Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects is a sadistic, brutal, bleeding ulcer of a film; a picture so vile, cruel, and inhumane that it nearly achieves a poetic transcendence. It’s impossible to love, really, but no other emotion but affection could be had for its utter clarity of purpose. How else are we to approach a film that begins with an abnormally large burn victim dragging a nude corpse through the woods, only to move to a credit sequence that will have even the most hardened among us in stitches. And when Otis (Bill Moseley) thrusts his mighty blade into the chest of an old bat stupid enough to fall for the old “injured woman in the middle of the road” bit, we are off and running. This is a film that celebrates killing in its most heinous form, and I for one embrace it. What other theme could speak so clearly to a world that has abandoned all but death as a resolution of conflict? But no philosophical justification is necessary. Instead, kick back with a cool beverage and root for assorted dimwits to beg for their lives mere seconds before leaving this world in more pieces than when they entered.
Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is the most glorious of the rejects, a clown with the nastiest teeth west of Appalachia and a temper to match. When we first meet him, he’s just waking up from a nightmare where he stupidly called a woman riding his cock a whore, which prompts her to pull out a gun. When he opens his eyes, he finds that he’s in bed with some whale of a woman, who asks for — but does not receive — even more sex, despite an evening of ass-pounding that left them both spent. Spaulding is one of the most physically repugnant characters I’ve ever seen, yet he has a certain charm about him; as if it’s impossible to turn away from a man who looks like something regurgitated after a night of binge drinking who still possesses the self-confidence of a chiseled hunk. Spaulding is called back into action after the remainder of the rejects are forced to leave their compound following a police raid. The sheriff in question, one Mr. Wydell (William Forsythe), is obsessed with destroying the quasi-family, as they killed his beloved brother years before. The raid was a failure in that several officers lost their lives and both Otis and Baby (Sheri Moon) got away, but the authorities did manage to capture Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook), the sort of woman who obsessively licks her chops to demonstrate how sexually alluring she believes she is.
Mother Firefly is eventually stabbed to death in her cell by Wydell, but not before she has an interrogation scene that sets a new standard for overacting. It’s one hell of a performance, although it might get lost in the shuffle, as this is a glorious mess that revels in over-the-top scene stealing. Otis and Baby eventually come across a lonely motel, populated only by a maid and a singing group just passing through. It stands to reason that the group will be humiliated, tortured, and murdered, and it will be the maid’s job to find their obliterated corpses. The extended sequence in the motel is undoubtedly distasteful and would be objectionable to at least 98% of the American public, but I won’t deny my orgasmic glee. The first dude is shot in the head, two more are taken into the desert to be bludgeoned and shot in kind, and the one chick played by Priscilla Barnes (Terri from Three’s Company) is asked to strip, is smacked around, and eventually dispatched with a knife to the heart (which she pulls out before expiring). As it plays (tits, blood, and pathetic screams), it is exploitive in the worst sense, which is another way of saying that it’s watchable as hell. And the one chick who manages to make it out of the motel room alive? Oh, the usual — she wanders blindly from the property (as she has her boyfriend’s skinned face plastered to her own) and is promptly hit by a semi. To the film’s credit, the explosion of carnage on the road is lingered over, as if the camera were panning a lush field or quiet meadow.
The motley crew then makes its way to Charlie’s whorehouse, a place with, as the sign out front says, “Clean Pussy, VD Tests, Come Again.” Charlie is an old friend who seems to live well; that is when he isn’t dealing with the burdens of pimping some of the nastiest tramps in the business. Charlie and his buddies snort coke, chase women, and pass out, but he is hiding the secret that earlier that day, Wydell forced him to make a deal and sell out his comrades. Wydell’s hired goons are to subdue these creeps and hand them over to Wydell, where revenge will be exacted with the usual assortment of goodies: tazers, axes, nails, and staple guns. It’s all in good fun, of course, as the sheriff roars and bellows with all the passionate desperation of a man concerned he may never work again. Wydell lets the broad go, and then sets Otis and Spaulding on fire, although we know that because he spoke way too long, enough time elapsed for Charlie to change his mind and drive to the compound to attempt a desperate rescue. Charlie is slammed by an axe and dies, but the three rejects survive thanks to a last-minute intervention by the giant seen during the opening. That his name is Tiny should not surprise anyone. But we are glad to see him, as the film would not have been so special had the conclusion not been allowed to occur exactly as it did.
The final sequence, now properly labeled the “Ballet of Death,” affixes martyrdom to the rejects, which means that as they drive down the highway, slo-mo will be effortlessly combined with “Freebird” and in the distance, we’ll see that long row of cops, cars, and guns drawn. It’s like Thelma and Louise, only with maggot-ridden cheerleaders, murderous clowns, and splattered brain matter. Admittedly, this scene ran on a bit too long, but how on earth could we have been denied the quick flashbacks where we saw our heroes in better days? You know, when the smiles and laughter betrayed an inner glow that could only come from getting away with murder? But their grins matched my own, although I imagine mine had more to do with thinking back on a film where a character referred to the “explosive shits” that forced a co-worker to call in sick. Or perhaps it was the throwaway scene where a local film critic is called down to the sheriff’s office (do towns with populations of less than 100 really have their own critics, let alone the sort that can be summoned at all hours of the night?) to provide clues about the reject’s aliases, which are all taken from Marx Brothers movies. The critic, obnoxiously effete and saddled with a ridiculous Hercule Poirot moustache, rambles on, only to piss off the sheriff after bitching about Elvis stealing Groucho’s thunder by dying only three days before. Utterly pointless, the scene is indescribably hilarious precisely because it comes from — and leads to — nowhere. It’s an indulgence; yet another opportunity for writer/director Rob Zombie to let us know he’s having too much fun to leave anything out. And with Spaulding’s back hair and soiled drawers, nothing was.