Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Devil's Rejects (2005)

February is a time when you're supposed to be all thankful and mushy and shit about people you love. Sometimes, those people are serial killers and necrophiliacs. Don't judge them; that's just the way life works at times. They deserve love too.

Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie

Co-written with Michelle.

In a time when most movies are judged by the standards of people who have never raped someone's corpse, The Devil's Rejects came out to prove that, yes, deranged psychotics do deserve their own fair representation in cinema, just like all those other minority groups like black people, gay people and transgender people. We have to move toward a broader and more open-minded environment for everyone. And that's why I do this blog. To promote open mindedness! Yup...not takin' it back at all...

We start this off with a corpse dragged through the woods, which I think is kind of the equivalent of a "Beware of Dog" sign for any movie. If you can't handle this, well, you better go the fuck back to watching James Wan movies, I guess. Or whatever you're into. I don't discriminate on these things.

I'm undecided on whether not being able to handle this is good or not.

We then get the Firefly family, who are not a happy-go-lucky band of space travelers, but instead a gang of psychotic killers. They get raided by the police. During this, Mother Firefly tells her daughter Baby, played by Zombie's wife Sheri Moon, that she loves her and has been thinking about when Baby was...well, a baby. I guess that isn't too hard because of the name association.

But wait! We saw them earlier with a bunch of corpses in their beds! And anyone who knows the previous film House of 1,000 Corpses knows they're a bunch of evil sick psychos! How are we supposed to be drawn into their familial affection for one another?

Wait, I know – it's because Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs up. That's how we know we're watching art.

Mother Firefly is arrested, but Baby and her brother Otis, played by Bill Moseley, escape. Otis, for those not familiar with this movie already, is a truly sick puppy. He's the kind of guy you'd expect to see in the background of a Slipknot concert, smoking shitty cigarettes and drinking, I dunno, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or something. The kind of guy who'd be driving a truck with raised wheels and flames on the hood and would beat you up in the parking lot for looking at him wrong while your girlfriend watches, thinks you're kind of a pissant anyway and have been asking for this your whole life, and considers leaving you for her friend from work who wears just the right amount of Old Spice.

Maybe they'll run into the Duck Dynasty guys out here somewhere...that'd be a mercy killing for the world...

Yeah, something like that. On second thought, I could have said “guy you'd see at a Rob Zombie concert” and been that much more accurate, and taken up less words at that.

We also get introduced to images like this, which burn into your brain even more than the dead girl from earlier, because our society has fucked up priorities.

This is Captain Spaulding, a crazy clown who ran a gas station road sideshow in the last movie and in this one, well, I guess he just fends off the sexual horny advances of his equally-fat wife. I guess the best way to describe this character would be: he's the kind of dude you'd see at a gas station at 11 in the morning buying a 24 pack of beer and cigarettes even though he was just in there last night, too. Then maybe you find out he's got a box of hardcore bondage snuff porn out in the garage.

He finds out about the raid on the house and heads out to meet Otis and Baby, who we learn are his children in this movie. It is a small world – murderers beget other murderers. He steals a car from a mother and child, but not before threatening the kid to come up with a reason he thinks clowns are scary, or else he'll come back and kill the kid and his mother. What a fun clown quiz game.

"Gee, mister, I guess I'm scared of of clowns because they threaten to kill my family! At least that's what the pee running down my legs tells me right now."

Easiest quiz ever!

Meanwhile, Otis and Baby kidnap a traveling country band and their girlfriends to hide out in their motel room. Not wasting any time, they do the sensible thing and force one of the guys' wives to strip and then violate her with the barrel of a gun.

Which, I guess, was the most integral part of this scheme...

Seriously, though – this has to be one of the scariest scenes I've ever seen in a movie. This is real fucking horror. Bill Moseley in this scene, and most of the ones that follow, just delivers this amazingly fucked up performance and you are really just scared shitless the entire time, because he seems like he really fucking means it. Am I really praising a scene in which a woman is traumatized beyond repair like this? Eh, on second thought, might not be the first thing to bring up at a cocktail party when I'm discussing movies.

Otis takes the two country musicians out into the desert to dig up some guns, all the while quipping snarkily about how their taste in music isn't up to what he expected. Somehow I'm not surprised by this – I mean, this guy's head has to be kind of a trip, huh? Equal rage at the cops chasing him and at shitty pop country music. But to be fair, I do think those two things are about equal in any respect. So I can see where he's coming from.

The musicians get wise on him however and try to kill him, but that doesn't go so well. My favorite scene here is when Otis is standing over the older guy and forces him to start praying to God. Otis jokingly (?) acts like the wrath of God is about to come down buuuuuut then does a “Psyche!” moment and instead declares that he is the Devil, here to to the Devil's work.

