Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” will never be the same again.
The iconic southern rock anthem has been given a ballsy, sadistic makeover in writer/director Rob Zombie’s second film “The Devil’s Rejects.” It is no longer enough for “this bird you cannot change” to merely fly free. In this violent and funny homage to B-movies, Zombie’s redneck “freebird” family declare their independence by maiming and killing as many people as they want to in a bloody highway rampage.
While similar to Quentin Tarantino’s recasting of Stealers Wheel’s 70s classic “Stuck in the Middle with You” to the brutal ear-severing scene in “Reservoir Dogs,” Zombie takes this now well-worn idea to ridiculous extremes. Not content with one shocking scene of violence, he bludgeons the viewer with scene after scene of senseless killing, alternating between the horrifying and the darkly comical and setting it all to a bouncy southern-fried rock and blues soundtrack.
Zombie’s dialogue achieves the same effect as well. Rather than being just plain obscene, the colorful scumbags in “The Devil’s Rejects” throw around one specific curse word like a bad comedian relies on that one joke that always kills. A typical exchange:
Otis: Hurry up and don’t take too f**king long.
Baby: F**k you!
Otis: F**k you!
Baby: F**k you!
Or this line:
Otis: Consider me f**kin’ Willy f**kin’ Wonka! This is my f**king chocolate factory! You got it? My factory!
|Harpo, Groucho, and Chico Marx in a still from
Paramount’s “Monkey Business.”
Tough guy talk has come a long way since Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway. As spoken by the murderous Firefly family, however, their obscene deep Texas dialect is oddly appropriate. Sometimes its a little too clever, and sometimes its real dumb, but it never tries to be realistic. Perhaps Zombie is trying to corner the market on filthy redneck-speak, because he really celebrates the vulgarity, and the dialogue does become its own semi-charming language.
Like its dialogue, the movie seems to exist in its own reality. Homicidal siblings Otis P. Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) escape a massive assault by Sherriff Wydell (a terrifically fired-up William Forsythe) and dozens of Texas Rangers on their corpse-ridden family compound. They hook up with an evil clown (literally) named Captain Spalding (Sid Haig). Baby calls the Captain daddy, but it is unclear whether he is their blood father or just her “daddy.” Considering this morally bereft crew, it could be either.
As the trio flees the police, they terrorize a country-and-western band just for kicks, and make their way to a backwoods amusement park/whorehouse run by their old friend Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree). As you can tell from the character names, everything in “The Devil’s Rejects” is highly stylized. The Fireflies are named after Groucho Marx movie characters, and Charlie takes his last name from the disastrous Rolling Stones festival where a fan was killed. Zombie even tries to fend off the critics’ expected backlash by introducing a gloriously over-the-top and painfully accurate movie critic whom the Sheriff brings in to explain the significance of the family’s names (although I’ll never admit any similarity to me, of course).
Rather than trying to put a modern spin on grindhouse horror pictures, Zombie simply attempts to accurately capture that genre. The colors are washed-out, but not in a modern way. With very few inconsistencies, “The Devil’s Rejects” actually looks as if it could have been shot in the 1970s.
Casting every B-movie actor under the sun also helps the movie’s tone feels authentic. There is a earnestness and a naturalness that actors like Haig, who starred in early 70s blaxploitation films like “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown,” bring to this material. The rest of the supporting cast is an extraordinary group of Hollywood outsiders. Check it out:
Ken Foree, from “Dawn of the Dead”
E.G. Dailey, Pee-Wee’s girlfriend in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”
Priscilla Barnes, from “Three’s Company”
P.J. Soles, from “Halloween” and “Stripes”
Geoffrey Lewis, from every TV movie ever made!
Diamond Dallas Page, wrestler
Danny Trejo, from “From Dusk Till Dawn” 1-3
Leslie Easterbrook , from “Police Academy” 1-7
Tom Towles, from “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”
Michael Berryman, crazy bald guy with big ears from “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Weird Science”
Ginger Lynn Allen, porn star
There is no moralizing to be found in the movie. “The Devils Reject’s” instead showcases the director’s personal fixations with considerable aplomb. Shocking violence, potty-mouth humor, and twisted redneck attitude are all on display in striking fashion. Depending on your own personal take, the traditional villain/hero roles may or may not reverse, but certainly not from lack of trying on Zombie’s part. He loves these character types, and he makes sure that both sides of law are equally disturbing and hilarious.
One thing is for sure. Rob Zombie is subverting moral judgments and clichés to an absurd degree, especially by the end of the film. Can a movie be alternately charming and disgusting? After a viewing a reprehensible yet somehow enjoyable film like this, I know that the answer is yes.