The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
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.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
by Steve Habrat
Way back in the early 2000s, I can distinctly remember several of my friends whispering about shock rocker Rob Zombie directing a horror film that was so scary, the studio was thinking about shelving the project all together. Being someone who liked Rob Zombie’s music and was a fan of horror movies, I was instantly intrigued by just what the horror-obsessed rocker would come up with. Finally the day came when House of 1000 Corpses was released to the public and believe it or not, I never took a trip to the theater to see the movie. I finally saw House of 1000 Corpses during the summer of 2005, right before I went to see Zombie’s second feature film The Devil’s Rejects. I had read the largely negative reviews of film and I had even talked with a few people that had seen it and simply shrugged their shoulders at it, so when I rented the film, I had insanely low expectations as it began. As the film sped through its brief eighty-eight minute runtime, I found myself actually impressed with several segments of House of 1000 Corpses and chuckling at some of the blatant tips of the hat to other classic horror movies (everything from The Creature from the Black Lagoon to The Munsters to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is in there). It certainly was an inimitable vision from a man who had infinite amounts of potential as a horror/cult filmmaker. It was a blood soaked sampler of all the horror films that Zombie loved, but a number of disjointed moments and cheap jolts kept the film from truly striking fear in the viewer’s heart.
House of 1000 Corpses begins on October 30th, 1977, with four teenagers, Jerry Goldsmith (Played by Chris Hardwick), Bill Hudley (Played by Rainn Wilson), Mary Knowles (Played by Jennifer Jostyn), and Denise Willis (Played by Erin Daniels), traveling the Texas back roads in search of wild roadside attractions and macabre local legends. The group stops off at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen, where the meet the fast-talking Spaulding (Played by Sig Haig) himself. While exploring Spaulding’s funhouse, he sparks the group’s interest in the local legend of Dr. Satan, who is supposedly responsible for the mysterious disappearances of the area. The group suckers Spaulding into giving them directions to the area where Dr. Satan is supposed to reside and while traveling the back roads, they pick up beautiful young hitchhiker Baby (Played by Sheri Moon Zombie), who claims to live nearby. As the group nears Baby’s house, their tire is blown out, forcing them to take shelter at Baby’s rundown farmhouse. Shortly after arriving, the group begins meeting various members of Baby’s family including her mother, Mother Firefly (Played by Karen Black), her half-brothers Rufus (Played by Robert Mukes) and Tiny (Played by Matthew McGrory), her adopted brother Otis Driftwood (Played by Bill Moseley), and her Grampa Hugo Firefly (Played by Dennis Fimple), all of whom are gearing up for creepy Halloween festivities. As the hours pass, the group begins to fear that they may not be permitted to leave the Firefly home alive.
It really won’t take the viewer long to figure out that Zombie has lifted the plot from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and then fed it a heavy dose of LSD. After the acid has kicked in, it feels like Zombie pried its eyes open with the device from A Clockwork Orange and forced it to zone out on endless hours of Universal’s classic monster movies, episodes of The Munsters, forgotten television horror hosts, and stock footage of seedy peep shows and the Manson family. It then spirals into a kaleidoscope of warped images and repulsive shocks that hint at other, better midnight exploitation movies, B-horror cheapies, and real-life serial killers. You could honestly fill a review with all the movies that Zombie pays tribute to. Yet there is something strangely admirable about how Zombie wears these influences on his sleeve. It’s clear that he absolutely loves these movies, he just has a hard time funneling all of these references into one cohesive idea. Instead, he just shoots all over the place, eager to spring redneck funhouse shocks on us while also unleashing a group of underground ghouls that look like they would be more at home on stage with him during a rock show rather than a scruffy horror outing. It really should have been one way or the other.
