Monday, May 15, 2006

What's This About Clown Business?

Saw two movies this weekend — one in the theaters, one through Netflix. I’m telling you this so you know why the next two blog posts will consist of movie reviews.

This post concerns “The Devil’s Rejects,” and how I really, really, really liked it. Really. Yes, the Rob Zombie movie. Yes, the one with his girlfriend in it. Please, let me explain: This movie is good because it holds the current record for the most uses of the word "fuck" per minute of any movie ever made. I'm shallow, I know, but that is enough for me to decide a movie's worth seeing. Don't worry, rest of world that is not me. My endorsement of this film runs a bit more deeply than its varied and creative uses of "fuck."

I use Netflix as a means of getting my hands on movies that I would never walk into a video store to rent. It’s so private. I like knowing that I can get a movie like “Isla, Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks” and not have to meet the disapproving gaze of the person working behind the rental store counter. That counts for a lot, really. Sure, a few friends can see my rental queue — Jill? Josh? Hilly? Geo? Jardinebloister? Adam? Do any of you read me anymore? — but I don’t worry about the opinions of the people who already realize that I like watching trash.

On that note, the lucky DVD that’s most recently graced my Phillips-brand fun box is “The Devil’s Rejects,” the sequel to Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, “House of 1000 Corpses.” I actually saw this first movie in the theaters. I think I was one of the only ones, in fact. Me and a friend — Jardinebloister? You there? — drove down to Ventura on a night when there was nothing else to do and saw it just for the sheer curiosity of what a movie Rob Zombie made might look like. We left the theater pretty disappointed. And sticky. Damn dirty theater.

The short of it is that “House of 1000 Corpses” was just too much — to surreal to focus on anything, to wacky to be scary, and to gross to be fun. It could have been a good, old-fashioned schlockfest, but the introduction of a ridiculous character named Dr. Satan just took the whole thing to a level of such implausibility that I couldn’t give a shit about what happened to the characters.

The reviews for “The Devil’s Rejects,” however, led to be interested in it, despite my indifference to the first movie. Various critics, Roger Ebert among them, cited the movie as having a real plot, character development and more focus than “House of 1000 Corpses.” I got excited, especially when I read that the filmed starred folks like E.G. Daily, Danny Trejo, Brian Posehn and P.J. Soles. I can actually remember trying in vain to get someone to go see “The Devil’s Rejects” in the theaters here in Santa Barbara. I’m actually surprised it even hit local theaters, considering the reputation of the first film and the tendency for all our movie houses to appeal to the most mainstream, Matthew Broderick-watching people this side of Omaha.

So I actually watched the movie Friday night. Because when you don’t go out and you have work to do, you have to watch explicitly violent movies. But I was really happy that the movie worked out for me. Whereas the first one rides like a rickety roller coaster at some backwoods county fair, this one drives more smoothly, like some 70s-era muscle car or something. It’s not goofy. It’s retro, but not so much as to make it silly. And it’s not horror, exactly, either. It’s a revenge film. And if “Kill Bill” taught us anything, revenge films make for good, violent entertainment.

The film concerns William Forsythe, the brother of a character killed in the first movie, who leads a bunch of police officers on a raid of the Firefly House, the expansive but dilapidated shack where the murderous rednecks of the first film live. In fact, it’s the structure referred to in the title “House of 1000 Corpses.” The police nab the mother — played well enough by Leslie Easterbrook that I forgot Karen Black played the role in the first film — but two siblings, Otis and Baby, escape. While Forysthe’s character tries to locate the escaped killers, they cut a swath through whatever sunbaked state they’re escaping through, looking for a safe place to stay. The whole movie through this point has a very “Natural Born Killers” vibe, but manages to fit the action into a much shorter and entertaining span of film that Oliver Stone’s picture did.

The remarkable thing that “The Devil’s Rejects” pulls off is that it eventually makes you identify with Otis and Baby, the homicidal pair that so heinously butchers four young people in the first film and a hapless country-western band in this one. I’m not sure when exactly it happens — whether it’s Baby stopping to buy ice cream as they flee the police or William Forsythe’s character speaking to himself in the mirror in a moment of pitifully exaggerated machismo — but you eventually start seeing the killers as a little more human and their pursuer as so fixated on revenge as to become a villain.

He eventually captures them in a brutal ambush at a whorehouse, returns them to the family homestead and horrendously tortures them — even nailing photos of their many, many victims to their chests in a way that seems unfit for even psychopaths. Baby escapes and runs away in a scene that parallels the death of the last of the main four kids in the first movie. That dead girl was in a bunny suit, while Forsythe chants “Here, bunny, bunny” as a wounded Baby limps around the family corrals before she gets nabbed.

It all goes to the credit of Rob Zombie. It’s supremely twisted to make the viewer shift their allegiance so dramatically — especially if the viewer’s someone who sat through the first movie and watched the Firefly family’s relentless evil. But he makes it happen so seamlessly that I can’t even recall when I started liking these awful people.

The movie ends with a slow-motion shot of the final surviving Fireflys driving their car into a police blockade, and getting shot to death in the process. It’s all played out to “Free Bird” in a way that reminded me of the last shots of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It was sad and beautiful and fitting — everything you can expect out of a movie, really.

I’d wager that Zombie’s best decision in making this second — and presumably final — film in the Firefly family story is the complete elimination of the Dr. Satan bullshit. In a movie like this, almost a revenge flick period piece, it would have stuck out even more miserably than it did in the first. It helps elevate the movie overall.

Weird, I know. But trust me on this one.
[ link: IMDb and Netflix ]
[ like going to summer camp! everyday! but different sometimes! ]

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