Tag Archives: Devils Rejects

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XX: Astro Creeps

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

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The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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Growing up in the leafy ghetto of Greater London, I was quite the grunger and metal head as teenager. One band that it was hard not to notice in the metal scene at that time was White Zombie.

Fronted by the self-proclaimed ‘Hell-billy’, Rob Zombie, White Zombie stood out in a scene of numerous identi-kit Nu-Metal bands for three reasons. Firstly, Rob’s vocal style was not far off trying to sing whilst gargling gasoline. Secondly, they had meaty riffs, which is the only type of meat I still consume to this day. Finally, they had a weird hodgepodge of imagery.

Urgh… not his face, just the turtle-neck.

 

This imagery was controlled by Rob Zombie. Zombie is an educated art and design graduate, and also worked full-time as Porn Magazine Design Editor. Given his wide knowledge of design, Zombie combined his various interests to give his band an eclectic look mixed up from 50’s Americana, Futurism, Universal Horror and Ed Roth’s art. Together this jumble of styles was garish but recognisable, familiar yet unique. This amalgam of trash-imagery even extended to White Zombie’s music videos- something that makes all the more sense once you know that Rob Zombie directed the band’s music videos, too.

Fun Fact: Rob Zombie animated the trip sequence in Beavis & Butthead Do America

 

So when it was announced in the year 2000 that Rob Zombie had his own feature film coming out, I already had a rough idea of how it may potentially look. Sure enough, after several delays, House Of 1,000 Corpses arrived in 2003 and it was in many ways it was an extension of his established style.

House Of 1,000 Corpses is a wild throwback for horror fans. It was a modern exploitation movie set in 1973, a key decade for the genre. The plot, in brief, is that a bunch of Kids are out sightseeing macabre places. They stop to get Gas and find the owner of the Gas Station is the unusual Captain Spaulding. Spaulding dresses like a clown and sells fried chicken out of his gas station. More importantly for them, he has a deep knowledge of the local urban legend concerning a mad scientist called Dr. Satan who once tried to create an army of super mutants.

The kids go looking for more on this Dr. Satan legend, but soon they ‘breakdown’ at a house nearby the murder locations. This is the house of the Firefly family. The Firefly’s are made up of freakish relatives who resemble twisted Carnie folk. Even worse, they are a soon revealed to be murders, rapists and, at a complete guess, quite possibly even tax dodgers.

Splatter And Gore HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

House Of 1,000 Corpses has a lot of fun elements and is self-aware enough to revel in its own silliness. This is evident in its use of Dr. Satan as a geriatric Mad Scientist-come-Body-Modder, as well as the Firefly clan being named after different Marx Brothers characters. In fact, perhaps the most telling- and endearing- sign that this is not a film to be taken too seriously is that the very first character we meet is Captain Spaulding. Spaulding is a murderous clown who built a Ghost Train into his fried-chicken-selling gas station and likes to imitate John Wayne. This is hardly Ken Loach territory.

Through House Of 1,000 Corpses,Rob Zombie made a candy floss movie. A brightly coloured, enjoyable snack rather than a nutritious meal to be consumed delicately. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

Meh, better him than some candidates.

 

However, it is the subsequent sequel span in a new direction. This sequel, The Devil’s Rejects,has been burning away in the back of my mind for over a decade. It has always left me frustrated despite several viewings. The reason for this frustration will be explained in a moment. However, after watching both films back-to-back again very recently, I finally realised that this frustration may not necessarily be an accident. It may be by Rob Zombie’s intended design.

Case Study A: Captain Spaulding’s look in House Of 1,000 Corpses

Released in 2005, The Devil’s Rejects picks up approximately one year after the end of House Of 1,000 Corpses. The Firefly clan are being hunted by Sherriff Wydell, whose brother George was killed in the first film. Sheriff Wydell is not just an officer of the law- he is a self-righteous force of vitriolic justice.

With various members of the family wiped out during a siege near the start of the movie, only the father Otis, his sister Baby, and their father, Captain Spaulding, are able to escape. The film focuses on both the remaining Fireflies as serial killers on the run, and also Wydell’s loss of control as he peruses them unrelentingly across dust bowl Texas. As their confrontation looms closer and closer, things get bleaker and bleaker with every passing scene.