What has really lured the cult audiences to House of 1000 Corpses are the eccentric cast of creeps drawn up by Mr. Zombie. By far the best character in the entire film is Haig’s Captain Spaulding, a cackling madman clown who never seems to be at a loss for words. A word to the wise, never get the idea to hold up his flashing little roadside attraction. Another classic character would have to be Moseley’s Otis Driftwood, a foul-mouthed hillbilly maniac who takes charge of every situation and dispatches his victims in the most brutal ways imaginable. Together, Haig and Moseley ride off into the Texas sunset with the entire picture. Karen Black will make you uncomfortable as the dotting Mother Firefly, a woman who stands firm behind her Halloween traditions. Sheri Moon Zombie’s Baby will have you gritting your teeth as she chuckles like a deranged schoolgirl. You can tell that Moon Zombie is pretty inexperienced here and that she has a lot of growing to do as an actress. Meanwhile, Wilson and Hardwick are likable enough as Jerry and Bill, but Hardwick (yes, THAT Chris Hardwick) ends up falling into the amateur category when going up against the infinitely more talented Wilson (yes, THAT Dwight Schrute). Jostyn and Daniels are pretty forgettable as heroines Mary and Denise and weirdly, Zombie asks us to root for Daniels in the final twenty minutes. Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Night of the Living Dead (1990)) also memorably shows up in a small role as Lieutenant George Wydell.
I honestly don’t think that House of 1000 Corpses is a terrible horror movie. It really isn’t. It just isn’t nearly as scary as it was hyped up to be and it tries to pay tribute to way too many horror movies. It almost feels like Zombie feared he would never have the opportunity to make another film so he overstuffs it. The film would honestly have fared better if someone had convinced Zombie to drop the whole Dr. Satan thing and leave the mutant monsters on the cutting room floor. I won’t deny that they look really cool but it just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the film. However, there are enough spirited performances, quotable lines of dialogue, and eerie surprises (that cop-execution sequence really stands out) to balance out the weaker spots. Overall, Zombie has a vivid imagination and it truly is a start for him, but you just can’t shake the feeling that Zombie is much, much better than all of this. Either way, you won’t ever forget entering the House of 1000 Corpses.
House of 1000 Corpses is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Attack of the Remakes! Halloween (2007)
by Steve Habrat
I think everyone remembers where they were when they learned that there was going to be a remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 flawless horror classic Halloween. I remember I was at my best friends house playing around on his laptop when we happened upon the news. We were in shock, unable to process the fact that there was going to be a remake of one of the scariest films of all time. While half not surprised that Hollywood was going to tinker with a great thing, it still made me sick to my stomach because I figured they would hand the film over to some John Doe director who would screw it up royally. My anger turned to intrigue when I learned that the film was being written, produced, and directed by shock rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie. Rob Zombie! While I was a fan of the 2005 splatter flick The Devil’s Rejects, I was so-so with his day-glow Texas Chain Saw Massacre wannabe House of 1000 Corpses. Well, opening weekend came and me and my chums piled into a car and headed to the local theater to check out Zombie’s remake and I must say, we were all fairly impressed with what we saw. Just as nasty, mean, and brutal as I figured it would be, Zombie’s Halloween was actually a surprisingly eerie slasher film that was equally parts new and familiar at the same time, striking just the right balance. It also helps that Zombie populated his dingy remake with a slew of familiar B-horror faces that would make most gore hounds grin from ear to ear. But the most astonishing thing of all remains the fact that the film isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Whew!
Halloween 2007 introduces us to young Michael Myers (Played by Daeg Faerch), a ruthlessly bullied boy who already suffers from deranged tendencies. Michael shacks up with his stripper mother Deborah (Played by Sheri Moon Zombie), her deadbeat boyfriend Ronnie (Played by William Forsythe), his older sister Judith (Played by Hanna R. Hall), and his baby sister, only finding affection from his loving mother. On Halloween night, Michael finally snaps from his relentless torment and brutally murders a school bully, Ronnie, Judith, and Judith’s boyfriend Steve. With no recollection of the murders, Michael is taken into custody and sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where is put under the care of kindly Dr. Samuel Loomis (Played by Malcolm McDowell). As the years pass, Michael becomes more and more fixated on papier-mâché masks that he makes in his cell. Dr. Loomis begins to suspect that Michael uses the masks to hide from both himself and the world. Fifteen years pass and Michael (Played by Tyler Mane), now a hulking adult, has stopped speaking to everyone. On the night before Halloween, Michael escapes from his cell and begins making his way back to Haddonfield to find his baby sister, now named Laurie Strode (Played by Scout-Taylor Compton). As Dr. Loomis rushes to contact the authorities, the body count rises as Michael ruthlessly searches for the only person he loves.
