Summer of Horror: The Devil’s Rejects, Housebound, White Zombie

The Devil’s Rejects

Devil's Rejects

Here it is, at long last, Rob Zombie’s supposed “masterpiece”. His highest rated film, critically. And it’s, ummm, hmm…

Look, there’s no other way to say it – Rob Zombie shouldn’t write dialogue. I’m sure he loves the way his characters speak, primarily in expletives, shouting, and verbal rape. And I’m sure he has fans that love it as well, but I’ve always found it to be the biggest weakness in every one of his films. It’s grating, and beyond that, EVERY ONE OF HIS CHARACTERS SPEAKS THAT WAY. It’s a stylistic decision that, regardless of whatever else he has going on visually, plotwise, or characterwise, you have to be on board with, or you’ll hate the whole movie.

That’s what makes reviewing The Devil’s Rejects so frustrating, because it’s all true that this is Zombie’s most technically proficient film. He’s an undeniably talented visual filmmaker (as previously stated), and this, as a loose sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, has so many interesting ideas. It plucks a handful of characters from that utterly bonkers, acid trip nightmarescape of a movie and drops them into a real world setting, then invites us to get to know them as people even as they torture and violate innocents.

This movie deliberately robs you of anyone to root for. The main characters are all murdering rapists (and raping murderers), and you want to see them pay for their crimes, but the local sheriff with his own personal vendetta to settle is nearly as despicable. He may be on the side of the law, but he’s just as violent, sadistic, and just plain gross as any of the titular Rejects.

All of Rob Zombie’s staples (explicit dialogue, torture, grindhouse cinematography, Southern rock, filthy sex, filth in general…) are here, and they work best in this film out of all. Even the normally eye-rolling use of Free Bird is put up against such a beautifully filmed “Thelma and Louise” sequence that it actually, miraculously, works.  Just like his use of Love Hurts in Halloween, when you hear it, you can’t believe he’s actually getting away with it.

Having now seen all but one of Rob Zombie’s films, I feel comfortable saying this is about as good as you can get from him. He won’t ever change. These are the movies he wants to see, and he’s gonna keep making ’em. There’s a slight chance he could surprise me with his upcoming 31, or his supposed Groucho Marx biopic, but until he rescinds screenplay duties and hires a more gung-ho editor, if you’ve seen one Rob Zombie film you’ve kind of seen them all. 

Housebound

HouseboundCinematically speaking, if there’s one thing New Zealand is famous for… it’s the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films.

But if there’s TWO things it’s famous for, the other is horror comedies. Brain Dead (Dead Alive), Black Sheep, The Frighteners, What We Do in the Shadows… and Housebound joins that storied group. But where most New Zealand horror comedies lean more towards the wacky, slapsticky side, Housebound’s comedy is more subtle, the gore more downplayed, and the horror more legitimate.

The film can be a bit of a slog to get through during the first 20 or 30 minutes, simply because the main character Kylie (looking like a goth Anna Paquin) is so insufferable. Constantly scowling, rolling her eyes, and generally behaving like a disgruntled teenager in response to what is, actually, a very soft punishment. 8 months house arrest for blowing up an ATM! But she quickly starts to come around when she realizes first hand there might be truth to her mother’s kooky theories about the house being haunted.

Housebound is chock full of twists and turns, red herrings and fakeouts. In so being, it cycles through a number of horror sub-genres like a kind of sampler platter. Traditional haunted house here, home invasion there, serial killer here, psychological thriller there.

The astonishing 97% Rotten Tomatoes score seems a little too effusive for me, but this is another one currently available on Netflix, so I can pretty easily recommend it. I’ve had a couple of people tell me recently that they read my reviews but don’t (can’t) watch horror movies. To those people, I’d consider trying this one out if you want to dip your toes in. The humor relieves the tension at the right moments without tipping into full comedy. It will not give you nightmares.

White Zombie

White Zombie

What is the first ever zombie movie? Well, as is so often the case with movie history, the answer isn’t all that simple.

It could be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), but they referred to the one and only “zombie” in that film as a somnambulist, controlled by a magician. White Zombie is thought to be the first feature film to actually use the word “zombie”. Until Night of the Living Dead, zombies were depicted as dead bodies brought to life by voodoo magic to act as slaves for one master. Bela Lugosi plays that master (hilariously named “Murder Legendre”), just a year after his immortal turn as Count Dracula. And wouldn’t you know it? The characters share more than a few similarities – the cape, the posture, the widow’s peak, and most importantly, the stare. Nobody stares like Bela Lugosi.

Credit: goldenagehorror.com
Credit: goldenagehorror.com

This film has a plot, but it’s so rudimentary and ridiculous it’s almost not worth recapping. Even in 1932, it didn’t get a glowing reception. And like most movies this old, it can be tough to get through in parts. The pace is often glacial, the editing sloppy and filled with abrupt transitions, and certain events seem to defy all logic. I love the way things wrap up in the end, with multiple character deaths simply rushed through in the final minutes, as though they forgot to write an ending and didn’t realize it until the day of filming.

As the de facto “first zombie movie”, I suppose this is required viewing for horror scholars, which is why it has been in the Summer of Horror queue since year one. It would work fairly well as background ambiance for a Halloween party, but you may as well just use Dracula for your Lugosi fix.

One comment

  1. The main thing I like about TDR is that it feels like it was made in the 70’s, minus the slight use of CGI. I can understand it not being everyone’s glass of pumpkin beer, though.

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