In what can only be described as an 'unofficial' sequel to House of 1000 Corpses (review here), The Devil's Rejects is very much writer/director Rob Zombie's ode to the 70's exploitation film, as House of 1000 Corpses was his homage to the gritty 70's horror film. And I can comfortably say 'unofficial' here because the film feels less of a continuation of events from House of 1000 Corpses than it does a virtual transplant of the same characters into The Devil's Rejects.
Rejects opens with an awfully predictable police stand off (we're to assume that these events take place shortly after those of House have ended). The local authorities have surrounded (well, almost) the decrepit hideout in which Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook - Where's Karen Black?), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon) have been 'laying low' so to speak. The house is much like every other house you've seen in any and every other respectable 70's exploitation/horror flick. Filthy dirty, livestock, skulls & bones, various human remains, photo scrapbooks, victims in cages clinging to life, you name it.
The police stand off is led by Sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe) whose brother was previously murdered by the clan...so yeah, it's become personal.
Otis and Baby escape, while Mother Firefly is taken into custody. The two hit the road and call up their good friend Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) who's also on Wydell's revenge hit list. After terrorizing some local townsfolk, the clan head to 'Charlie's Frontier Fun Town', a now 'VD Free' bordello run by Spaulding's brother (played by Dawn of the Dead's, Ken Foree). All the while Wydell, and some hired men, are hot on their filthy, murderous trail.
Truth be told, Rob Zombie has done a tremendous job with Rejects, simply in retaining the classic look and feel of the films that he holds so close. Something he was also very successful in capturing with House. His no holds-barred approach is quite respectable. Taking into consideration all of the trouble Zombie had to endure to get House released, it appears as if Lions Gate gave him full-on free reign with Rejects, and he ran with it. Rejects certainly looks and feels like a 70's exploitation film from start to finish. This is a fact that's undeniable.
However, part of the problem I had with The Devil's Rejects is the same problem I had with House of 1000 Corpses. Zombie is just trying too hard. For someone who's as acquainted with the films that he's emulating (Zombie is obviously a huge fan himself), the joke is over short after it begins. And it certainly doesn't support a 2-hour running time. What we have here is essentially a gimmick film at its heart. So the question is raised; does the film depend too much on the strength of the gimmick for its success? Die-hard horror fans scoff the current batch of horror remakes (House of Wax, Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead, etc. etc.) sometimes before we even see them (myself included) but is Rejects any better? Isn't it essentially a 'greatest hits' remake itself? Should Rejects be placed under the remake microscope as well? Or is it even worse? Not even a remake, but a slew of scenes and filmic techniques swiped from other (possibly better) films of the genre? To be honest, I'm not sure what to think. Would Zombie's talents be better served trying to 'invent' a sub genre, rather than trying to reinvent one?
In the end, the film is too long, and ultimately I found that only bits and pieces of it were enjoyable (Much like House of 1000 Corpses as well). As a whole, the work did not quite gel. Zombie has a great eye for this type of film, however, as a filmmaker he hasn't matured much since House. He knows how to set a scene, and he hits the setting and lighting just right, so it does indeed look authentic. But unfortunately, he doesn't always know where to place the camera or how to tie it all together (some scenes are really awkward in their editing). In other words, Zombie would certainly be able to set up one hell of a haunted house.
Strictly as an homage piece, Rejects has a lot going for it. The film is brutal and bold. People are tortured and abused both physically and mentally (not in your typical 'Hollywood' style) and these horrific scenes stick with you (It's a hard R here). Rejects is very reminiscent of films like Last House on the Left, The Candy Snatchers and The Hills Have Eyes (even Michael Berryman is here, if not underused). Audiences of today will most likely not be prepared for the horrific visuals that Zombie has unleashed. Rejects is not your typical glossed over Hollywood fright fest. It's a gritty, down right sickening display, that very well 'could' have been made in the 70's.
If anything else, perhaps Zombie's film will open up these classic (often disregarded) films to a new generation. I know that Zombie is a huge horror/exploitation film fan himself, and holds much respect for the genre. But, what I'd really like to see is HIS horror film or HIS exploitation film, rather than HIS re imagining of a horror/exploitation film he grew up with. Perhaps one day, but for now, The Devil's Rejects will certainly have to do.