If you are unfamiliar with either of these films, compare the rough plot synopsis that I have written and you’ll notice a remarkable shift of tone. Gone is the joy of exploitation from the first film. The sequel takes a weightier look at the horror of pure evil that humankind can do. There is no hope in The Devil’s Rejects. The only thing present is despair.

Case Study B: Captain Spaulding’s look in The Devil’s Rejects

Unlike the neon-circus of House Of 1,000 Corpses, the colours of every scene of the sequel are drained out. The film is seems exclusively brown, grey and every shade in-between. Also absent are the ‘MTV’ fast editing that House Of 1,000 Corpses is loaded with. In the first film, the shocking scenes are cut with obtuse imagery or skittery shots from other perspectives. It is a jarring way to show something shocking has happened. The editing in The Devil’s Rejects though is much more straight forward and traditional. In short, the tone of the film series has gone from comic-book to snuff movie.

Now this change in tone is not the point of this blog entry. The shift is not anything that needs pointing out, it is simply a statement of obvious fact. However the point of this blog is linked to this massive tonal shift.

Even Batman gets frustrated sometimes
Fond online, c/o Jason Edmiston

 

The thing that has previously frustrated me with The Devil’s Rejects, even from my very first cinema viewing at a midnight screening, is its ending.

House Of 1,000 Corpses ends with the bad guys getting away with it all. Downbeat endings are often exploitation standards, and since the whole film is fluff it does not feel out of place. Unfortunately, given that The Devil’s Rejects is presented as a much grittier and a somewhat more realistic film than its predecessor, its ending becomes one of very poor taste.

The end of The Devil’s Rejects involves the emergence of a presumed dead family member, Tiny, returning just in time to save Otis, Baby and Captain Spaulding from Officer Wydell’s vengeance. Tiny stays to perish rather than burden his family, and so the three escapees head off once again. As the last Firefly survivors try to get away they come across a Police blockade. They are then slowly gunned down to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song Free Bird. It is almost like experiencing a redneck version of The Wild Bunch.

“It’s a dry heat, y’all”

This ending is presents a brutal death for the escapees, and in doing so it attempts to humanise them. The entire sequence begins with swooping shots of the countryside whilst the guitars of Free Bird build.

These shots of scenery eventually give way to close up’s of their three weary, bloodied faces. They drive off in a battered state, having seemingly escaped society and the law. As they head off the song’s message of ‘personal freedom’ begins to become apparent.

As the song continues, there are repeated flashbacks to home-video type footage. In these shots we see the Fireflies as a loving family. They smile and laugh and pose together happily. These home video moments are inter cut with their bloody, almost lifeless faces. All the while the song continues to build up.

As Free Bird flows into its epic form, the Fireflies realise a Police blockade is ahead. They pick up their guns and drive straight on, choosing to go out fighting whilst the guitars twang over the soundtrack. We proceed to witness bullets rip each of them apart in slow motion as the song crescendos and the film simply fades to black.

So the final presentation of the Fireflies is of a loving family who go out like proud rebels of the Wild West….Yet barely an hour before hand we have followed these same characters as they sexually assault a woman, kill her husband, cut off his face and then force her to wear it!

Ed Gein loves you and wants to hug you

 

Zombie’s attempt to present horrible characters in a sympathetic light at the zero hour always seemed to me to be in awful taste. The fact the audience is supposed to suddenly feel sad for the Fireflies simply because the frame rate slows down, and we see that they had fun family times too has always bothered me.

But on my most recent watching of The Devil’s Rejects, what recently clicked in my mind was, well, maybe that’s the whole darn point of the film.

Maybe we are supposed to question the technique-to-content relationship. Maybe we are not supposed just being passive viewers who accept the Fireflies defiant last stand. Just maybe we are in fact supposed to call “bullcrap!” on that whole section.

Let us take a moment to consider this; Rob Zombie makes a fun, schlock-fest via House Of 1,000 Corpses. No doubt some people could be offended by it, but for the most part it’s so ridiculous and over the top in all its techniques that it’s clearly fluff. Good fluff perhaps, but fluff.

