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Back in the year 2000, industrial-metal icon Rob Zombie set out to make his first feature film, a ‘70s horror throwback entitled House of 1000 Corpses. Three years and a zillion MPAA cuts later, the film finally saw the light of day. Those three years were enough time to build quite a reputation for the film, and horror geeks around the world frothed at the chance to finally see it. Unfortunately, the film was not quite worthy of the attention it garnered and in the end was mostly just another Texas Chainsaw Massacre riff, featuring two dimensional characters, an over abundance of cheesy video popcorn and editing techniques, awkward dialogue, and, worst of all, very few genuine scares.

The film was not a total failure, and after it pulled in a few million dollars, Zombie was rightfully given a second chance to hone his abilities on the sequel, The Devil’s Rejects. Distributors saw promise in Zombie’s manic experimentation, and their gamble paid off…sort of.

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
The Devil’s Rejects picks up, presumably, right where the last film left off, with the Firefly family doing bad things. Mr. Bluebird is on their shoulders, and zippidy-do-da, everything seems to be going their way. That is until the cops come blasting at the door, lead by vengeance-gripped hayseed Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), brother to Firefly victim Lieutenant Wydell. The ensuing shoot out leaves most of the murderous family dead and Mother Firefly arrested. Only malevolent ménage Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) escape, and take to the road.

After contacting House of Horrors/fried chicken entrepreneur Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig)—now revealed to be Daddy Firefly—the demented descendents start torturing, raping and murdering their way to freedom, which is located around Uncle Charlie Altamont’s (Ken Foree) whorehouse. But the psychotic Sheriff is not far behind, and he will not accept failure as an option. He tracks them obsessively, trying to anticipate their next move and doing anything and everything to see them dead.

The Devil’s Rejects is a very accomplished work of cinematic art. Zombie seems to have found his creative voice, and it is every bit as loud and abrasive as the one he uses to sing. I could tell by the opening credits that this film was going to be everything House of 1000 Corpses was not. This time the style was met with substance, and though Zombie utilizes some pretty overtly stylized video and editing techniques, they feel at home with the rest of the film. The clumsy multi-colour fades and wipes have been replaces with dexterous still frames, multi-panelling, and zooms. Yes, he is emulating, but he does it with a definitive personal slant. If House of 1000 Corpses was his psychedelic take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then The Devil’s Rejects is his near-documentary take on The Hills Have Eyes, which is, of course, being remade as I write.

The one thing House of 1000 Corpses got right was its nightmarish tone. Like the best Italian Splatter flicks it was unnervingly hallucinatory. Despite this single doubtless success, Zombie has opted for a hyper-realistic tone in the sequel, a brave move that makes the film work better as a stand-alone work. This hyperrealism puts the two films into a fascinating contrast, making the original suddenly seem more valid in the bigger picture. The ‘70s cinema-verite resurgence in horror films has, in my opinion, made the genre significant again, after years of the post-post-modern, wink-and-nudge fests, and Asian inspired, scary-girl fests that followed in the wake of the last two artistically significant additions, Wes Craven’s Scream, and Hideo Nakata’s Ringu.

The acting, too, is more down to earth this time around, making the returning characters more human. It's almost as if House of 1000 Corpses was a sensationalization of an actual event, and The Devil's Rejects is the real life story, like the curtain has been pulled back and the actors revealed as the bone fide monsters they really are. The fun of being at the movies is over, and now it's time to face real life again. Bill Mosley and Sid Haig's performances are the most dramatically improved, and the movie is better for it. At times, these two hyperbolic wonders are down right subtle.

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
Haig plays Spaulding with an underlying sadness, creating genuine sympathy. He doesn't personally kill anyone during the course of both films, leading me to believe that though he’s obviously a bad man, his violent actions are misguided attempts at being a part of his aberrant children’s lives. It’s not as if he actually lives with them. In contrast, Mosley's Otis is no longer a campy, not-so-threatening, preachy nutcase, instead he's become a realistic and genuinely scary murderer. Unfortunately for novice actress Sherri Moon Zombie (not to be confused with valley girl Moon Unit Zappa), these once Z-list actors are so captivating at times that she comes across as the weakest of the three leads—though her husband is sure to remedy that with plenty of butt shots. Look, there it is again.

And the rest of the cast? Forget about it! Here is the single greatest assemblage of cult movie icons I think I've ever seen, rivalling even Tarantino's Kill Bill series for both sheer quality and quantity. We've got everyone's favourite zombie-smasher Ken Foree (who's basically playing Lando Calrissian in all but name), everyone's favourite Michael Myers and Carrie White victim P.J. Soles, everyone's favourite Jason Voorhees Kane Hodder (in a stunt capacity), everyone's favourite real-life parolee Danny Trejo, and everyone's favourite mutant cannibal Michael Berryman, not to mention the leads themselves, who are B-movie legends in their own right. At the top of the heap is the enigmatic William Forsythe in a, I swear to God, Oscar worthy performance as the disturbed lawman. Seriously, he virtually electrifies the film every time he's on screen.

