by Steve Habrat
After Rob Zombie’s cluttered and distracted 2003 horror debut, House of 1000 Corpses, failed to make an impression on critics and (most) audiences, the pressure was on the horror-loving Renaissance man to really step his game up as a filmmaker. In 2005, Zombie followed up the tie-dyed House of 1000 Corpses with The Devil’s Rejects, a grimy, snarling, and absolutely humorless decent into Hell. While many have labeled The Devil’s Rejects a horror film, I really hesitate to slap that label on it, as it never really even attempts to scare the viewer. Instead, it takes a page from the exploitation playbook and just continuously crosses the line and gets right in the viewers face just to watch them recoil in disgust. This film just flat out refuses to play nice, but then again, would you expect anything less from Rob Zombie? As if this tale of murder and revenge wasn’t intense enough, Zombie makes the wise decision to force us to root for the bad guys. That’s right, this time we don’t root for some group of brain dead teenagers or even the revenge driven police officer on a mission from God to prevail over this trio of death. Nope, we are rooting for that vile and downright rotten Firefly clan to blast and stab their way across the dusty Texas plains. It almost becomes a western, with the last of the true outlaws making their final stand in the face of annihilation. It is nearly a stroke of brilliance.
The Devil’s Rejects picks up in May of 1978, a year after the events of House of 1000 Corpses, with Sherriff John Quincy Wydell (Played by William Forsythe), brother of Firefly family victim Lieutenant George Wydell, leading a group of heavily armed police officers right to the Firefly’s front door. After a nasty shootout between the police and the Firefly family, Baby (Played by Sheri Moon Zombie) and Otis Driftwood (Played by Bill Moseley) manage to escape capture, but Mother Firefly (Played this time by Leslie Easterbrook) isn’t so lucky. Baby and Otis quickly get in touch with their father, Captain Spaulding (Played by Sid Haig), who agrees to meet up with his children so that they can plot their next move. While waiting, Baby and Otis find shelter at a rickety roadside motel and to amuse themselves, they immediately take a traveling band hostage. Spaulding suggests that they flee to a local brothel called Charlie’s Frontier Town, which is overseen by smooth-talking pimp Charlie Altamont (Played by Ken Foree) and his simple assistant Clevon (Played by Michael Berryman), both of which are friendly with Spaulding. Meanwhile, the relentlessly brutal Sherriff Wydell is hot on the group’s trail and he plots a trap that will bring down the rest of the Firefly family once and for all.
There is no doubt that the best part of The Devil’s Rejects is the opening fifteen minutes of the film. Zombie starts things off with a gritty early morning shootout and let me tell you, that shootout is just plain awesome. It is cleanly shot, in your face, and suspenseful from the first shot fired. It certainly proves that Zombie could do all-out action if he really wanted to. After wasting one character and capturing another, Zombie launches into an equally cool opening credit sequence set to The Allman Brothers Band “Midnight Rider” all while the picture keeps freezing to announce cast and crew members. It looks like it was ripped out of the coolest exploitation film from the 70s that you never saw. This opening sequence shows us that Zombie really means business this time around and that he is abandoning the psychedelic approach of House of 1000 Corpses in the Texas sun. From here on out, the film is relentlessly intense, but it never really ever becomes scary. There are sequences of gruesome torture, both mental and physical, but they don’t ever fill us with terror. Instead, they just make us massively uncomfortable, but that is exactly what Zombie wants to do.
Much like House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is overflowing with colorful creeps to make your skin crawl. Moon Zombie is much better this time around as the giggling Baby, who can be all smiles as she seduces her victims one minute, only to snap into a demon-eyed banshee the next. Moseley is busy channeling Charles Manson as the stringy haired hippie killer Otis Driftwood. He is absolutely fantastic and wildly memorable as the grizzled outlaw who enjoys stuffing his gun barrel down the underwear of one poor woman and carving the face off one of another male victim. Then there is Haig’s Captain Spaulding, who once again manages to steal the entire movie. The first time around, we only saw a few glimpses of how sinister Captain Spaulding could be but here, he is 100% evil. He can be darkly hilarious as he terrifies a small child and he can be surprisingly soft as he howls along with Baby for some tutti fruity ice cream. We also have cult legends Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) as Charlie and Clevon, two shifty pieces of work who enjoy snorting cocaine and bickering about having sex with chickens. Last but certainly not least is William Forsythe as Sheriff Wydell, a stone-cold man of God who may actually be worse than the Firefly clan. He will stop at nothing to trap his victims and when he finally is staring them down, he resorts to some of the nastiest torture out there.
What ultimately turns The Devil’s Rejects into a winner is that Zombie doesn’t appear to be preoccupied with trying to overstuff the film with references to other horror or exploitation films. He is much more subtle this time around with his tips of the cowboy hat. Most of the references here come in the form of cult actors Foree, Berryman, Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000) and even P.J. Soles (Halloween), all of which will have seasoned horror and grindhouse buffs chucking to themselves but never overly distracted. One of my only complaints about the film is the fact that Zombie trimmed the Dr. Satan sequence from the film, something I never thought I’d be complaining about. If you have a copy of the DVD, it is worth checking out this particular deleted scene because it actually grounds the whole Dr. Satan thing in the real world, at least in my humble opinion. Overall, as a tribute to old exploitation thrillers and grindhouse revenge flicks, The Devil’s Rejects is a homerun. It is a twisted and erratic western that can be unbelievably brutal, but never very scary. This is a modern day exploitation classic and a masterpiece for Rob Zombie.
