The Devil’s Rejects is Rob Zombie’s follow up to his House of 1,000 Corpses though most of it is so different to House of 1,000 Corpses, despite being a sequel, that you wonder if it really is a sequel in spirit. The Devil’s Rejects feels more like a remake than a sequel per se, a sequel made by someone who has come off the fun psychedelics and sobered up. While this means the film is a lot more accomplished technically and a lot more coherent than House of 1,000 Corpses it also lacks some of the flare and sheer joy that House had and rejects that for a more workmanlike and less ambitious effort, even eliminating some of the weirder stuff from the original – such as Doctor Satan and Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen and even the hint from House that Spaulding’s famous friend chicken actually had a lot more to do with human remains than chickens…I’m almost tempted to call The Devil’s Rejects tame… not in content, really, there’s plenty of blood, gore, random shootings, slit throats, truck accidents and bloody-mask-face-wearing to go around but somehow it fails to be as disturbing, as twisted or as strange as House. House of 1,000 Corpses was a bad trip, The Devil’s Rejects is just a road trip.
The core of the story is the (attempted) revenge upon the Firefly household by one Sheriff Wydell, brother of George Wydell, another law enforcement officer killed by the family in House. Wydell leads a heavily armed raid on the Firefly house, killing Rufus, capturing Mother and driving off Baby and Otis into the dubious arms of Captain Spaulding – Tiny (a grotesque and malformed member of the family) was out in the woods at the time, disposing of a body and so goes unnoticed.
Wydell’s pursuit of the remaining members of the family and his single-minded devotion to that revenge slowly turn him insane until he becomes just as bad as the psychotic criminals he is pursuing, casting aside the law and everything else he holds dear just to see them all dead for what they have done. This is, again, pretty standard stuff but we are disappointingly denied the pay-off of Wydell’s final sinking into depravity by the untimely intervention of Tiny who steps in, kills Wydell and rescues Baby, Otis and Spaulding only to have those three then escape by car to be gunned down by a police roadblock. I found this a disappointing and relatively ineffectual ending where a final descent of Wydell into madness, becoming what he had fought completely, would have lifted The Devil’s Rejects above a referential slasher flick into something more, but it was not to be.
There are great moments in the film, the initial assault on the Firefly house, Wydell’s dismissive investigation of the ‘Groucho Marx link’ is a great bash at pseudo-intellectual nerds who over analyse every little reference in every film, Captain Spaulding steals every scene, but there are other moments that suck the life out of the film. The torment of the travelling country band drags on for far too long without adding much to the film, Wydell’s death denies us the great film that nearly was and Charlie Altamont’s whorehouse scenes also drag on and bring down the pace and the feel, adding to the confusion.
It’s good enough, but not great, it lacks the style of House and fails to make up for it with substance, though it is a more coherent piece of film making. By all accounts Rob Zombie got it right, finally, with his Friday the 13th film and I can see how The Devil’s Rejects was a step in that direction.