Devil's Rejects, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When a movie is this bad, it's hard to adequately describe its awfulness in words. The temptation exists to write something along the lines of: "Something this horrible has to be seen to be believed." Of course, that kind of advice would lead to e-mail death threats and other assorted nasty comments from those who spend money on The Devil's Rejects. And I'm sure AMC won't be making the same rebate offer they made for Cinderella Man. The reason is understandable: about 95% of their customers would be demanding their money back. As for the other 5%... it is said that Rob Zombie is an acquired taste (as his awful debut, House of 1000 Corpses, indicated). If that's the case, then I hope it's not contagious and I don't become infected. This is a vile and reprehensible motion picture. Critic Scott Weinberg, with whom I endured the screening, made the following comment when it was over: "I have to go home and take a shower to wash away the filth." Amen.

What occurs on screen is more formula than plot. The verses are a little different, but the refrain is always the same: a bloody conflict that results in multiple deaths and/or maimings. There are three categories of people in the movie: the killers, the gung-ho lawmen, and the victims. In the first camp are Captain Spaulding the clown (Sid Haig); his daughter, Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and son, Otis (Bill Moseley); and their mother (Leslie Easterbrook). In the second is Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), who crosses the line from law enforcement to vigilantism. And in the third are the unfortunates: Roy (Geoffrey Lewis), Gloria (Priscilla Barnes), and a bunch of others. The Devil's Rejects has the killers methodically slaughtering the victims while the law closes in. Once there's no one left to butcher, it becomes killers against the lawmen.

Every character is repugnant, yet writer/director Zombie's sympathies seem to lie with the killers - a group whose abominations make the Manson Family's acts appear tame. Zombie views Captain Spaulding and his group like a Bonnie and Clyde or Butch and Sundance, yet there's not a human characteristic in any of them. Sitting through a movie centered on these individuals becomes a chore. (It takes a director with greater skill than Zombie to keep an audience interested when there isn't a likeable character on screen.) And it doesn't help that the lone "good guy" is as unhinged as the ones he's pursuing. It might be possible to feel something about the victims if their life spans weren't so short. They are on hand to be beaten up, eviscerated, shot, and/or filleted.

Zombie's goal is to pay homage to a genre that was born (and probably should have died) in the 1970s: outcasts who defy society by destroying it. Of course, that sentiment was socially acceptable during a time of cultural upheaval; few will find it to be relevant or engaging today. I doubt, however, that the writer/director considered this. He was probably intrigued by the gruesomeness and bloodletting. The dialogue is a pastiche (at least I think that's the intention) of the kind of bloodthirsty, overripe lines found in this sort of film, with clich├ęs sprinkled in as liberally as profanity. There's plenty of nudity - nearly every female with more than a token speaking part bares her breasts (or more) - usually just before being gutted like a stuck pig.

Zombie has elected to shoot The Devil's Rejects as if he was making the movie during the '70s. Cheesy freeze-frames and hand-held shots abound. It's worth noting that most of the directors being emulated were hacks, and that pretty much says all that needs to be said about the film's look. I suppose on some level, Zombie thought he was rousing the spirit of Sam Peckinpah, but if that was his intention, the ghost continues to sleep. The acting makes the performances in a typical high-school play look impressive. There's more wood here than in the walls of a log cabin, and finding the occasional acceptable instance of acting is like rooting through a pile of turds to discover a chunk of glass. The cast is littered with '70s bit players. Sid Haig was all over the place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but hasn't done much since. Geoffrey Lewis survived the '70s by becoming a character actor. Priscilla Barnes is best-known for being Suzanne Somers' replacement on "Three's Company." Even P.J. Soles has a small part.

Aside from its poor production values, horrendous acting, and ignoble morality, The Devil's Rejects isn't engaging cinema. Even if the simple act of sitting in a movie theater watching people get hacked up for 90 minutes doesn't bother you, the dullness and repetition is likely to. The ending is a cataclysmic misfire - not only is it drawn out and self-indulgent (cut down on the slow-motion!), but it robs viewers of a chance at a catharsis and re-enforces the argument that Zombie's lone point was to create mayhem. The Devil's Rejects doesn't just deserve to be rejected, but to be buried in a hole so dank that no one will discover it. Only there will it be at home.

Devil's Rejects, The (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-07-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1