But it's not all candy and roses, Zombie still has some powerful weaknesses, namely the average writer’s greatest foe: humour. The semi-embarrassing attempts at Alex Cox/Tarantinoesque dialogue can be cringe inducing. The plot stops time and time again so supporting characters can have lewd sexual discussions, and wax pointlessly on then current pop culture events (the film takes place in 1977). I don't understand why Zombie would sabotage the films impeccable flow for five minutes of unrelated discourse that sounds so awkward it's hard to believe that the actors weren't simply improvising against their wills. The pop culture of the times is represented finely by the soundtrack and settings, rendering the chatter moot and out of place. I suppose even I have to admit that the ice cream bit was pretty priceless though.

At about the middle of the runtime, there is a heavy-handed swipe at film critics, concerning a character that doesn't fit into the film's world in the slightest. The scene follows a semi-important plot point, which should've pushed the Sheriff's persuit into overdrive. Again, I was unnecessarily pulled out of the film for several minutes, and I resented it. The majority of the film is so well crafted and believable that these faulty moments nearly undermine the film entirely. Zombie suffers, perhaps, from being a better filmmaker than even he realizes he is.

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
I had another minor tiff against a certain character's demise, but am pretty sure I understand the reasoning behind Zombie's decision, and appreciate it to a degree. The oft-visited, post-Vietnam horror themes of the simultaneous futility and atrocity of revenge seems to be at play. All in all, The Devil's Rejects is the film Zombie set out to make, and even detractors should be able to appreciate that. There are enough genuine achievements here that it's become all but impossible to deny Zombie's skill. He has forever changed the way I listen to ‘Freebird’ in an uncannily beautiful finale. There are a great many other aspects of the film I'd like to go into, but most would constitute spoilers, so I’ll keep it to myself for now.

Video


The Devil's Rejects, like so many modern films, has a very specifically produced visual quality. It is meant to look like it was made by a documentary crew in the year 1977. The film stock was16mm and the film was shot high contrast, under harsh sun light. Some colours have been muted, others saturated. The film looks like crap, and I mean that in the most positive way.

In the end, it’s almost impossible to gage the actual quality of the DVD’s transfer. The best I can say is that this DVD looks as the makers intended it too. Black levels are deep enough, and there are no visual compression issues or digital artefacting. Grain is prevalent, but like I said, this is to be expected, even cheered. The Devil's Rejects isn’t exactly the best film to showcase the medium’s power. A few sequences appeared washed out beyond the original intent, and watching magnified video footage can hurt the eyes a bit on a high performance set, but really, I'm looking for problems where it doesn't seem there are any.

Audio


Usually, the most audibly aggressive soundtracks belong to action and concert films. The Devil's Rejects wasn’t exactly either of these, but does share traits with both. Aggressive is a pretty good adjective for the entire film, and the soundtrack is no exception. This DVD comes furnished with both a DTS and a Dolby Digital track. The DTS is the slightly better of the two, but as I’ve said before, I’m still not convinced of its superiority as an audio option. My personal tics aside, both tracks deliver the goods. The opening shoot out is a virtual cornucopia of chaos. Bullets whiz and bang all over the room, dialogue becomes unintelligible and irrelevant. Tyler Bates’ rhythmic and nightmare inducing score threatens to crush the viewer with each increasing dilapidation.

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
Then the sound is sucked out and replaced by The Allman Brother’s “Midnight Rider”. I’ve never heard the song sound so good, with the surround channels actually playing a role in the performance, something I find lacking in the pop music of even the best soundtracks. Zombie’s musical choices are perfect, of the era and just overplayed enough to be generational anthems. They give the gritty soundtrack an excuse to shine with each emergence. The low end wasn't quite as assertive as I may have liked, but it still kicked when it needed to. Like the video transfer, the audio tracks are hard to judge at times because of their abrasive nature, but the moments of calm demand appreciation, and I am very happy with the audio on this DVD.

Extras


Rob Zombie has not only atoned for his past sins in mediocre filmmaking, but has gone out of his way to re-compensate DVD fans for House of 1000 Corpses' sub-par DVD release. Zombie lost the footage deleted from his first film and was never able to release a proper director's cut. This time he made sure to have the footage at the ready to reinstate, and in the States we got a Director's Cut DVD. You lucky UK folks ended up with the uncut version in theatres, so the movie on this DVD is technically the Director's Cut version. Lucky you.

The real meat and potatoes, or in this case guts and grime, of the set is the two plus hour-long documentary entitled 30 Days In Hell. The doc opens with a cheeky ode to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, sombre screen text stating the plight of the film crew as if they were the victims of a horror film themselves. Well, in a way they were victims. The criminally short shoot was gruelling. The conditions were sweltering, the budget too small, and some of the actors had trouble with some of the content. The toughest sequence to shoot was the harrowing hotel attack. Members of the crew were actually crying, Moon Zombie had trouble watching, and poor Bill Mosely (who in reality is a sweet guy) was heartbroken to be involved in an onscreen sexual assault.

