Published on May 13th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
The Devil’s Rejects 
Summary: It's depraved and disgusting but likely exactly what Rob Zombie had in mind when he wrote it. Fans of exploitation cinema will love this one's rawness and horror geeks will dig it as an homage to the classics. You just have to get past the misogyny that's all over this film.
R | 109 min.
Director & Screenplay: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie
Budget: $7 million | Box office: $19.3 million
Rob Zombie is an interesting cat. He’s consistently been among the most ear-catching songwriters and performers in hard rock for the last 25 years; he’s a self-starting filmmaker that wrote and directed a string of box-office hits in the past decade; and most recently, he’s entered into the world of fiction writing.
Call him Hell’s own Renaissance man.
But the problem with Zombie’s work is that it always feels derivative of something else. He’s a guy who you can tell is a fan at heart and perhaps — at least in his films — it keeps him from making something that can totally stand on its own legs. But I’ll be damned if his work doesn’t have fangs.
Two years after making his directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses — a film that grossed nearly $17 million in the States despite originally being rated NC-17 for copious amounts of sadistic violence — Zombie followed it with an exploitation-tinted horror flick called The Devil’s Rejects.
This movie is a sort-of sequel to House of 1000 Corpses but doesn’t require a viewing of that picture to enjoy. The Devil’s Rejects is set in 1978, deep in the heart of Texas — a go-to setting for creepy films like this. The audience rides along with the murderous Firefly family, a callous clan of hicks, as they evade law enforcement and terrorize any innocent people they come across.
I’ll say right now, this is a pretty disgusting movie even by horror standards, but there is something to admire about its dedication to depravity. Staying true to his trademark, Zombie harkens back to a bygone age of cinema: exploitation pictures of the 1970s. The yellow-tinted look of The Devil’s Rejects is as harsh as its content, with shaky camerawork from Phil Parmet, who previously shot the influential 1976 documentary Harlan County, U.S.A., and has since become a staple crew member of Zombie’s work.
The four characters you need to know in The Devil’s Rejects are the Firefly family and the obsessed lawman who’s on their tail (played by William Forsythe). By the end of the movie, you’re not sure which side you were rooting for as they all prove to be uncaring brutes. Each member of the family is named after a Groucho Marx character; there’s father Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), son Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and daughter Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob’s wife).
Forsythe — the most accomplished actor of the film’s cast — gives the film’s most engaging performance. The haunted cop is a tired character type but Forsythe makes this worn-out trope his own. He makes Sheriff Wydell every bit as menacing as the trio he’s chasing, which is a tall order. It’s no guarantee that you will find yourself rooting for Sheriff Wydell, as the movie doesn’t make him a hero, but the action never drags when he’s on screen.
The Fireflys are nasty in every way. The men especially look like they haven’t bathed in weeks, with Spaulding’s clown makeup caked onto his face. And their dialogue would make a teenage boy blush.
“I’m gonna kill your whole fuckin’ family,” Spaulding says to a crying little boy in one scene, moments after he’s pistol-whipped the kid’s mom in full view of him. Actor Sid Haig is straight out of a nightmare, giving off a John Wayne Gacy vibe. In another scene, Spaulding labels an old acquaintance as a “crazy, pig-fuckin’, dumbass, pussy piece of shit.”
Snappy dialogue from Zombie, who once wrote and performed a song called “Pussy Liquor.”
Baby Firefly may be the leggy blonde heartbreaker of the family but she’s no dainty flower. After helping her brother sexually assault and terrorize a woman in front of her husband, she berates the victim, calling her a “stupid cunt.” Horror films are loaded with characters meant to appear crazy but Baby is one of the few that actually pulls it off. Sherri Moon Zombie is like a spring-loaded madwoman, innocently toying around with people until she goes off. Zombie’s high voice can be irritating at times but I applaud what she brought to a film that would’ve been a much more depressing watch without her playful energy.
However, in the lottery of which character from The Devil’s Rejects you’d least want to be locked in a room with, Bill Moseley’s character Otis wins by a landslide. Otis is a genuine psychopath who’s fully in control of his actions and simply enjoys destroying people’s lives. “I want you to pray to your god. I want you to pray that he comes and saves you. I want lightning to come and crash down upon my fucking head!,” he tells two victims before splitting their heads open, mocking them as they pray for salvation in the punishing Texas heat.
When I reviewed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I called Moseley’s part in that movie “possibly the most annoying character I’ve ever seen on film.” His performance and role in The Devil’s Rejects is much less grating and more funny than that aforementioned turn. There were times when watching this film that I found myself laughing out loud at his lines, then immediately feeling bad for doing so.
That’s the nature of The Devil’s Rejects, it’s not a movie for a wide audience. If you like exploitation cinema — think Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez projects Grindhouse and From Dusk Till Dawn or Michael Haneke’s sadistic Funny Games — as much as Rob Zombie obviously does, you’ll dig this one. I’d label it one of the most consistent and well-produced horror flicks of the last 20 years; I imagine what you see on screen is exactly what Zombie dreamed of when he put ink to paper.
But with that said, I’d also call The Devil’s Rejects a mostly pointless movie. There’s nothing to take away from its story and aside from a few very quotable lines (“Tutti fuckin’ fruity!”), it’s not a particularly memorable film — mostly because horror geeks will feel like they’ve seen it all before. Zombie borrows heavily from the look and tone of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series (doc-style cinematography, Texas-based family of psychotic hillfolk) and the shocking sadism of 1970s films like I Spit on Your Grave and Fight for Your Life.
I can defend the film’s use of violence and extreme language but it’s hard to get behind the thick layer of misogyny atop The Devil’s Rejects. Watching Otis use his gun to defile a crying woman is a hard scene to justify today. Also, I believe every woman in the movie is called a “bitch” at least a handful of times. Say what you will about the sexist language in Tarantino’s films but he goes out of his way to give female characters a lot of power. In this movie, none of the victimized women get any semblance of revenge and Baby Firefly — the main female character — is as misogynistic as any of her male kin.
Zombie’s filmmaking career has slowed a bit recently. He’s only directed one feature in the past five years, 2012’s The Lords of Salem, which was his only movie that failed to make back its budget at the box office. I think horror cinema needs his eye and his affinity for what was a better era of the genre. The guy does depraved perhaps better than anyone.