The Devil’s Rejects is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Ever since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse ripped through movie theaters back in 2007, there have been multiple attempts to emulate that film’s underground success. Far from a huge hit on release, Grindhouse found an audience in fans of cult cinema, trashy horror, and sleazy exploitation, and has since become something of an unsung classic. A classic that happens to feature melting penises, a serial killer who dispatches his victims with a hot rod, gooey zombies, and go-go dancers with machine gun legs. As a fan of that wasteland of cinema, I have praised Grindhouse for its attempt to transport its audience back to the good old days of sleaze and doing it quite well. Credit should go to Tarantino and Rodriguez, who did it with plenty of gusto and a strong understanding of what made those films so fun. The sleaze films they were paying tribute to weren’t perfect, but they had their hearts in the right place so it was easy to forgive them for the flimsy production value and shock tactics. While some of the copycats have been okay, there is one out there that should have never seen the light of day. Behold Chillerama, another attempt at celebrating sleaze and trash but going about it the complete wrong way. From the wrapped minds of director’s Adam Green (director of 2006’s Hatchet), Joe Lynch (director of 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End), Adam Rifkin (director of 1999’s Detroit Rock City), and Tim Sullivan (director of 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams), this D-squad of B-movie fans try to recreate the glory days of the drive-in but end up with an insufferable stink bomb of a movie that complete misses the mark.
Chillerama begins on the closing night of the last drive-in in America. This drive-in, run by Cecil Kaufman (Played by Richard Riehle), is gearing up to show its faithful patrons one final night of long lost horror movies that are so rare, it is the first time they are ever being shown on American soil. As Wadzilla (a 50’s style giant creatures attack flick directed by Rifkin), I Was a Teenage Werebear (a 60’s beach party meets The Lost Boys directed by openly gay filmmaker Sullivan), and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS meets Universal Movie Monster knockoff directed by Green) roll on the screen, the audience members begin to suffer from strange symptoms that are turning them into sex-crazed zombies. As the place is overrun with the undead, it is up to Tobe (Played by Corey Jones), Mayna (Played by Kaili Thorne), Ryan (Played by Brendan McCreary), and Miller (Played by Ward Roberts) to band together and try to save the drive-in before it closes its doors for good.
Lacking the big name draw and subtle humor that Grindhouse had, Chillerama is trying so hard that it is almost painful to watch. It is riddled with nonstop movie references that are weirdly distracting or have absolutely no place in a film like this (What is with the Orson Wells nod?). Presented as a collection of short films (they all run about twenty-five minutes), Chillerama is preoccupied with being a relentless knee-slapping romp with so much strained sleaze that it seems like these guys are trying to convince us that they with can outdo what Tarantino and Rodriguez did. Unfortunately, they can’t nor will they ever be able to. The film begins with necrophilia and from there, the directors seem like they are locked in a gross-out competition rather than attempting to make a complete vision. Wadzilla finds its actors sprayed with gallons of fake semen while the homoerotic I Was a Teenage Werebear has a man killing another man with his erect penis. While exploitation films got weird (Have you ever seen Burial Ground?!), a little wild, and more than a little disgusting (Cannibal Holocaust anyone?), they were NEVER this cartoonishly foul. There was still a serious side despite the cringe inducing acting and the pointless nude scenes that filled out there runtime.
When you aren’t fighting back gags, you’ll find Chillerama is a severely disjointed and inconsistent thrill ride. Grindhouse benefitted from smooth sailing from the first frame of the Machete trailer to the final frame of Death Proof. There was never a dry spot in Grindhouse, although the argument could be made that there were a few slower moments, moments necessary to build story. Chillerama does have a bit of momentum in Wadzilla, even if it is a little too disgusting for its own good. It does have a few jokes that land and the hokey special effects really make the film what it is. It is the highlight of the picture but once we hit I Was a Teenage Werebear, things fly wildly off the rails and the handful of giggles that were found in Wadzilla evaporate from the screen. I have to give the idea credit, a beach party thrown by gay werewolves does sound pretty intriguing but the execution is such a disaster that you can’t wait for it to end. This short is done in by poor musical numbers that are eye rolling and severely unfunny. It also has tons of misdirected raunchy moments that blow up in its face. And then there is The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, which is a mind numbing monster movie that features its actors yelling gibberish while making contemporary jokes in a film that is supposed to be dated. Everything culminates with the idiotic orgy of Zom B Movie (directed by Joe Lynch), which finds gangs of sex crazed maniacs roaming the drive-in for an undead roll in the hay. It is here that Riehle gets to really cut loose but the amateurs around him keep things stuck in the entrails.
There really isn’t much to say about the acting in Chillerama. It is purposely “bad” but the irony is that it is really bad “bad” acting. As far as familiar faces go, outside of Riehle, the only other recognizable thespians will be Eric Roberts, Ron Jeremy, Kane Hodder, and Joel David Moore, all who should be busy scrubbing this filth from their résumés as soon as they get the chance (yes, even Ron Jeremy). The sets and production design are also pretty bad too, but I’m sure it was on purpose (at least I hope). It seems like the four fanboys who are responsible for this didn’t properly divide up the money and it appears as if I Was a Teenage Werebear got screwed, as it all takes place on the beach with barely a set to speak of. This might hit the funny bone for some but to me, Chillerama just seemed too disorganized, with four people pulling in opposite directions. Furthermore, not one of these men knows who to write a funny joke and should consider stepping away from comedy immediately. If you happen to be a fan of the Golden Age of Trash cinema, my advice is stay away from Chillerama. Instead, pop in your Grindhouse Blu-ray or consider revisiting your 42nd Street Forever Collection. Hell, go with the real thing if you must but just promise me you will never watch Chillerama.
Chillerama is available on Blu-ray and DVD.