Y'know, I am fucking astounded Otis has never been caught before or got the whole family caught before now. I mean, the guy just takes every opportunity to flaunt his absolute evil in any situation. I'm surprised he doesn't just go apeshit on some poor fuck at a grocery store. “What'd you say to me? WHAT'D YOU SAY? I AM THE DEVIL! BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!” “Uh, sir, I was just trying to go to my car! I didn't mean to bump into your grocery cart!” That's always a pain in the ass for the Firefly family because that's more blood they have to wash out of Otis's clothes.

But apparently in Rob Zombie's world, being a huge asshole psychopath just makes you invincible. Which really does explain a lot about his later work, come to think of it...

Anyway. Back at the motel, Baby makes the two women slap each other in order to allow one of them to go to the bathroom, which is either every basement dwelling Reddit user's fantasy, or a serial killer's methodology put into practice. Then one of the women grabs Baby's gun and points it at her, though there's no bullets. This is all just leading up to the best knife throwing scene in the movie:

Yup! I guess the knife just...somehow slipped through the Fourth Dimension and killed her despite the fact that you'd need to have Hulk-level strength to pierce the bones to that extent at that angle. I guess being the director's wife gives you superpowers.

Captain Spaulding finally gets there and Otis gets back with the younger country musician's face cut off, clearly having been in a Buffalo Bill-ish mood all day and needing to quench that thirst. They tie the one surviving girl up and then put the skinned face on her like the world's worst Halloween mask. Since the face is of her now-dead boyfriend, I guess you could argue they're just that much closer together now.

Not sure if I should put a trigger warning for this or not...nah, it's fine.

And yes, I did just make that joke. About a girl wearing her skinned boyfriend's face. I guess I really am going to Hell now. Hooray for desensitizing! The next morning, the maid finds a nice morning wake-up call:

"Eh, I've seen worse. This isn't nearly as bad as when the Rolling Stones stayed at this motel."

The one surviving girl with the dead skin mask runs out into the street and is immediately hit by a truck. We then get a scene where the best of the best coroners looks at the body and gives his prognosis...

"Hmmm, yup, I think she might be dead."

The next scene is Baby, Otis and Spaulding in the car talking about getting ice cream. Otis doesn't want to, and they have a quibble over it, but a strategically placed scene cut awards them their sugary treat. Also in this scene we get the best line in the movie, an immortal utterance that will no doubt go down in the halls of history: when Baby and Captain Spaulding start chanting “Tutti fuckin' Frutti!” over and over again. Don't believe me? Just look:

Baskin Robbins: Perfect for an after-murder snack.

We also get scenes of Sheriff Wydell, the deranged maniac cop whose brother was killed by the Firefly family in the first movie. Given this clear conflict of interest, it makes perfect sense that he'd be the main one leading the case. While he's "interviewing" Mother Firefly, the other cops even hear him talking about his dead brother and hear her talking about killing his brother, and never once do they even suspect that Wydell might not be in the best place mentally to be on this fucking case.

"Nah, he's okay. Hell, just let him take her home and keep her prisoner in his house where nobody is looking. We don't have any legal responsibility here after all."

I guess it's easy to be a cop when your only alternative otherwise was crowd control at a fucking Shania Twain concert on a Thursday night. I mean, I guess that was the only other option for these bungholes.

But I dunno, it might be okay in the end. I mean, it isn't like he's hiring hitmen to go after them or something crazy like that...

Hey, it's Danny Trejo!

Err. Uh. Let's just move on.

The next few scenes are really just the movie going deeper into its hole. We've seen the Devil's Rejects do their thing and we've seen Sheriff Wydell's slow descent into madness. Now I guess we just have to watch that scene where Wydell realizes that all of the Firefly family's names are actually just pseudonyms stolen from old Marx Brothers films. To help him solve this mystery, he calls in a movie critic who I'm pretty sure has had sexual thoughts about his mother. I mean, holy Gods, that fucking mustache.

I'm also just now realizing after all these years that the entire plot about their names being stolen from Marx Brothers movies is completely insane. I mean, do these serial killers really seem like the types to watch Marx Brothers movies religiously? Maybe they should have taken their names from Larry the Cable Guy specials or some shit.

They get into an argument about Elvis Presley, which ends in Wydell threatening to murder the critic if he ever says anything bad about Elvis again. Gee, he sure does care about Elvis Presley's reputation just as much as he cares about catching the psychopaths who killed his brother! I mean he gets mad at them both in the same way. But fuck it, he's still the best man to solve this case! Conflict of interest? No problem! Murderous rage at small things that suggest he might have a meltdown soon? Not even a blip on the radar of concerns!

