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Photograph by Gene Page

The Hitchhikers' Guide to Galactic Gore: Sheri Moon, Sid Haig (center) and Bill Moseley hit the open rod in 'The Devil's Rejects.'

Grind Finale

Rob Zombie mines the lower depths of '70s horror gore and digs up a nugget in 'The Devil's Rejects'

By Richard von Busack

NEAR WHERE I LIVE, a trailer park is being cleared out by the city. The conglomeration of tin boxes and Airstreams—surrounded by potted cactuses, cow skulls and all-weather plastic daisies—will soon be replaced by ugly townhouses exactly like the kind across the street. This architectural "progress" already happened in the movies. The Dimension-era modern horror movie—cast with pretty-boy juvenile actors with faces like kneecaps—elbowed out the hairy sociopaths who made the fight 'n' fright pictures of the 1970s. Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, a tribute to the grindhouse, is a more-assured follow-up to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off, er, tribute, House of 1000 Corpses.

In this sophisticated diversion, a group of cannibals are flushed out of their den of carnage by a police raid—"the worst crime scene since Jack the Ripper's rampage," attests the news. Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe, looking like a baby-faced Kris Kristofferson) chases the fugitives; Forsythe gets into what actors call, in interviews, "a dark place" in his acting. The movie's highlight is Forsythe's deranged duet with the cannibal family's whorish mom (former Hollywood Square Leslie Easterbrook, giving a grad course in the art of tongue acting).

Meanwhile, the spiral-eyed patriarch of the devilish family tries to reunite with his kinfolk. These are the nubile "Baby" (Sheri Moon) and her brother, Otis (Bill Moseley, the still-in-Saigon "Chop Top" from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, q.v.). The old man is Sid Haig, known here as "Capt. Spaulding" a horror clown with algae-colored gums and a polluted beard. The great Haig has excelled as a grade-A weirdo for 40 years, ever since 1964's Spider Baby (a.k.a. The Maddest Story Ever Told, a.k.a. The Liver Eaters).

The Devil's Rejects kept me smiling with nostalgia. Zombie does all the right things. The film's surface is as greasy as a carny's lunch. It was shot in the stinking desert, where life is cheap. There is no automobile in it less than 20 years old, or with fewer than 150,000 miles on it. The soundtrack is full of '70s ear wash like Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way." Zombie includes plenty of for-the-hell-of-it scenes, such as when the family squabbles over a stop for ice cream, or when a fat movie critic gets what's coming to him for daring to insult Elvis. In supporting parts are some beloveds of '70s and '80s cinema such as P.J. Soles and Mary Woronov (being shivved in the guts during the titles). And Michael "Pluto" Berryman, of The Hills Have Eyes, has a few soulful moments pondering sex with a chicken.

They can't make 'em like they used to, but at least they can try. During the impressive finale—a variation on a sequence from Bonnie and Clyde, scored to the rock chestnut of all time, "Free Bird"—it is clear that Zombie is a genuine filmmaker, not a vacationing rock star. Still, it's always not so much what The Devil's Rejects is, as what it's aiming to be. Except in a too-much scene of sexual torture (that, thankfully, downgrades into something like schoolyard harassment), The Devil's Rejects always seems like an echo of outlaw cinema. The thrill is still there, but the threat is gone.


The Devil's Rejects (R; 108 min.), directed and written by Rob Zombie, photographed by Phil Parmet and starring Sheri Moon, Sid Haig and Bill Moseley, plays valleywide.


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From the July 27-August 2, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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