Halloween is almost here and after reviews of two horror movies I can’t recommend (Jeepers Creepers and Laid to Rest), I thought I’d provide one endorsement–even if it does come with a few caveats.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Attack of the F-Bombing Super Fan
I remember the movie fan. She was in her late teens or early twenties. She was excited. My brother-in-law went to a late showing of The Devil’s Rejects and she approached us as we left the theater as if we were old friends.
“That was awesome. Awesome. Wasn’t it great?”
Well, that wasn’t her exact opening to the conversation. In reality, she punctuated every sentence with one or two variations of the F-word. She wielded the F-word like a grammatical Swiss Army knife. It was a noun, an adjective, an exclamation, a verb and I think she even found ways to use it as an adverb.
Our reaction to her rave review, which probably consisted of no more than a slight nod of acknowledgment or a mumbled “yeah” was enough. She turned the talkativity dial to 10.
“I liked House of 1,000 Corpses. I know lotsa people didn’t, but I did. A clown? Awesome. But I know people thought it was crap. Whatever. This one. Man. This one was so awesome. This one was perfect.”
She explained that she was excited to watch the next installment of the Saw series. She talked about the soundtrack to The Devil’s Rejects. She babbled on and on about Rob Zombie’s overall awesomeness. She recounted her favorite kill scenes.
Eventually, she decided to find someone who was slightly more communicative and she bounded off, energized by two hours of on-screen carnage, sadism and a rip-off ending to a movie that took everything including the kitchen sink, coated it in retro slime and dumped it right into the theater.
We weren’t as thrilled with The Devil’s Rejects. My brother-in-law and I both enjoyed it, though.
I can’t explain his rationale. This is mine.
A Bad Movie
Sometimes, horrible ideas, horrible execution, poor choices, ham-fisted technique and a general lack of talent can somehow merge to create something good. That is the story of The Devil’s Rejects, a movie justifiably maligned by most critics and just as justifiably loved by people including the stranger in the theater.
Let’s get rid of the bad stuff right away. There are a billion reasons to hate The Devil’s Rejects. Here are a few high(low)lights:
- The casting was more of a tribute to B-movie horror veterans with a little 70s kitsch on the side than it was an effort to create a credible ensemble.
- Zombie overuses the soundtrack in a heavy-handed effort to shove the desired retro feel down the throats of audience members.
- The Devil’s Rejects contains multiple scenes that do little to advance either the plot of the movie or the development of its characters. The scene with the chicken peddler, for instance, exists only to showcase a series of unfunny jokes.
- The movie’s attempts to balance tension and sadism with comedy fail. It may be jarring, but it’s not the kind of disconnect for which any sane filmmaker would strive.
- Rob Zombie’s appreciation for the contours of his wife’s butt may be great for their relationship, but it’s not something the audience needs to explore during a horror/road movie.
- The movie’s moral compass isn’t just a little off. It’s in a room of electromagnets that spun it so hard and fast that it finally ceased to point anywhere.
- The ending is an accidentally comic mish-mash of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and Bonnie and Clyde with a little bit of Thelma and Louise tossed in for good measure. It’s utterly ridiculous, but not in the “let’s make wriggle room for a sequel” mode of most horror flicks, which is at least understandable from a dollars and cents perspective.
So, The Devil’s Rejects is an amoral mess that frequently insults its audience, features inferior performances and reveals a serious of weird, if not flat-out stupid, directorial choices.
And I liked it.
So Bad, Yet Pretty Good
I didn’t like it as much as the F-bomber, but I did enjoy it.
I have a tender little place in my heart for movies that try extremely hard, even if they fail miserably. That’s why I’ve confessed to an appreciation for the ridiculous Legends of the Fall, and its oh-so-earnest attempt to be a stirring epic.
That’s why I like Armageddon, a moronic space movie that merged the Magnificent Seven team assembly strategy with poorly acted romance, Bruce Willis’ Christ-like sacrifice for humanity and Billy Bob finally getting his mission patch.
Everyone involved in movies like those seemed to be giving it their all. They played it straight, without an ironic wink. These movies are so sincere in their intentions and so audacious in their goals that it’s hard not to root for them even when their weaknesses are so readily apparent.
The Devil’s Rejects is the Armageddon of horror. It’s the Legends of the Fall of road movies.
Rob Zombie and his limited-talent cast try hard. They don’t deliver, but they put forth the effort. You can tell that Zombie wanted to make a MOVIE, not just another movie. He built a world with its own rules and its own feel. He shoehorned Marx Brothers references into the script and he found places to feature actors he loves, even if the audience is unlikely to feel the same way.
Most people hate it because it seems like an utterly pointless and sadistic tale incapable of adding anything to their lives.
Some people love it, completely oblivious to its many, many, many flaws.
Between those two poles, there’s room to enjoy this dusty, broken horror movie without being a Zombie super-fan.
How to Like The Devil’s Rejects
You might not naturally find yourself in that space between oblivious super fans and sane normalcy, so let me give you a few recommendations. If you follow them, you can enjoy watching The Devil’s Rejects.
- Surrender the idea of emerging from the movie with any thing remotely associated with moral enlightenment. The Devil’s Rejects is an exercise in atmosphere that preaches an amoral gospel. Don’t even think about trying to feel good about humanity based on the actions of the film’s characters. Any of them.
- Focus on the few really tremendous moments in the movie. The hotel hostage scene is extremely intense and frightening in a way that rises well above traditional slasher fare. Kudos to Priscilla “Three’s Company” Barnes for this scene.
- Appreciate the fact that Rob Zombie actually manages to take a collection of utterly grotesque and despicable murderers and transforms them into the very folks for whom you’re rooting as they roll down the highway toward their demise.
- Make a game out of finding elements Zombie has either lovingly lifted or cheaply stolen from other movies. Engage in an internal dialog, debating whether these thefts make The Devil’s Reject an homage to other horror movies or a if they demonstrate a lack of originality on the part of the filmmaker–or both.
And, most importantly…
- Don’t take it too seriously.
I read a review of Saw 3D today in which the critic lambasted the movie for its misogyny and for not somehow living up to the standard established by its Saw precursors.
One of the first comments in response to that review pointed out how silly it seemed to criticize a Saw movie for being anything other than a fairly dumb, gory, somewhat scary diversion. That response makes a great deal of sense.
At some point, we need to adjust our movie expectations based on what we know before we buy a ticket, rent the DVD or add something to our NetFlix queue.
If you were looking for a spine tingling, thrilling masterpiece of horror that would somehow provide you with tremendous insights about the human condition while not offending you with sadistic violence and other ugliness…
Well, picking The Devil‘s Rejects was stupid.
Give yourself two hours to disappear into a world of head scratching dumbness, jeans sagging off the butt of Sherri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig with rotten teeth and serial killers eating ice cream on the run. Try to forget what you know for a while and take The Devi’s Rejects for what it is. If you do, The Devil’s Rejects is a (and it’s hard to believe I’m writing this) pretty good movie.
You can critique it later. I did.
Or, maybe you’ll come out the other side of raining bullets and “Freebird” with a strange compulsion to approach strangers and to talk at length about just how much you fucking loved everything about The Devil’s Rejects.