Sunday, October 11, 2020

Cruciatu Gratia Artis

Film: The Devil’s Rejects
Format: DVD from River Valley District Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

In every interview I’ve seen of Rob Zombie, he seems like a really smart guy. Not just that, though; he seems genuinely thoughtful, like he puts a lot of deep thought into what he’s talking about. His answers don’t seem pre-planned, but always seem like it’s a question he’s thought of before just on his own. How the hell this guy makes movies like The Devil’s Rejects I will not understand.

What I mean by this is simple: The Devil’s Rejects is torture porn and not much else. It’s perhaps a bit more clever than the filmography of Eli Roth, but not by much. This is an excuse to watch really awful people do terrible things to people who don’t deserve it, because no one deserves it. This is mutilation as sport and not much more. In fact, that’s part of the problem here. Zombie is such a smart guy, that everyone figures that there has to be more here than what we’re being given. A smart guy wouldn’t just make a torture porn film, right? A smart guy has to have some sort of meaningful subtext in the film…right?

Maybe he does. There are plenty of people who will tell you The Devil’s Rejects is some sort of reaction to, response to, or diabolical fulfillment of post-9/11 America. There are those who will tell you that the senseless violence, the killing for the sake of killing, the torture, the dirt, the absolute brutality of this movie is a response to the world created when airplanes can be flown into buildings. In a world where nothing makes sense and death can happen any time and from out of nowhere, the proper reply is a movie where nothing makes sense and death simply happens to anyone at any time.

Bluntly, I don’t buy it.

This is more or less an extension of House of 1000 Corpses, featuring many of the same characters. There’s not a great deal of plot to go through here, so I’ll stick to the very basics. The police, headed by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) raid the house of the Firefly clan, who naturally fight back. One of the clan, Tiny (Matthew McGrory) is killed in the battle and the family matriarch (Leslie Easterbrook) is captured. The other two, Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) escape. Eventually they hook up with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is Baby’s father, and the three go on a murder/torture/death spree that involves a group of traveling musicians.

That’s pretty much it. Getting from the opening credits to the end credits is going to take us to and through some really awful things for the sake of gory spectacle. There is nothing to learn here, no lesson to be had.

I’ve watched some brutal movies before. Movies like Come and See or Martyrs are hard watches, ones I don’t want to experience a second time. There’s no joy in those movies; there’s just terrible things that happen on the screen. But I learned something from those movies. Those movies had lessons to teach and were about more than just brutality and horror. There was more than just reaching into the depths of human depravity and showing us the pain of other people for nearly two hours (Jesus…this film is nearly two hours long). Those films had something to say that was more than just “Look at this! It’s nasty!”

Years ago, when I watched In the Realm of the Senses, my thought about it was that it was essentially pornography. I mean, the movie is filled with actual, non-simulated penetrative sex acts. There’s a lot of sex in that movie. But it’s also got a Criterion release. It’s artistic porn. To put it another way, it’s a film that was created for film snobs so that they could watch porn and claim that they were actually watching an art film.

Ultimately, I have a similar opinion about The Devil’s Rejects. This is just a torture porn/simulated snuff film made for people who want to tell themselves that they are actually watching intelligent commentary on violence or geopolitics. They aren’t. They’re watching torture porn and they don’t want to admit it.

Why to watch The Devil’s Rejects: Because you’re tired of enjoying things.
Why not to watch: There is nothing redeeming about it.


  1. I actually liked this film. It is sick, it's disgusting, and depraved yet I enjoyed it. It was nuts as I do like a few of Rob Zombie's films as I do think The Lords of Salem is his best film to date.

    1. I'm pretty solidly in the minority on this one. I didn't hate House of 1000 Corpses, but this one just seems so nihilistic.

      And I think I've decided that I really, really dislike Sherri Moon Zombie.

  2. This remains one of the two movies I've walked out of in theaters. I hated it, and what frustrates me is Zombie, like you said seems very articulate, and he has a good "eye" for horror, but he can't write a screen play. Every other word is a curse word, or something sexual and no one talks like this all the time. That's the biggest downfall of his horror movies, IMO. They come off like snuff films because he doesn't let his characters behave like actual human beings.

    1. Yeah, that's it exactly. I can't even say that it wants to be edgy and fails, because I don't think that's it. Ultimately, it's just sadism, and I'm not interested in that.

      You missed pretty much nothing by walking out.

  3. Yeah, I never bought the whole post-911 America interpretation of this film. You hot the nail on the head. It's torture porn. Fun fact: I saw this without even knowing it was a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, which I've never seen because this didn't make me want to seek it out. That said, I do think Zombie is a miles better filmmaker than Eli Roth.

    1. To be blunt, I think the kids in Super 8 are better filmmakers than Eli Roth.