Ten years ago today, a little film called The Devil’s Rejects was released in theaters, forever changing the way we perceived the Firefly family, the song Free Bird, and Rob Zombie as a filmmaker. While a lot of horror fans will bash Rob Zombie, many of those who enjoy his work regard this film as one of the best since the turn of the century. For me personally, it’s one of my all-time favorites.
iHorror has been celebrating the film’s 10-year anniversary for the past week with a series of posts. In case you missed any of them, you can find them here:
I remember eagerly awaiting the film’s release, keeping close tabs on updates about its production long before I was ever writing for any horror news sites. I was a big fan of House of 1000 Corpses, and everything I heard as Zombie continued to put The Devil’s Rejects together suggested he was going to make a movie that was even better. It would be more of a gritty, violent, almost western-style road movie. I was completely intrigued by the concept, so by the time I sat down in a surprisingly packed theater on opening night, I was very excited.
It was clear from the very beginning – from the melancholy hum of Blind Willie Johnson – to the opening scene of Tiny dragging a corpse along the ground and the famous shootout, that this was indeed a very different film than House of 1000 Corpses, and quite possibly a much better one. I can’t even describe the rush I got from the opening title sequence set to The Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider, which instantly turned me into a huge fan of the song despite years of indifference to it. And things only got better from there. The Devil’s Rejects turned out to be 107 minutes of pure delight for this fan waiting for the next great horror film.
Like I said, I was already a big fan of House of 1000 Corpses, but for me, The Devil’s Rejects fixed its biggest flaw. The soundtrack was not comprised of Rob Zombie songs. Musically, House of 1000 Corpses was at its best when it was making use of older songs, such as I Remember You, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?, Brick House, and I Wanna Be Loved By You. While I have no problem with the title song or the actual score, the occasional Rob Zombie song tends to give the film more of a Rob Zombie music video feel at times. In The Devil’s Rejects, there’s none of that going on.
From the filmmaker’s perspective, The Devil’s Rejects was a much better film. House of 1000 Corpses really didn’t turn out the way Zombie had originally planned, but The Devil’s Rejects had pretty much come out just as he envisioned it, and that has to be a gratifying feeling, especially after all the trouble he had getting the former released.
Here’s a snippet of a JoBlo interview with Zombie from the set of The Devil’s Rejects:
It’s sort of like when I first started making music. You have a song in your head and it just takes a while to figure out how to get it from your head on to a record. And in between like that’s not what I had in mind. And that’s the process of getting it from your head to on film. Sometimes it has been astonishing with certain scenes that can be done and go, “This is exactly what I fucking had in mind”. Where has last time I’d go, “Ah well… alright that’s as good as that’s gonna get.” (Laughs)
What do you feel was the success in getting the last film out of you head and on the screen? And how does it compare with this one.
It’s not even close. Truthfully I don’t like to go back. I think everything has its place for what it is. Like a lot of times, I’ll go back and talk about early records and I’ll go “I hate that record.” And someone will go, “Oh that’s my favorite record!” So you never know. I mean, what I see and everyone else sees is different. I never, ever felt like I had the scenes where I wanted at any moment during the last movie. Everything was like I was trying to do this and it ended up here. But this time with time and patience and more time to work with people a lot more pre-production to really fine tune itself what’s going on film is what I wanted where as last time… I can’t even think of one moment where this movie wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
He would go on to say he thought rejects was an “infinitely better film” and a “far superior movie”.
“Some people can fucking hit a home run on their first time at bat making a movie,” Zombie said in an interview with Grantland. “But I couldn’t.”
He talks more about all of this in this Q&A:
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Even Roger Ebert had praise for this film, and the well-respected critic was pretty hard to please when it came to violent exploitation and horror films. Here’s a bit from his review:
How can I possibly give “The Devil’s Rejects” a favorable review? A kind of heedless zeal transforms its horrors. The movie is not merely disgusting, but has an attitude and a subversive sense of humor. Its actors venture into camp satire, but never seem to know it’s funny; their sincerity gives the jokes a kind of solemn gallows cackle….”The Devil’s Rejects” has been written and directed by Rob Zombie (also known as Robert Cummings and Robert Wolfgang Zombie), a composer and music video producer whose “The House of 1,000 Corpses” (2003) was a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” wannabe. Pause for a moment to meditate on the phrase “A ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ wannabe,” and you will begin to form some idea of Zombie’s artistic vision. Now give him credit, in this movie, not for transcending “Chainsaw Massacre” but for sidestepping its temptations and opening up a mordantly funny approach to the material. There is actually some good writing and acting going on here, if you can step back from the material enough to see it.
It’s become quite clear in the decade since the film’s release that both it and its predecessor have left a major mark on the horror genre. Just peruse the fan art or search the web for material related the films, and you’ll find a never-ending plethora of contributions from fans. Firefly family cosplay is incredibly popular at horror events, and the films made bonafide stars out of its lead actors. Sure, Haig and Moseley were well regarded names in some circles prior to Zombie’s films, but there’s no question that their status was infinitely elevated by their roles as Captain Spaulding and Otis Driftwood. Sheri Moon Zombie, who was a newcomer at that point, is right along side them in that fame.
Zombie has mentioned in the past that he had some ideas for another Firefly film, but that the rights lie with an uninterested Lionsgate. Next up, we’ll see 31, which Zombie has said is the other movie of his that is closest in tone to The Devil’s Rejects. We’ll see if he can capture lightning in a bottle again. After that, it looks like he’ll be doing a Groucho Marx movie based on the book called Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho’s House.