I mean, he could probably kill a prisoner at this point and still nobody would bat an eye!

It happens. I mean, being the sheriff is a stressful job and shit.

Oh...oh, well, okay then. I guess that was a stupid thing to say. Killing the prisoners is okay so long as you have a good reason. Like, if you just don't like them, or if they say something that annoys you. That's some good old fashion deep fried Southern justice.

The Firefly family, meanwhile, is busy meeting up with two other Rob Zombie trademarks: a Ken Foree cameo who runs a brothel. Yes! Good job. Everyone in the world is either a murderer or a prostitute. There are no other options. Rob Zombie, you truly are a humanitarian.

Otis, Baby and Spaulding start having a pretty good time, and we get some scenes of them partying. However, it turns out Ken Foree's character was actually just a dick the whole time who sold them out to Wydell and his hitmen goons. In this movie about murderers, rapists and corpsefuckers, I'm just shocked one of them was a big ol' Judas. Shocked!

This short scene reminds me of how good parts of this can be underneath all the filth and violence. It's a genuinely dramatic scene and a real tense moment where Haig shows so much in that look without even saying a word.

So they get taken back to their old house and tortured for a while. One of the best parts of this sequence is when they're trying to take the blame for one another and save each other from Wydell. Like there's one bit where Wydell asks who killed one of the dead cheerleaders found in their house, and they all shout at him that they individually did it, to keep the others from further punishment. That's...the most oddly sweet defense of violent rape and murder I've ever seen. And yes, I too am amazed I just wrote that.

We also get a scene where Wydell chases Baby through the dark like a know, like in a normal slasher movie, this scene would be the killer chasing the normal, straight-man character. But here it's the other way.

And you sorta feel sorry for Wydell too - when he shouts at her about "how do you feel being helpless and tortured?" he does have a point.

Personally I think this is a pretty normal occurrence. I mean, he's just trying to do his job. What's a little murder and cold drunken vengeance if he gets the job done, after all and catches the bad guys? That's what our tax dollars are going toward, after all.

Then Tiny, the misshapen freak giant of the family who I forgot to mention throughout the rest of this because he wasn't in it (which should be his acronym-name frankly), kills Wydell and helps them all escape. There are also some pictures of them just having fun and being happy from the past, and I think it's good that they have this great collection of home movies. I wonder how that's organized..."oh, here's the tape of us torturing that hitchhiker! And then there's one of Baby's 18th birthday party where we went to Red Lobster!"

...nope, just as pants-shittingly scary as when they were actually killing people.

The last scene is our three vile murderers riding off into a bright sunny day, “Free Bird” playing while the cops shoot the shit out of them and kill them. Which is exactly what Lynyrd Skynyrd had in mind when they recorded that song. It's perfect musical synchronicity.

So that's The Devil's Rejects. It's got zero moral character or bright spots to it. It's just a dark, fucked up trip with lots of gore and violence. I mean, fuck it, right? It's offensive to good taste and completely morbid and pitch black, and that's why it's a hoot to watch. Obviously those things don't work without a certain kind of nuance to the writing, but the movie makes it work with some dark comedic timing and some very wryly funny moments, as well as some of the scariest scenes in modern horror anywhere. They even fit in a few dramatic moments here and there. It's tasteless as fuck and some people just won't like it, but what movie is so bland that anyone could like it? The phrase "anyone can like it" usually isn't much of a compliment when you think about it.

The difference between this and the very average House of 1,000 Corpses, or the awful Halloween remakes, is that here, Zombie finally hit the sweet spot he wanted to. He humanizes these characters. No, they're still not quite likable in a traditional way – they do too many horrible things to really call them the protagonists, but I don't really think this is the type of story that needs a protagonist. It's a bunch of awful, evil, vile killers meeting their match and getting a bit of what they dished out for years at the hand of another vengeful psychopath. It's a pretty cool deconstruction of the usual slasher movie tropes.

Even taking that away though, this is probably one of the most realistic serial killer movies ever made that wasn't based on a real life story. While, yes, this is rather sensationalistic in the amount of crimes the Firefly family has committed without being caught, and yes, they are a bit too powerful – it's not just like they're bogeymen like in a Friday the 13th movie. They do horrible things but they also interact with one another like normal human beings at other times (albeit extremely profanity-laden normal human beings), and they have a certain underlying sense of community with one another. It's funny and a bit poignant, and pushes your buttons because then you remember the heinous things these characters did in the first act of the movie.

I don't really know if Zombie intended that, though. I mean, have you seen his other movies? I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't mean to do any of that and was really just kinda fucking with the audience. So was this an unholy accident of a film; fated to be more than its creator ever intended it to be? Fuck it, I dunno. Just go watch the Tutti fuckin' Frutti scene again.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.