In the first third of rocker/director Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects," one of his serial killer anti-heroes proclaims, "I am the devil and I am here to do the devil's work."
Zombie's unevenly acted, badly directed sequel to the lackluster "House of 1000 Corpses" follows the homicidal rampage of the satanic Firefly clan in an homage-heavy, over-long marathon of sadism.
Criticism of "Rejects" will be easy to dismiss. In "Rejects," Zombie even portrays a film critic as a stiff, egg-headed scholar uninterested in the sugar-rush cinema of exploitation and horror films he loves. In part, he may be correct.
But I am the target audience for this filma twentysomething White Zombie fan, raised on hard rock and splatter filmsand my favorite part of "Rejects" began with the end credits.
Not to say Zombie (a.k.a. Robert Cummings) is an untalented, unsophisticated guy. He's smart in interviews, obviously a pop culture and movie junkie. He laced "Blade Runner" references throughout the White Zombie song "More Human Than Human" and wrote the hard-charging track "Dragula" about Grandpa Munster's coffin-shaped dragster from "The Munsters."
Yet despite decades of soaking in bloody classics such as the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "I Spit On Your Grave," Zombie didn't absorb any of the underlying social tension or heart in those films. He's no collage artist of influences, like Quentin Tarantino, crafting his movie from childhood influences. "Rejects" plays more like a junkyard of homages, strewn together and lost among inept cops, gaping plot holes and buzzard-ready dialog.
Gone is the camp of "1000 Corpses," replaced with a ruthless brutality against characters who aren't on screen long enough to evoke sympathy. There's no one to cheer for because even the revenge-crazy, Bible-thumping sheriff (William Forsythe) falls into that cops-and-villains-as-two sides-of-the-same-coin cliche.
The only African-American character is a Benedict Arnold pimp. Even Zombie's iconic, clown-faced killer Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) gets lost in confusion, despite a couple of clever, cheap jokes.
"Rejects" isn't only an excruciatingly long vanity project with multiple false endingsit's also offensively inhuman, uninspired and cruelly unoriginal. (Even the quote, "I am the devil ," is lifted from Tex Watson, Charles Manson's follower.)
Some might have the stamina and stomach for Zombie's bid to be the cinematic Marquis de Sade. Maybe even the Ed Wood of modern movies. Like Wood, who made no-budget movies he believed in, Zombie possesses a similar uncompromising vision.
Unfortunately, that vision is myopic and can't see through its own celebrity. Maybe, like Wood, it'll take audiences another 40 years to appreciate Zombie's cult stature as a director. Ed Wood is dead! Long live Ed Wood!
Then again, maybe not.
To cap things off, Zombie wraps up "Rejects" with a "Thelma & Louise" meets "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" ending set to the tune ofno jokeLynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." To draw things out even more, the movie downshifts into slow-motion imagery meant to heighten the drama.
Instead, it was the final straw that left me running for the exit.
'The Devil's Rejects'
Written and directed by Rob Zombie; cinematography by Phil Parmet; production design by Anthony Tremblay; music by Tyler Bates; edited by Glenn Garland; produced by Rob Zombie, Andy Gould, Mike Elliot, Michael Ohoven and Marco Mehiltz. A Lions Gate Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: R (for sadistic violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use).
Captain Spaulding - Sid Haig
Otis - Bill Moseley
Baby - Sheri Moon Zombie
Sheriff Wydell - William Forsythe
Charlie Altamont - Ken Foree