“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.

7 Replies to ““Never Turn Your Back on a Clown””

  1. I’m so happy you liked The Devil’s Rejects! At the time, it struck me as being very much in that 1970s revisionist Western mold, even leaving the period setting aside–the Bloody Benders, but with far less couth and more pop-culture weirdness. I also loved that it answered my primary question from House of 1,000 Corpses, which was “Do these people really care for each other, at least?”, plus the secondary question of “And what would they be like under pressure, if the tables were turned?” So now we know–without his artistic pretensions and makeup, Otis is a peevish micromanager whose stepfather and half-sister make merciless fun of him; contrary to her airhead persona, Baby is often the most vicious of the three; Captain Spaulding is the least psychotic and therefore has the best ideas, but his attachment to his own blood will be his undoing. And none of them can be trusted, not in a bad spot, or out of it–except with each other. Like so many outlaw families, though the Fireflies are anything but admirable, their inability to compromise and their fierce, crazy love leaves a weirdly pleasant aftertaste, for those who can take the grue.;)

    1. It’s a wonderful movie; I think Zombie is an artistic genius.I was also struck by the strong family bond they showed to one another even under the direst circumstances. I thought that was daring film making.

      It’s a darn good movie and has much deeper contextual layers to it than most people will either admit, or be able to perceive. Oh, man, and is Baby ever the more vicious of the three. Hoo boy. After seeing this and 1000 Corpses I immediately became a big Sid Haig fan. He is just so much fun in both films and I really like his central role in Rejects and how the family sort of looks to and depends on him as a stabilizing force. I just cannot say enough good things about this movie. 😀

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