“Never Turn Your Back on a Clown”

The Devil’s Rejects (2005) is the sequel to Rob Zombie’s excellent horror film House of 1000 Corpses which I reviewed earlier.  Except it’s less of a sequeThe Fireflys are back for more fun and games....l than an entirely different film altogether.  All the old gang is reprised: Sid Haig as the clown head of the psychotic Firefly family, Sherri Moon Zombie as his blood-thirsty daughter Baby,  and everyone else.  The actor who played the grandfather in the original film died before production so Zombie dedicated this film to him.  A nice touch.

The film opens with the cops surrounding the Fireflys’ secluded home. Seems the local law enforcement has finally figured out where all those missing people went and who is responsible.  In a violent shootout the Fireflys escape but Mother Firefly is captured by the Sheriff; his brother fell victim to the family’s predations.

The remaining members of the family go on a shooting and kidnapping spree.  At first you’re thinking, “This is no different from any other pyschos-on-the-loose-who-kill-and-torture film.”  Seen it a dozen times, right?  Hell, it’s even derivative of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.  Yawn.

But I want you to stick with this film.You see, Zombie, who wrote and directed The Devil’s Rejects, knows what he’s doing.  He knows you’ve seen this setup b"Never turn your back on a clown."efore.  When he switches gears on you (and he will) you will realize he’s telling you, “Okay, this is how these films used to be made…but I’m changing the formula.”

My God, does he ever.

The Fireflys drive to Father Firefly’s half-brother who runs a whore house in the desert.  Meanwhile, the obsessed Sheriff hires two bounty hunters to find the family.  He then goes to interrogate Mother Firefly, but loses it and guts her with a hunting knife in an act that suggests sexual intercourse.  As the life goes out of her ecstatic eyes he kisses her blood-stained lips.

As you may have guessed there’s no Good vs. Evil in this film. It’s Evil vs. Evil.  And no one looks good; Zombie shoots and blocks the scenes so the light is always harsh; people’s faces are revealed as corrugations and lines which delineate their inner demons.  No one, even the hapless victims of which there are many, escape this harsh exposure under Zombie’s camera.

In a mesmeriziThe Devil's Rejects directed by Rob Zombieng sequence shot with music and no sound the bounty hunters invade the whore house and capture the Fireflys.  The Sheriff drives them in a convertible back to their home.  He will exact his revenge there.  He ties them to chairs and nail-guns photographs of their victims to their chests.  There is  a crucifixion scene.  Finally, he douses the place with kerosene and lights it up, but not without releasing Baby and telling her to run for her life.  He wants to hunt her down.

Outside Baby ducks into a cattle chute, following the metal railings into the dark.  The Sheriff comes after her wielding an axe.  We are reminded of the scene in the original film where Baby was chasing the teenager in the bunny suit before she stabbed her victim and licked her knife under the full moon.  The Sheriff pauses, a smile on his face, and remarks, “I smell rabbit.”

Baby is now flat out running.  Time to slow her up.  He pulls his sidearm and fires.  The round goes through her calf.  “I bet that hurt,” he tells her.  “I could hear the bone shatter.”

But he wants to show Baby that Karmic payback can be a real bitch so he pIt's all about family....uts the axe aside and begins to beat her with a thick leather strap.  Baby is clawing and squirming on the hard desert floor in a vain attempt to get away.  The Sheriff asks her if she likes being a victim, likes being tortured by a sadist.  Hey, this is Baby we’re talking about.  You’re damn right she does.

But the Sheriff has made a mortal mistake.  He forgot to check his six when in the presence of a Firefly.  Baby’s brother, Tiny, an eight-foot shambling freak, saves her life.  Whaddya know, that axe came in handy after all.

Tiny saves the Father and Brother Otis from the fire.  They tell him they will be back to get him.  Tiny nods and, with his deformed body silhouetted against the orange conflagration, he shambles inside the burning house to die.

The Fireflys escape only to come upon a police roadblock the next day while “Free Bird” plays in the background.  The final assault begins.  Again reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde but with Zombie’s own surrealistic touch added to the mix.  The credits roll scored by “Seed of Memory” by Terry Reid while we are shown sweeping camera moves that fly along the road and arc above the scrub-covered hills as if in a vain attempt to escape the carnage. When the screen goes black we say softly to ourselves, “Wow.”

Rob Zombie has without a doubt become the preeminent director of the horror and violence genre with these two films.  His use of music for the soundtrack is nothing less than phenomenal.  He is not only willing to take chances with both material and artistry, but to demand this is the direction horror must turn if it wants to survive, even evolve, as a genre.  Don’t miss this one.

The Sunset of Destruction, the Ashes of the West: A Retrospective from Caprock Canyon

I got a lot of work done on my trip to Caprock Canyon. I wanted to dovetail the preliminary stages of working on the new novel with the trip in the hope of synergy. It worked, better than I hoped. I came up with a lot of ideas and thoughts about the novel, characters, tone and imagery.

Coming upon scenes like this helped:

Caprock Canyon the morning after a rainstorm. Bright desert, dark sky.

I liked the solitude and the time away. I’m not going to get mawkish and say I felt a connection or anything, but I do admit it helped me seeing this land and understanding how it can be written about in a story. I came to a lot of conclusions about the novel when I was in Caprock. One of them is I am not going to back down or run away from language. I am going to present the characters the way they really talked and acted, not some Hollywood version of a scrubbed Hays Code idea of how they spoke. Anything less would be skirting the issue, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve spoken about what I think is wrong with the western genre and what can be done to correct it in another venue. I don’t want this post to be about that. But it’s difficult to talk about writing this novel I have in mind without bringing up some parts of what I believe is wrong with the genre, and why we need to correct some aspects of it.

Simply put, I think we have seen enough idealized John Wayne memes in westerns. It’s reaching the point where when I see something like that either in print or film I want to projectile vomit. I’m almost of the mind to approach the novel from the George Costanza viewpoint of “If I come close to a Hollywood trope, make sure I do the opposite instead.” I don’t know if I will go that far because then it would be full-blown author intervention, and I’m more inclined to let a story develop organically than try and steer it into an idealized direction. I don’t like that artificiality, either. That’s how I write. Other people do it differently, though. But writing is like that. Pick a 100 writers and they all do it differently. No one way is best, and if someone says it is, I advise you to ignore them.

I’m just laying down a marker that some things will be off limits in this novel. On the other hand, some things that have hitherto been off limits in the western genre, either due to historical ignorance of their existence, or some misguided perpetuation of a sanitized ideal that never existed…well, those previously hidden and ignored truths are going to be elevated first and foremost in this novel.

That perception of the novel, of its underlying philosophy, came to me while I was sitting on the eastern rim of the canyon one morning looking at this sight:

Looking west across Caprock Canyon

You get an indelible sense of not only the fragility of the west in a place like this, but of how much blood was spilled. The west is full of blood. Sometimes I think it’s nothing but blood. Then again the same can be said of the world.

I came up with a lot of ideas while I was out in Caprock Canyon. I think some of them are good ones and might be usable in a story. Others might fall by the wayside. But I think some elements and images will remain and be used as structure for the novel: the raw violence of the west, the once limitless expanse being torn asunder, the deep sunset of destruction and blood being drawn across the stage like a curtain, the ashes of the west.

In very broad philosophical terms this is what I want the novel to be about. I don’t know if I will be able to write it. Could be these themes are beyond my ability to describe them or bring them to light. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.

I’m just saying I think this story needs to be told.I’m not the first to do it. I’m only saying I want to be one of the ones who also tell this story.

The ashes of the west

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