The doc is well edited, and rarely becomes too slow or boring. This is a great example of what goes into filming on a lower budget, when even the director has to get in there and dirty up his hands sometimes. Zombie and his crew are very open about their experiences without resorting to whining. The most fascinating aspect is the fact that so many of the key locations were spotted by chance, including an abandoned chicken farm, complete with pre-mummified chickens. In the end, this is one of the finest DVD exclusive documentaries I've ever seen, up there with Full Tilt Boogie and The Hamster Factor

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
Moving briefly back to the first disc, I draw you attention to the duel audio commentaries. The first track, featuring a solo Zombie, is decent, but ends up retreading pretty much all the ground already covered so thoroughly in the documentary. Zombie begins his track with a self-effacing remark about him pointing out all the mistakes we may have missed. Zombie is a bright guy, but not the most interesting to listen to for an hour and forty minutes. The tenth time he mentioned how confined his camera was due to set size, I started to get bored.

The other track features the three leads, Mosley, Haig, and Moon Zombie. I have to go on record as not being the biggest Sheri Moon Zombie fan, I want to like her, but I find her voice and her comments grating. Mosley and Haig, on the other hand, are just great, intelligent, well-spoken guys, especially Mosley, who is entirely different from his on-screen counterpart. Unfortunately they don't cover much ground that hadn't already been covered by Zombie or the doc, and there are far too many instances of dead air. It seems to me that actors aren't usually cut out for commentary tracks, and with the exceptions of Bruce Campbell and Kurt Russell, I'm unable to think of any that blew me away when stuck in front of the microphone.

The region one DVD housed all its special features except for the documentary on the first disc, making it possible for consumers purchasing the single-disc version to still get some great features. The region two DVD houses all its special features except for the commentaries on the second disc, basically screwing those who have elected to buy the single-disc version. But I digress; this two-disc version is loaded to the preverbal gills. Other than the outstanding doc, you’ll find a selection of deleted scenes. Most of these were deleted for pacing issues, and equate to longer versions of kept scenes. There are some dialogue sequences featuring Baby taking a sauna with Charlie’s most ‘limber’ lady, and Otis discussing positions and fees with Charlie’s most buoyant lady, that were shortened, played out in a montage motif, and covered with music for the final film, which ended up being a good decision as the music adds weight and emotion to a sequence that should’ve been melancholy rather than humorous.

The most interesting deleted scene is one featuring the underground butcher of the first film, Dr. Satan, murdering nurse Rosario Dawson from his hospital deathbed. This character never did make sense, even in the context of the original film (It’s never clear how he relates to the rest of the family), and did not belong in this more realistic film. I can understand how hard of a cut it was for Zombie to make, especially after seeing all the work that went into it during the making-of documentary, and the fact that Rosaria Dawson was probably the closest thing to a mainstream name that he had in his cast. The cut was needed, and it’s nice to see the scene in its entirety.

There is an array of footage shot to play on various televisions throughout the film, and each short can be seen in its entirety. These include two Captain Spaulding commercials, a sexual assault video from Otis’ library, a Buck Owens musical performance, and an episode of fictionalized TV talk show, The Morris Green Show. These are worthy additions to an encompassing set, but have very little replay value, with the possible exception of The Morris Green show, which plays kind of like a half-amusing Saturday Night Live sketch. The presence of underrated character actor Daniel Roebuck as Morris Green makes a pretty big difference. The only thing not included, unfortunately, is the unedited Firefly house news footage, which might have at least been nice to include for the effects crew, who put a lot of effort into all those severed heads and limbs, I’m sure.

Devil's Rejects: Special Edition, The
The award for most sweet natured extra goes to the brief tribute to giant actor Matthew McGrory. The portrayer of the stereotypically ironically named Tiny died after filming ended. The featurette makes it pretty clear that he was a kind and well loved man. McGrory can be seen in a talking role in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. On the funny side of the fence are some bloopers and a super-speedy stand-up comedy bit by comedian Brian Posehn, delivered while still in bullet wound-to-the-head make-up. The rest of the features are the usual amusing throw-aways like trailers, a still gallery, and some silent make-up tests.

Overall


Did you know that The Devil's Rejects is now the reigning record holder for the most F-words in motion picture history? According to Wikipedia.org there are 560 instances of the word, that’s ninety more than the next closest contender, Nil By Mouth. While this may not be everyone’s idea of a reason to see the film, I thought it was a nice little fact for my parting thoughts. It incubuses the films reality, and that fact that it was made with select and mature audiences in mind. If violence and moral ambiguity disturbs you, don’t waste your time, but if you want to see died-in-the-wool throw back to a bygone era of sadistic and visceral cinema, look no further.


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