Then Zombie follows it up with The Devil’s Rejects. This is a brutally grimy film that follows the very same characters in a far harsher light. Now these characters are stripped from their garish costumes and their cartoon world. There is no Dr. Satan here. There are no mere-men curiosities. Not even Captain Spaulding is wears his full clown outfit any more. Instead he now wears regular clothes with the faded visage of clown make-up.

Is Zombie is actually presenting a film that is not only about setting a different tone, but it is also about questioning that very tone? If so, then the The Devil’s Rejects ending begins to take on a much more interesting and acceptable bent.

lyn

The ending does not have to humanise these demons. Rather it can exist to show how film techniques can humanise demons. It all it can take is some slow motion, some pleasant cutaways and the endorsement of rock song associated with positive nostalgia.

At any rate, this is just a recent theory. Perhaps Zombie is asking us to question how we could possibly sympathise with rapists and murderers, or perhaps Zombie genuinely does expect us to sympathise for them simply because they’re ‘cool’ characters.

It is tough to know if Zombie is an artist with something to say, or a psychotic with a camera. I like to think the former given his amazing growth between the two films, but I am tempted to think the latter. After all, his next film was the atrocious Halloween remake. Oh Rob, I guess you were out to shock and disgust after all.

 

Next time I’ll be pondering what my old pal Jack Burton always used to say.

Thanks for reading.

-MJ

 

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XVII: One Way Ticket

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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This may come as a a shock to any regular readers, but not every film that I write about is lost gem. Nope, it’s true. Not even Hell Comes To Frogtown (Episode XI). Sometimes, my selections are simply films that dropped off the radar yet that I feel are worth revisiting.

Today’s selection falls into a particularly unique area I want to examine- An ‘Almost Movie’. An Almost Movie is one that has all the ingredients to be great, but turns out decidedly average. Palookaville (1995)has the dubious honour of being my first such selection.

Palookaville covers familiar ground to better known films such as Welcome To Colinwood, Small Time Crooks, and a smattering of Ealing comedies. It is a comedy-drama concerned with the aspirations Russ, Sid and Jerry, three low level criminals. Palookaville focuses on each of their shambolic lives as they prepare for a robbery far and away outside of their amateur ambitions. In fact, it is disingenuous to even describe Russ Jerry and Sid as low-level criminals. They are beneath even that. They’re so down the criminal ladder they’d need a step ladder just to reach the bottom rung of the first ladder. Russ, Jerry and Sid are more akin to everyday folk with nothing to lose and flexible morals.

 

Sometimes I think he looks handsome, sometimes I think he looks like an alien. No wonder he modelled.

Set in mid-90’s New Jersey, Russ lives at home with his overbearing mother, his sister and his despised brother-in-law, Ed. Ed, is a cop which only adds to their natural distrust of one another as well as fuelling extra tensions at home. Russ is motivated by a grand sense of ego combined with a lack of privacy or respect at home. Russ is very much the driving force of the group as he desperately seeks a new life.

In contrast, Jerry is seeking to stabilise his own home life. He is an unemployed carpenter struggling to support his wife Betty and their child. Betty works as a cashier at the local supermarket and is the sole provider which weighs heavily on Jerry’s own mind.

Finally is Sid. Sid is completely broke and lonely. He lives with two dogs that he struggles to feed. Sid obsess over a divorce form a decade ago and pours all his remaining energy into looking after his dogs . Sid is a man in need of anything to remind him what living is really like rather than simply surviving.

At the start of the film, we witness the threes bungled attempt to dig into a Jewellery store. Instead they dig a hole in the wrong direction and end up in a bakery. Crumbs!

Ideal for almost any occasion

 

After narrowly escaping the police response units, Jerry swears off any more attempts at crime. He wants to be there for his wife, and their son. Forgetting about crime, he and Sid try to get a private taxi company going in a bid to stay legit. However when rival Yellow Cabs get violent, the trio are forced to slam the brakes onto that plan.

