The Devil’s Rejects: My Most Watched Film

What’s the movie you’ve watched more than any other? For me, it’s The Devil’s Rejects. On the surface, that may seem odd to pick due to its graphic nature and pleasantly unpleasant leads (who weave the line of protagonist and antagonist). When I was growing up, we would take one family vacation a year, and while I looked forward to a few days of mini-golf and sand rash, the trip itself was always my favorite part. I had a handheld DVD player with a 10” screen and would only take one DVD: The Devil’s Rejects (Two-Disc Director’s Cut). Twelve year old me maybe shouldn’t have been watching The Devil’s Rejects, but we live and learn. I’d start the trip by watching the unrated director’s cut, followed by the 2-hour long 30 Days In Hell: The Making of The Devil’s Rejects. Then, after one more viewing of the film, we’d be at our destination! 

Otis Driftwood stands over his next victim, his face is covered in blood

Unlike most people, my love for The Devil’s Rejects didn’t come from House of 1000 Corpses, rather, I had no clue there had been a film before this. I just kind of assumed we were led to believe this crazy ass family was on the run for some reason or another. By the age of fourteen or fifteen I finally learned of House and picked it up as soon as I could. Now talk about TONAL shift! The somber and dark tone, trickled with black humor, wasn’t there; muted yellows and oranges were now vibrant and garish. I’ve come to appreciate House, and even Three From Hell, but The Devil’s Rejects holds a nostalgic spot in my heart. 

The opening chaos unfolds faster than a jackrabbit, giving audiences no time to acclimate with the Fireflies. Writer/director Rob Zombie takes no prisoners from the start and doesn’t let go once for the hour and 50-minute runtime. One of the biggest questions (and critiques) I’ve seen raised is how the house at the beginning of Rejects isn’t the same house from House. But if you think about it, why would it be? There’s obviously a passage of time with Otis Driftwood’s (Bill Mosely) beard, meaning it would have been AT least a few months. And why would they stay at the house? At the end of House the family kills Sheriff George Wydell (Tom Towles) and Deputy Steve Naish (Walton Goggins), so they would have to vacate the premises. Do you think the Firefly family would stop their murderous bullsh*t just because they’re on the lamb? Of course not! 

Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding stand in a hotel room, ready to plan their next move

Compared to House, The Devil’s Rejects is unquestionably meaner and nastier. Fairly often the violence in House is overlaid with various amounts of film grain and degradation, which hides a solid bit of the true atrocities. It’s effective for that film, but Zombie’s abandonment of the colorful aesthetic and embrace of the serious takes Rejects to a whole new level. House works for what it is, though it doesn’t feel grander than that. Rejects is a harsh look at reality, reveling in the post 9/11 anger of America. Part of the reason the Firefly family feels like they were horror icons even before modern audiences became aware of House is because Zombie course-corrected, removed almost all comedic elements, and told a brutal and insanely bloody tale. 

The soundtrack for House isn’t awful, but it’s not great. Sure, it did give us some solid concert jams like “House of 1000 Corpses” and “Pussy Liquor”. The Devil’s Rejects starts us off with the slow melodic musings of Blind Willie Johnson with “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground” before throwing us into a chase/getaway sequence set to the upbeat and twangy Allman Brothers Band bop “Midnight Rider”. Two diametrically different songs give the audience an aural whiplash and sets up a tone of uncertainty. Now there is one moment in the film that I could wager 90% of genre fans know, even if they haven’t seen the film. You know we’re talking about the final shoot-out set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. Zombie finds ways to humanize the Firefly family throughout the film by trying to set up Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) as a secondary villain. By the finale, the Fireflies are in bad sorts. They soon arrive at a blockade, as “Free Bird” has been playing for the majority of this car scene. As the music kicks off, so do the Fireflies as they go out in a blaze of glory. It’s hard to not feel deep emotions for the Firefly family. Even on your hundredth rewatch. 

Effects-wise, The Devil’s Rejects looks and feels bigger and badder. There are a few moments of digital enhancements that stick out like a sore thumb, mainly a few blood effects, but the overwhelming majority of effects for Rejects are practical. This is no different from House but for me, the practicals in Rejects feel more brutal. The perceived enhanced brutality could be attributed to smarter editing, longer shots, and better all-around acting from everyone involved. 

Captain Spaulding looks on in glee as he terrorizes a woman and her child

Rob Zombie learned some tough lessons on House, and thankfully he took them to heart. There’s no purpose to make a film if you go in thinking you know everything already. Filmmaking is a craft and the best filmmakers understand that. House was a force to be reckoned with in the genre, and Zombie knew it could be better. His writing became HIS writing and he really started to find his voice with Rejects. There’s no question, to me, that Rob Zombie is an auteur. You can tell a movie is a Rob Zombie movie just by watching 30 seconds of it, and that’s what I like about him. Even when he switches up subgenres or story types, he effectively amalgamates his style into whatever story is telling and never leaves the audience bored. 

Written by Brendan Jesus

Brendan is an award-winning author and screenwriter. His hobbies include magnets, ghouls, and finding slugs after a fresh rain.

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