I posted my initial thoughts of The Devil’s Rejects last night immediately after seeing the movie.
When the movie was good, it was really good: Texas Chainsaw Massacre as if directed by Sam Peckinpah. Well acted. Stylistically interesting. Great cinematography. Unabashedly gory and violent. I’d looked forward to it for some time. I was tired of the PG-13 horror flicks liked Cursed that were afraid to cut loose and give the horror audience any splatter.
But this wasn’t really a horror flick. There were a few scary scenes, but scary in a way a tornado is scary. No sense to the destructiveness facing the victims at the hotel. Just people randomly in the path of destruction.
Where Rob Zombie, as director and writer, failed, however, was in the half of the story line with the vengeful sheriff.
I touched on last night how the scenes with the police struck me as unrealistic. They raid a house with 75 bodies and a few still living victims in cages in the cellar (though the prisoners are not shown being released, it’s safe to assume the deputies freed them). Four deputies killed and a dozen wounded. Yet in subsequent scenes after the initial raid, the deputies are shown as if moving in slow motion. No urgency in the behavior of the deputies at the station. He relied too much on the “news footage” to create that illusion, which made it distant and remote to the audience.
Zombie should have filled the screen up with actors in the background doing things to create the impression that a massive manhunt was underway, that police officers also had “cowboyed up” as they say on the streets after an officer goes down.
That leads me to the part of the story that dragged the movie down. Zombie wants us to see that the sheriff in his quest for vengeance for the death of his brother becomes as much of a monster as the Firefly family he is hunting.
Yet it happens with too much being said in over-the-top dialogue and not enough being shown. And it should not have been the sheriff alone. Where Zombie either did not think of going or feared going (and it’s probably the former and not the latter) is to go into the heart of darkness of authority.
He hints and dances around it with the sheriff’s quest for dark revenge. But the sheriff outsources the capture to the Unholy Two bounty hunters. A better way of handling it would have been to show the sheriff and deputies go down that dark path together. Whereas Zombie captured the maniac Fireflys realistically, he missed out on how police behave when pushed by terrible circumstances. Hunter S. Thompson in his classic work Hell’s Angels and David Simon in Homicide, Life on the Streets captured the sense that the boys in blue can be as much a gang banded together as the people they hunt.
This would have given more weight to that half of the storyline and showed the closeness between the police just as he did with the Fireflys. Family is family no matter the circumstances, in other words.
Instead it was left to just the sheriff alone to suffer the consequences of those who fight monsters.
Zombie could have shown the deputies questioning their prisoner for information with some rather old school techniques of the telephone book placed to the side of the head to hide the marks as the flashlight is smashed into the side of a skull or the fingers twisted or pressure to sensitive pressure points on the body. Or he even could have shown the officers using the newer techniques of “interrogation” used at Gitmo or Abu Ghraib and given the movie a current relevancy as to what happens when the government fights monsters and becomes one while doing so.
That would have made the movie much more darker and relevant and horrific. And it could have given more depth and meaning to the still fantastic ending.