Settling back into their desperate lives, Russ, in a moment of affection/foolhardiness, promises a girl that he is seeing a new life together in California. Simultaneously, Sid receives an eviction notice making him almost destitute, and Jerry finds Betty is being sexually harassed by her manager at the supermarket. Jerry takes matters into his own hands and the end result is that Betty is fired. The trio are now in more dire straits than ever when, somewhat serendipitously, they end up saving an Armoured Courier’s driver from a heart attack. The courier’s job is to transport the takings from the Supermarket. Soon a ‘perfect’ plot is hatched to steal money from a deserving victim, but what could possibly go wrong???

Waving his beg red pistol around!
The Three Amigos

Well given this is a comedy about chumps, quite a few things go wrong that involve Ed, a guard dog, and a drill. Ultimately the would-be criminals do not rob the truck. Instead they end up hailed as civic heroes. They never get their riches, but they do gain a little self- awareness about how far they are willing to go ethically. A little self-realization is their sole reward, but it seems the film leaves all three in marginally happier places than at the start of the film.

I bet not too many people try to Car Jack this bad boy

Whilst the plot itself is not particularly original, this is not a problem. Straight away this entire concept of amateur criminals/desperate men is a good set up for any comedy-drama.

The crime aspect allows for both a black comedy in tone, as well as the possibility of broader comedy on its action scenes. This conceit also allows for desperate characters to be placed under immense stress. This can be either dramatic or comedic, depending on what is needed.

With all of this in mind, it would seem that the trick to pull off a good comedy-drama based around low lives would seem to be two-fold; Firstly, have a script that allows for the necessary character beats. Secondly, gather a cast that can bring a mix of pathos and levity to their roles.

This image is both a comedy & a tragedy

 

Well, sadly for Palookaville it is in this aspect that it becomes an ‘Almost Movie’. Palookaville certainly succeeds with the casting but it fails at the scripting.

The most shocking thing about a comedy named after a famous film quote* is that it does not feature any memorable lines, let alone great barbs of humour. In fact it could almost be a full-on drama except for the constant times that the heavy-handed clarinet score comes in to remind the viewer how to feel.

The most quoted line from this film that I could find between Google, IMDB and Youtube is the line ‘A momentary shift in lifestyle’. This is Russ describes committing a one-off robbery. This is a perfectly good line, but if that is the most featured line in a pop-culture sense then it is safe to say the script does not sparkle off the page. It may seem perhaps a little unfair to base a critique over how quoted a film is online, but honestly the lines themselves do not get any stronger in Palookaville. ‘A momentary shift in lifestyle’ is as strong as it gets. Not bad by any means, but hardly a stinger of a one-line jab.

“Bad Boys/Bad Boys/Whatcha Gonna Do?”

However, for any dialogue or incidents that fail to really pop off of the screen, the casting at leasts get the most out of Palookaville. The core-trio of Sid, Russ and Jerry are played three very respectable character actors. Sid is played by the intense William Forsythe (The Devils Rejects, The Rock, Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead) Russ is played by the infamous Vincent Gallo (Buffalo ’66, The Brown Bunny, Tetro) and Jerry by working TV actor, Adam Trese (Homicide: Life On The Street, The Sopranos, Rescue Me). Oh, and Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Darkman) crops up a few times too.

 

This trio play to their respective strengths, really giving their parts a sense of life. The character of Russ is a whiny, pushy character who believes he is smarter than those around him. Sid is stoic but clearly depressed, and Jerry is an everyday guy just down on his luck. Given these sorts of characteristics it is no wonder then that Gallo excels at being a frustrated neurotic, Forsythe a strong, silent backbone and Adam is easy to relate to as an Average Joe. I have watched this film a half-dozen times in total. This is down to the cast. Gallo et al make this film completely watchable, but conversely each time I do watch it, it is frustrating to think how much better the same cast would be with a wittier screenplay.

“We’re robbing you, asshole”

 

It is unfortunate that Palookaville never completely gels. The drama itself is not moving enough, nor the humour biting enough. But make no mistake, Palookaville is still a perfectly solid watch. In fact it is somewhat fitting that the pleasant-mediocrity of the movie matches the notions within the film itself; You don’t always need to excel. Sometimes it is OK to be average if you can truly appreciate all that you do have.

 

The next Hollyweird can be summed up in two truly glorious words…. ‘Rapping Shatner’!!!!!

Thanks for reading.

-MJ

* I won’t actually cite the movie quote. Any cinephile should know and anyone else can Google it.