Rob Zombie's 'Devil's Rejects': Oh, the Horror! The Horror!

Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) go on a murderous and pointless rampage in
Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) go on a murderous and pointless rampage in "Devil's Rejects." (Photos By Gene Page -- Lions Gate Films)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005

To: Department of Homeland Security

From: S. Hunter, armed citizen and patriot

As you have requested, I report suspicious activity to 800-492-TIPS. I am more than willing to do my duty.

Therefore, I inform you of a motion picture titled "The Devil's Rejects."

Sirs, if this doesn't qualify as "suspicious activity," I don't know what would!

This film, the chronicle of a depraved southwestern family called Firefly, is replete with violence, gore, sadism, cool guns, greasy hair, sexual innuendo, a law officer of compromised morality, more energy than a hydroelectric dam and the devil music, rock-and-roll, played so loudly it takes your soul. Why, it even features a segment in which a banjo-playing country and western group is massacred!

As I understand it, the film is the progeny of another suspicious document called "House of 1000 Corpses," as written and directed by a musician named Rob Zombie, with an imagination for miscreants, mutants, mutiny and mutilation. It is uncertain whether this man is an actual zombie or whether the name is mere affectation; further investigation should be made.

As Zombie has it, the law has at last closed in on the Firefly clan, headquartered in a shabby farmhouse decorated in a style that might be called Classical Honeycomb: hanks of hair and pieces of bone. For fun and excitement they murder people. Why? No reason is ever given, no motive suggested, no psychology implied.

The raid is led by Sheriff Wydell, played by longtime motion picture personality William Forsythe, the picture's Ahab with a six-gun. It's a fairly impressive piece of mayhem, with lots of guns going off, lots of people falling and dying, lots of blur and dust, and the upshot is that two of the Fireflys -- Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie -- there's that last name again!) -- escape and soon link up with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), a third member of the clan, and begin a murderous, pointless rampage. Meanwhile, one Firefly, the queen bee of the brood, is captured. This unfortunate is played by Leslie Easterbrook of the "Police Academy" stories, who probably ruined her chances at a big Hollywood career by continued attendance at the Charlton Heston Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, a hootenanny put on by the NRA. Not a good career move. However, she seems to be the only one in "The Devil's Rejects" who is actually acting, as opposed to camping, vamping, posing and declaiming, and she's very, very good! She's very scary.

In any event, the movie turns quickly into a somewhat clumsily handled chase structure, with no clear point or end. It would help, I think, if the Fireflys had some career goal in mind: They were robbers, they were trying to get somewhere by a certain time. As it is, they seem to merely be hobbyists pursuing their avocation merrily, without any sense of direction.

In perhaps inevitable ways, it evolves that the true villain is the sheriff because he puts moral vanity ahead of professionalism and pines to punish the Fireflys out of vengeance rather than justice. Forsythe has always been an intense presence in films, and one can't watch his work here without wondering why he never got bigger, as he seemed poised on the brink of That Big Role, particularly after "Once Upon a Time in America" in 1984. Instead . . . smaller roles in smaller and smaller movies.

The movie's signal flaw -- that is, other than its degeneracy, its sloppiness, its love of dark things and pretty stains and arterial spray patterns -- is Moseley as the demonic Otis. He seems rather ordinary. I mean, if you're going to do this sort of thing, then you should do it boldly, proudly, loudly, prancingly. Moseley somehow comes up a few bricks shy in ye olde charisma department, and thus his frequent atrocities lack the evil frisson they should demonstrate.

Meanwhile, Haig is excellent as Captain Spaulding -- the names, for all PhD candidates and such, are derived from the canon of the Marx Brothers -- who is represented as a rodeo clown with the appetites of a maniac. Loved the wonderful touch of his chalked-white face in contrast to his rancid yellow teeth, bared too frequently in his leering smirky grins. He is a one-man insane clown posse.

What is most suspicious about the movie, dear sirs, is its somewhat sloppy grip on its central conceit, which is the life force, the charisma, the charm of its renegade trio. They are what they are, as opposed to Sheriff Wydell, who commits the bigger sin (according to the Zombie moral order) of being a hypocrite.

Now, if that's not suspicious, what is? As a great man once said: Watch the skies!

The Devil's Rejects (101 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for extreme violence, sexual innuendo and aggression.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company