The argument has been made that Zombie misunderstood what made the original Halloween such a terrifying experience. It was the fact that we didn’t know anything about Michael or why he is killing anyone who crosses his path. Over the years, he has become known as the “Shape,” the Boogieman walking among us in complete silence. With Halloween 2007, Zombie is forced to dive into Michael’s background and in the process; he explains literally every single aspect of the character. We learn why he wears that legendary mask, what made him snap, that he demonstrated psychotic behavior before he went on his killing spree, and that he is pretty close with that old Dr. Loomis. All of this is complimented with heaping amounts of gore and profane dialogue that does get a bit ludicrous at times. Trust me, I’m no prude but at points you can’t help but picture Zombie hunched over a computer straining to think of the most repulsive dialogue he can. He certainly succeeds. Even though Zombie explains everything, I argue that he had no choice but to explain away the character. What else was he going to do? Hardcore Halloween fans would have grumbled if he would have done a shot for shot remake and thankfully, he didn’t resort to that. I give Zombie credit for daring to try something new with the character and taking a peak behind that legendary mask rather than doing what has already been done. I can certainly say that he does make Halloween his own to an extent because he leaves the ending relatively the same.
The acting of Halloween 2007 ends up being a mixed trick or treat bag of sugary sweets and bitter sours. Sheri Moon Zombie is better at the big-hearted mommy than I ever thought she’d be. She is sort of hit or miss with me but here she proves that she possesses some dramatic depth even if she is forced to spit out cliché lines of dialogue. I really enjoyed her bickering and fighting with Forsythe’s abusive boyfriend Ronnie. He was a real piece of work but he doesn’t stick around long. Faerch is so-so as little Michael, a little too forced but he is creepy when he finally slips into madness. Tyler Mane plays Michael Myers exactly how you would expect him to. He cocks his head from side to side but he stabs, hacks, and slashes just a little more violently than he did in the 1978 original. McDowell was a welcome presence as Dr. Loomis, an interesting choice to play Michael’s psychiatrist. McDowell gives it his all and he comes out with the best performance in the film. Then there is Scout Taylor-Compton as the slightly annoying Laurie Strode, a buttoned up teen with a dark edge according the skulls on her black hoodie. There isn’t really anything that particularly stands out about her and that is precisely her problem. She does prove to audiences that she is a hell of a screamer and her cries of terror could wake the dead. Kristina Klebe and Danielle Harris are on board as Lynda and Annie, Laurie’s friends who lack the fizzy magnetism that they had in the original film but they provide a little eye candy. Brad Dourif is second to McDowell as the skeptical Sheriff Lee Brackett and boy, does he come close to stealing the film from the good doctor. For fans of B-horror, keep a look for cameos from Ken Foree, Udo Kier, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Sid Haig, and Sybil Danning, to name a few.
Zombie also makes the wise choice of including the iconic Halloween score, sped up and layered with a few more electronics by Tyler Bates. He adds a few new little synthesizer warbles here and there while paying tribute to the little electronic jolts that Carpenter threw into his film. Zombie applies (unsurprisingly) a grainy and aged look to the film with costumes and sets that are reminiscent of the late 70’s and early 80’s with a gloss of modern caked on. Where the original Halloween sees little to no gore at all throughout its runtime, Zombie brings buckets full of blood and guts to his hillbillies-from-Hell party. I will warn you that the film is exceptionally brutal and grotesque so be prepared and plan accordingly. While I do feel Zombie’s exhausting explanations do take away from some of the horror, I still have to give him credit for staying true to the original film’s story while also daring to add on a fairly engaging prequel. Is the film perfect? Oh no, it certainly isn’t. If someone asked me if I wanted to watch Zombie’s film or Carpenter’s, I’d go with Carpenter’s classic in a heartbeat. Overall, Halloween 2007 could have been much worse but it actually turns out to be a pretty entertaining slasher film with a filthy, razor-sharp edge. I’ll take this ugly beast any day over most other tired and hollow remakes.
