Horror Sequel Marathon: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Rob Zombie’s talent for brutal exploitation horror underwent a drastic improvement following his directorial debut in 2003, when he released “House of 1000 Corpses.” With more polished experience and an already established mythology, “The Devil’s Rejects” is a grindhouse classic and an undeniable testament to the filmmaker’s deference to the horror genre.

“The Devil’s Rejects” opens with Texas Sheriff John Quincey Wydell leading a massive police force to the home of the Firefly family, who are suspected of killing over 75 people– many of which are shown in the first film. Mother Firefly is captured and taken in for questioning, while brother Otis and sister Baby make their escape out the back. They soon rendezvous with demented clown Captain Spaulding. The family makes their way through Texas on the run from police, leaving a trail of bloodshed everywhere they go.

From the beginning, Zombie positions the villains of “1000 Corpses” as the sequel’s antiheroic protagonists. The story focuses almost entirely on the Charles Manson-minded trio. While not an entirely original idea, the perspective of “Rejects” makes for a thrillingly complex narrative, though some  (including Zombie himself) consider “Rejects” more of a spin-off than a true sequel.

On “Devil’s Rejects,” I really wanted to scale it back and try to make something a lot grittier and nastier when those moments dictated. I wanted the violence to be a lot more horrific and the characters to just seem more like real people, and not cartoon characters.

-Rob Zombie told A.V. Club

“House of 1000 Corpses” borrowed heavily from several classic horror movies from the 1970’s, including “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” It took place in a deserted backwoods area of Texas and focused a family whose isolation from society, mixed with some demonic convictions, molded them into monsters. While many of these characteristics carry over in “Rejects,” the narrative is strikingly different both in tone and structure.

For one, “Rejects” doesn’t feel like an entertaining, but mindlessly grisly hour-and-a-half ride through a haunted museum attraction (Zombie came up with the idea for “1000 Corpses” while designing a haunted house). With the film’s eclectic dialog, unconventional plot progression and extensive use of homage, Zombie took apparent inspiration from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” in creating “Rejects.” The sequel takes place mostly on the road as the family trio makes their way through increasingly absurd situations with other Texas low-life. All the while, an increasingly maddened police sheriff chases after them.

“Rejects” is also notably bereft of supernatural elements. While it didn’t play a particularly important role in the original, there were actual zombies and implications that the Firefly family practiced some form of sacrificial satanism. This felt suitable for “1000 Corpses,” but those same ideas (especially the ones related to the fabled Dr Satan) would have felt unnatural in “Rejects.” This change in direction is an undeniable asset to the story’s progression.

Bill Moseley's chilling line from "The Devil's Rejects."
Bill Moseley’s chilling line from “The Devil’s Rejects.”

Each character is uniquely sadistic with their own backstories, personalities and mannerisms.

Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) is most sexually perverse and emotionally traumatizing. He savors torturing his captives, and he delivers the most chilling line from either movie, before brutally murdering two of his victims. In the film’s most controversial scene, Otis tortures a family of musicians in a motel room, sexually assaulting a woman in front of her husband.

Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) plays the seductive daughter of Captain Spaulding– who uses her sexuality to get what she wants. She adds some psychotic-cheerleader charisma to an otherwise charmless gang of hellions. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is covered in clown paint for most of the first film as well as the first act of “Rejects,” is the infuriated father figure of the gang. Once more, he shows that he has a short temper and is sensitive about both his southern heritage and his identity as a clown. Unlike in “1000 Corpses,” he no longer plays a devilish cartoon caricature, but rather an actual devil.

Wydell (William Forsythe) starts out as a typical Texas Sheriff character, but undergoes a rage-fueled “Boondock Saints”-style transformation into a righteous killer. When he awakens from a terror-induced dream that his dead brother is trapped in the Firefly basement until his death is avenged, he abandons a civil approach to the rejects’ capture. His quest for biblical vengeance turns sadistic, but the descent into madness is a treat to watch.

As you’d expect from a film directed by an American musician, Zombie put much careful consideration into the score, which centers around southern rock. Zombie had directed nearly all of the music videos in his career, many of which serve as mini horror movies. Along with his theatrical concert performances, he has substantial experience carefully pairing music with visuals, and it’s evident throughout.

The Devil's Rejects stop for icecream after a long day of murdering.
The Devil’s Rejects stop for icecream after a long day of murdering.

Despite Zombie’s disappointment in the wacky and campy nature of “House of 1000 Corpses,” “Rejects” contains some of these same characteristics.

At one point, the rejects meet up at a brothel– which ques an unnecessary, psychedelic montage with prostitutes. Later, a Samuel L Jackson type character argues with a Texas poultry seller about whether or not they intend have sex with the live chickens they’re buying. Fans of the director might argue that these scenes effectively add some humorous diversions to the film’s relentless brutality.

With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” playing, the final scene brings the films to a satisfying, arguably artistic, conclusion. While “House of 1000 Corpses” felt like a fun tribute to the horror genre, “The Devil’s Reject’s” feels like Zombie’s very own contribution. With a trio of some of the most enthralling horror villains ever conceived, “The Devil’s Reject’s” is proof that splatter flicks still have a place in modern horror cinema, given that they’re driven by fine acting and thoughtful scripting.

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“House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” are available here on DVD and blu ray on Amazon. Be sure to check out the other entries in the Horror Sequel Marathon right here on My Vinyl Muse! What did you think of the film? Leave your comments in the section below.