still Zombie’s best-received effort among critics. A small box office hit, it’s also Zombie’s most appreciated film among horror fans. In the years since its release, it remains a shocking and well-made piece of exploitation cinema.
The Devil’s Rejects is 70’s Exploitation Violence At Its Best
Like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie clearly has an affection for 1970’s exploitation cinema. Yet few horror filmmakers have an eye for that era’s aesthetics like Zombie. House of 1000 Corpses may have been derivative, but it’s hard to argue that Zombie doesn’t know the ‘in’s and out’s’ of good old-fashioned Grindhouse. Indeed, The Devil’s Rejects is the perfect 70’s exploitation splatter film. Released at the tail end of the ‘Torture Porn‘ cycle of the 2000’s, Zombie melds grainy cinematography with obscene violence. There’s the horrific imagery lingering in the background during the opening credits. And then there is the in-your-face brutality of the climax. Zombie refuses to compromise. It’s a transgressive symphony of social taboos stacked up and unceremoniously knocked down.
…but it’s hard to argue that Zombie doesn’t know the ‘in’s and out’s’ of good old-fashioned Grindhouse.
Take the Firefly’s siege on the Banjo and Sullivan band – it’s Zombie at his best. Certainly, the metal madman knows how to orchestrate onscreen carnage. Zombie also has a much better gift for making his violence feel cinematic as compared to some of his contemporaries, including Eli Roth. But Zombie’s films haven’t always been as good at generating genuine scares and suspense. That’s not the case with The Devil’s Rejects’ second act. Zombie ratchets up the tension in these moments. All the disturbing violence is also accompanied by a feeling of real peril for its characters. The Devil’s Rejects is bookended by two fantastically over-the-top shootouts. Zombie gives his terror trio one of the best film send-offs in horror film history.
Plenty of ‘Tutti-Fucking-Fruity’ Ice Cream for Horror Fans
The Devil’s Rejects technically positions itself as a direct sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, while abandoning much of its predecessor’s narrative core. Most notably, Zombie ditches the supernatural elements of his directorial debut. Neither an appearance nor a mention of ‘Dr. Satan.’ Instead, Zombie opts for a more grounded approach in The Devil’s Rejects, aligning the movie more closely with 70’s fare like The Last House on the Left. It’s a smart story direction, immediately setting the sequel apart from a movie that suffered from tonal inconsistency.
Instead Zombie opts for a more grounded approach in The Devil’s Rejects, aligning the movie more closely with 70’s fare like The Last House on the Left.
If The Devil’s Rejects is transgressive with its violence and willingness to flaunt social taboos, Zombie also gets subversive with his storytelling. The Firefly’s are thrust into the limelight from the opening credits and take centre stage in cinematic history’s most demented road trip. No bland and interchangeable protagonists in this go-around. Otis Driftwood, Baby Firefly, and Captain Spaulding are the stars. By the time they’re ordering ‘tutti-fucking-fruity’ ice cream, you get the distinct impression that Zombie wants you to like these people. And it actually kind of works.
In most horror sequels, The Firefly’s are the villains and Sheriff Wydell is the justified avenger. Yet somehow Zombie subverts this expectation and positions the Firefly’s as arguably the most unexpected antiheroes in recent memory. It’s a role reversal that works in part due to the charismatic performances from its leads (Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, and Sheri Moon Zombie). By the aforementioned final police shootout, Zombie has effectively cast The Firefly’s as some demented version of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ for a generation raised on serial killer culture.
The Devil’s Rejects Feature No Banjo and Sullivan on Its Soundtrack
Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson – these are filmmakers who pick just the right music for a scene. Not surprisingly, Rob Zombie is also pretty adept at using music to evoke just the right mood for any moment. Even if some of his movies fall short in storytelling or scares, Zombie always seems to set things to the best soundtrack. Zombie’s southern-fried soundtrack makes a perfect backtrack for his hillbilly anti heroes. The juxtaposition of The Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider playing while The Firefly’s leave behind a grotesque house of horrors sets a unique tone. With Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way playing as The Firefly’s party it up, you almost don’t feel bad for wanting to sing along with them. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a better use in a movie of Lynryd Skynryd’s Free Bird.
The Devil’s Rejects An Uncompromising Horror Classic
To date, The Devil’s Rejects remains Zombie’s best directorial effort. While The Lords of Salem showed some creative growth and welcome restraint, it still felt like Zombie imitating other filmmakers. In contrast, The Devil’s Rejects is pure Zombie. It’s the kind of uncompromising, take-no-prisoners approach to film-making that launched Wes Craven’s career. It also marked a huge creative leap forward for Zombie. Truth be told, Zombie has been in a creative holding pattern since The Devil’s Rejects. Neither his ‘killer clowns-inspired’ 31 nor the belated sequel, 3 From Hell, have lived up to Rejects.