Halloween 2007 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Galaxy of Terror (1981)
by Steve Habrat
You’d think that a film that has Robert Englund, Sid Haig, and Erin Moran starring in it would be this stuff that cult movie dreams are made of. Well, then you need to see the atrocious 1981 Alien rip-off Galaxy of Terror, a Z-grade lemon from legendary producer Roger Corman, the man who churned out countless cult movie classics. Galaxy of Terror, or Mind Warp, as it is sometimes called, is a trippy glow-in-the-dark poser that scrambles the viewer’s brain with vague dialogue, musty storyline, rickety sets, and bland acting. The three things that Galaxy of Terror has going for it is some fairly decent gore for those who are simply looking for that, Tron-like lighting, and a scene in which a gigantic maggot rapes a curvy blonde. Yes, you read that correctly, a rape scene actually acts as a highlight moment for this piece of junk. I was pretty surprised too when the film ended and I found THAT one of the most interesting aspects of the whole experience.
Galaxy of Terror follows a group of space explorers who are sent to the desolate planet of Morganthus to locate another space crew who have all been killed by a mysterious unseen force. The newly landed crew consists of the troubled Captain Trantor (Played by Grace Zabriskie), Commander Ilvar (Played by Bernard Behrens), empath Alluma (Played by Erin Moran), cocky team leader Baelon (Played by Zalman King), the ship’s cook Kore (Played by Ray Walston), the wise space veteran Cabren (Played by Edward Albert), the ship’s technical officer Dameia (Played by Taaffe O’Connell), crewmember Ranger (Played by Robert Englund), and crystal thrower Quuhod (Played by Sid Haig). When the crew arrives, they discover a strange pyramid and slimy alien creatures that begin attack them one by one. Soon, they realize that the aliens are not the only things that they need to fear on this strange planet.
First, lets discuss the rotten aspects of Galaxy of Terror. Director Bruce D. Clark realizes there isn’t much meat to his storyline, a problem that he covers up with colorful lighting, special effects, forced depth from his characters, and lots of gruesome violence. He also doesn’t offer up anything in the way of likeable characters, allowing none of them to fully develop so we start rooting for them. All of the crew members walk around sulking and complaining about shaky events in their past, but it is all so hazily illustrated that you will find yourself not caring in the slightest. Half way through the film, Clark also sloppily establishes that Cabren is going to be the main protagonist. Everyone else that consists of the space crew is there simply to die in some off beat way; the most outrageous is the maggot rape, which just acts as an excuse for Clark to show off O’Connell’s body.
As far as the good aspects are concerned, it’s basically everything that Clark used to cover up his weak storyline. The film contains several scenes that will drive the gore audiences wild. There is death by constricting wires, an alien ripping one crew members stomach open with its claws, that certain rape scene, and more. I will say that the filmmakers did a good job with all of these effects; obviously more care was put into the gross stuff rather than anything truly substantial. The filmmakers also effectively light the sets, which are clearly cheap in their construction, making the planet itself fairly unsettling and surprisingly expansive. The film also benefits from having a few neat monsters lurking about, even if they are uninspired. These monsters are wisely kept largely in the dark or lit in extreme reds or blues, but it is anyone’s guess if they did that purposely because they’d be creepier or if they are really that cheap. Another layer of gross is added to the monsters by Clark’s use of nasty sound effects which accompany their icky attacks.
As far as twisty science fiction horror is concerned, you can do a hell of a lot better than Galaxy of Terror. The only other real reason to see this film is to see a familiar name in the opening credits department. That name would be James Cameron, director of such little films like Avatar and Titanic. Here, he is listed as Production Designer and Second Unit Director. It has been said that he was the one who designed the maggoty severed arm and designed it so the fake maggots would slither around the arm. There have been stories passed around about how Roger Corman used to make bets about how quickly he could shoot a film, the shortest being two days and one night, a rumor that seems to confirm the idea that Corman really didn’t care about the quality of the products he was producing. I could very easily see Galaxy of Terror being a film that was shot quickly, with no real artistic vision or care poured into the craft. Fun only as a did-you-know experience, make Galaxy of Terror a double feature with Alien and make sure Galaxy of Terror is played first. That way, Alien will make up for how letdown you are in Galaxy of Terror.
Galaxy of Terror is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.