The Devils Rejects (2005): Zombie Western Horror

Rob Zombie wrote and directed this sequel to House of a 1000 Corpses. After the financial success of Corpses Lions Gate Entertainment were eager for Zombie to make another film.

Rob had an idea for a sequel while filming Corpses about the sheriff’s brother coming after the Firefly clan in an act of deadly revenge. With the idea in place Zombie began to craft The Devil’s Rejects  with the aim of making the film less comedic and more horrific.

Rob stated that he wanted it to feel a bit likeThe Wild Bunch , Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. The influence of all three films can be seen in the final cut of Rejects.

The Devil’s Rejects opens with the Sheriff’s brother, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) surrounding the Firefly house with a posse of lawmen. After telling the besieged family to surrender or die a prolonged shoot-out ensues with every one in the house being shot to rag-doll ribbons.

Otis (Bill Mosely) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) manage to escape, but Mother Firefly is captured by Wydell. Otis and Baby after murdering a nurse to steal her car hide out at a motel.

At the motel Baby starts flirting with Roy (Geoffrey Lewis) who part of a country music band and when they head back to Roy’s room, Otis shows up and they take the entire band hostage. What follows is the hardest part of the film to watch.

Gone are the comedic undertones that make Corpses so amusing. Otis and Baby have grown p as it were and they set upon the band member with vicious and horrific acts of violence. Otis rapes Roy’s wife Gloria (Priscilla Barnes) and later kills the two remaining men. He cuts one of their faces off and returns to the motel room with his victims face over his own.

The two contact their father Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and they meet at the motel. After their reunion they all go to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel run by family friend Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree) and his lackey Clevon (Michael Berryman).

Sheriff Wydell has hired two bounty hunters to help track down the remaining Firefly family members, one of the bounty hunters is Danny Trejo, they catch up with them at the chicken ranch.

The cast list of The Devil’s Rejects reads like a horror-thon reunion. P.J. Soles, Michael Berryman,  and Kane Hodder all make appearances in the film.

With his second feature Rob Zombie has fine tuned his cinematic and horror skills. Focusing more on the evil side of the Firefly brood, he has toned down the hilarity that was present in his first film. He also gives the characters a chance to show who and what they really are.

The interaction between Baby, Otis and dad, Captain Spaulding is touching, funny and revealing. That this family unit is dysfunctional is obvious and just as apparent is their love (however strange) for one another.

Yet despite the more horrific nature of the film and it’s lead characters, we are fond of the backwater Dionysian family and when the film ends to the music of Lynyrd  Skynyrd’s Free Bird we are sad and a little touched.

House of a 1000 Corpses (2003): Horror Zombie Style

Cover of "House of 1,000 Corpses"

Released in 2003, House of a 1000 Corpses had actually been sitting on a shelf since it had been made in 2000. Studios were reluctant to release it as they were unsure of the rating it would receive from the film board.

Corpses marks Rob Zombies directorial debut, he also wrote the film, and for a first attempt, Zombie pretty much knocked it right out of the park.

The cast of Corpses is a good one. Sid Haig (as Captain Spaulding), Sherri Moon (as Baby Firefly, Moon would later marry Zombie effectively giving her the more bizarre name of Sherri Moon Zombie), Karen Black (as Mother Firefly), Bill Moseley (as Otis Firefly), Michael J. Pollard (in a tiny cameo as Stucky), William Bassett (as Sheriff Frank Huston) and Dennis Fimple in what would be his last film role as Grandpa Hugo.

Rob Zombies first horror film would be the celluloid equivalent to his Heavy Metal music.  Zombie is an avid horror film fan himself, he adores horror films from the 1930’s and 40’s, he had already directed all his own music videos when he decided to make a feature length film.

Although the film opens with two couples who are travelling the back roads of rural America in search of local legends and places of infamous origins for a ‘travelogue’ the film is really about the Firefly family.

Captain Spaulding, who dresses like a clown, is the head of the backwoods brood. The Firefly’s are like the American dysfunctional family on acid. Every member of the family give a whole new meaning to the descriptive word eccentric.  Spaulding is at turns, funny, irascible, and murderous.

Mother Firefly is a southern belle of a gal, who can be likened to Blanche Dubois on drugs. Baby is drop dead gorgeous (emphasis on the drop dead), Otis is the most visually terrifying of the family, he lacks either the skill or the need to hide his murderous nature.

The two couples, a hilarious quartet of young people whose delight at discovering the existence of Dr Satan, are at turns excited (the boys) and disgusted (the girls). When they get directions to the tree where Dr Satan was hung, they get lost and they get a flat tyre.

It is when they ‘break down’ that they come across the Firefly clan. They are welcomed into the Firefly home and are entertained while their car is being repaired. The scenes in the Firefly home are ingenious. Baby Firefly has a definite interest in Bill Hudley (Rainn Wilson) and his girl friend Mary Knowles (Jennifer Jostyn) is less than pleased at this.

At dinner, where they all have to don masks (“If ya don’t, she won’t serve desert!” says Grandpa Hugo), they hear how Mother Firefly’s ex-husband tried to burn down their house while Tiny (Matthew McGrory) was sleeping in it.

After dinner the family then put on a show. It is “Theatre Firefly” and Baby comes out singing I Want to be Loved by You to Bill. Mary doesn’t like this one little bit. She threatens Baby and the whole evening turns deadly.

If it were not for the incredibly vicious violence, House of a 1000 Corpses could almost be a comedy. Any scene with Sid Haig as Spaulding is hilarious. He is broadly funny and antagonistic. His interaction with Bill Hudley and later with the two deputies left me gasping for breath. His scenes are comedic to the extreme.

The Firefly evening, felt so surreal. We feel as awkward and as uncomfortable as the young couples obviously do in the house. Mother Firefly is clearly mad as a hatter and the fact the both Bill and Jerry Goldsmith ( Chris Hardwick) both fail to notice this, is both funny and ominous.

The film is an almost perfect ensemble piece. The entire family each get a chance to show off their backwater weirdness and both Otis and Baby are terrifying. Otis with his clearly evil ideology and Baby with her childish and naive murderous nature both shine a bit more than the rest of the family.

Of course the iconic Karen Black as mother was brilliant. It is a shame that a dispute over salary kept her from reprising her role in the sequel The Devil’s Rejects.

Corpses was Rob Zombies initiation into the world of horror and he followed it up with The Devil’s Rejects or as I like to think of it The Further Adventures of the Firefly’s. He did hop on the re-make train and he re-imaged the classic Slasher Horror that is  Halloween, part one and two. He is currently working on The Lords of Satan.

Zombie is continually fine tuning his directing talent but he still makes what I like to think of as heavy metal horror films. I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us with his next film.