“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” For years that’s been my attitude towards Rob Zombie. Often, I’ve disparaged Zombie’s gory oeuvre and yet I’ve spent a great deal of time delving into his nauseating and relentlessly cruel films. I think it’s because Zombie loves a lot of the same things I love. Whether it’s classic monster movies, Alice Cooper, or Halloween, Zombie feels like he should be my kindred spirit.
Maybe it’s time to stop bickering and accept as a horror fan that Rob Zombie is a part of my world. I mean, he seems like a cool dude, laid back in interviews with a wit as dry as bones bleaching in the sun. And I at least appreciate his visual style. Whether it be the grindhouse look of his films or LSD album artwork. I even think his music is fun in kind of an off-kilter way. Who doesn’t love a lyric like, “Dead I am the rat, feast upon the cat
Tender is the fur, dying as you purr!” He’s a talented artist in many respects, and yet I hate his films.
For those who don’t know, The Devil’s Rejects is a sequel to Zombie’s film House of 1000 Corpses (2003). The best I can describe House of 1000 Corpses is like if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was shot in a spookhouse and then sluiced through a steel grating. On the surface that sounds like a compliment, but it’s not.
House of 1000 Corpses has none of the nuances of a film like TCM. Rather House of 1000 Corpses is non-stop visceral violence with no breaks in a blanket of loud characters incessantly swearing and screaming. Some might argue that horror should never stop making you uncomfortable. But House of 1000 Corpses makes me uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable because it’s scary (it’s not) it makes me uncomfortable because it’s annoying. Characters constantly yell and cackle like cartoon characters. They spout, juvenile dialogue. There’s no sense of pacing. The violence just kind of happens with little build-up or suspense. It’s an onslaught on the senses without any real weight behind it.
The Devil’s Rejects is a similar film although in a different style with more breathing room. It’s less avant-garde and more 70’s road movie. Like if Easy Rider had psychotic clowns. There isn’t much to the story. The murderous Firefly Family (who were also the antagonists in the first film) leave the confines of their said house of corpses to go on a killing spree.
On the lam from the cops are Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) who despite their unique looks are all essentially the same maniacal character. The cops are lead by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), who in many ways is as equally brutal and violent as the psychos he’s pursuing. That’s another big problem with this flick. I have no one to root for. It’s all a parade of violence with no center. Everyone is despicable.
Instead of rattling off other reasons I don’t like this film, let me think of something I do like. Even if I’m not big on the characters I do see merit in the performances. Bill Moseley being my favorite as Otis. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Moseley a few years ago and he was just as enthusiastic and animated as the off-the-wall characters he plays on screen. I also met Sid Haig but he was just so old. He didn’t say much and spent most of our interaction hacking up phlegm and making old man noises.
I’ve never truly understood the appeal of this movie, just like I’ve never truly understood the appeal of Rob Zombie. Yet, he has his die-hard fans. Even Ebert and Roeper gave this movie two thumbs up, go figure. It certainly has its place in horror history, I’m just sad it will never have a place in my heart.