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The Devil's Rejects

(2005) ** 1/2 R
101 min. Lions Gate Films. Director: Rob Zombie. Cast: Sid Haig, Sheri Moon, Bill Moseley, Diamond Dallas Page, Ken Foree.

Look, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects isn't my cup of tea—and I automatically subtract a half-star for dragging Groucho Marx into a horror movie (quoth the sheriff, "Fuck Groucho!")—but I get it. This is horror-punk, outlaw entertainment, an exploitation pic with a '70s aesthetic and endless scenarios of white-trash unpleasantness. If you dig nothing so much as a brutal, nihilistic, raunchy, gory, sick and twisted horror movie, The Devil's Rejects is very nearly as good as it gets.

The Devil's Rejects is, in fact, a sequel, to Zombie's 2003 House of 1000 Corpses. As before, the Southern-uncomfortable, serial-killing anti-heroes are a brother-sister team (Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie) nominally led by their evil-clown father, who goes by the handle of "Captain Spaulding" (Sid Haig). After a narrow escape from a police cordon organized by Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), the bickering family hits the road, killing along the way. Wydell has plenty of reasons to catch the killers, but one personal reason to exact mortal justice.

The Devil's Rejects' best quality is that it's never boring. Predictable horror rehashes like Wrong Turn pit nubile youngsters against killer hillbillies. Sure, The Devil's Rejects also features killer hillbillies, but Zombie's plotting works harder to keep viewers on their toes, and the parade of weary-looking character actors (Geoffrey Lewis of The Way of the Gun, Priscilla Barnes of Three's Company, Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead, P.J. Soles of Stripes, Danny Trejo of Spy Kids) keeps the proceedings spicy.

By consistently displaying his love of '70s horror and gilding his story with funky dialogues, Zombie makes the case for himself as the Tarantino of modern gore flicks. Beside casting Michael Berryman as bordello muscle (and thus directly quoting Wes Craven's 1977 off-road cannibal horror flick The Hills Have Eyes), Zombie uses grainy film stock, wipe transitions, plenty of '70s country rock, and judicious freeze-frame artfully to evoke a more patient and idiosyncratic era of screen horror. Thus, The Devil's Rejects can be accurately described as lovingly crafted.

Before you get too excited, The Devil's Rejects doesn't break any new ground, and its stock characters are meant to be taken at face-value, as forces of destruction or helpless victims. In terms of redeeming social value, The Devil's Rejects has little to none—depending on how you take them, all horror movies either make us grateful we're alive or make us dejected at the depths of human depravity. Still, I was caught off guard by Zombie's energy as a filmmaker, and even though he makes a film critic with Marx Brothers expertise an object of ridicule, I'm recommending Zombie's movie (to gore-hounds only, all you Merchant-Ivory fans!) all the same.

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