Hello, and welcome to The Best Of Number Two here at The Liberal Dead. We haven’t done any kind of theme for a long time, so I thought I would reach out to some some talented people from other sites, and see if we can put something together. I decided it would be a theme about the best second films in a franchise/series. Expect discussion about Metamorhosis: The Alien Factor, The Devil’s Rejects, C.H.U.D. II, Blade II, Sleepaway Camp II, Amityville 2, Island of the Fishmen, The Dark Knight, Final Destination 2, House II and more.
Rob Zombie is a polarizing filmmaker, to say the least. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny is his ambition. The longtime musician made his feature directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses. Although filmed in 2000, the movie didn’t hit theaters until 2003. Corpses fell victim to many issues that first-time directors face, but the end result is an interesting, if misunderstood, work.
Despite the troubled production, Zombie followed up House of 1000 Corpses with a sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, in 2005. While Zombie threw everything but the kitchen sink into Coprses, The Devil’s Rejects marks a more refined and realistic take on the Firefly clan. The film contains elements of horror, but it also incorporates components of exploitation, western, road movies and even comedy.
The Devil’s Rejects kicks off with a bang – literally. The year is 1978, and the murderous Firefly family – collectively responsible for more than 75 deaths – have been tracked by Sheriff John Quincey Wydell. A shootout between the family and the state troopers ensues, with Baby and Otis escaping. They meet up with Baby’s father, local celebrity Captain Spaulding, who helps them flea from the law. The fugitives’ reign of terror continues on the lam.
Zombie creates an interest dichotomy between protagonist and antagonist. Although the Fireflys’ acts are morally reprehensible and Wydell’s vengeance is absolutely justified, the audience still roots for the family to get out alive. The film ultimately comes to a close, much like it began, with a bloody shootout. This time around, however, it plays out much differently. The climax is set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” which, for my money, is one of the most memorable uses of music in film.
Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig, Spider Baby) is still a vulgar S.O.B., but the desperate times have forced him to assume the role of patriarch of the Firefly family. Otis (Bill Moseley, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is no longer an albino, instead portrayed as a deranged, Charles Manson-esque lunatic. Baby (Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon) is her same sweetly sadistic self. Tiny (the late Matthew McGrory) doesn’t have much screen time but plays an important role in the story.
There was also some recasting between Corpses and Rejects. The crazy Mama Firefly, previously played by cult favorite Karen Black, is now portrayed by Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), while Rufus was recast from ex-pro wrestler Robert Allen Mukes to Tyler Mane (who would go on to play Michael Myers in Zombie’s Halloween). Grandpa Hugo was written out of the script due to actor Dennis Fimple dying before production. Dr. Satan (Walter Phelan) had a scene that was deleted because Zombie – rightfully – felt it was too out of place.
As Zombie has been known to do, he filled the Rejects’ cast with cult actors in roles both large and small. The credits include such recognizable faces as Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), William Forsythe (The Rock), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Dave Sheridan (Scary Movie), Elizabeth Daily (Rugrats), Priscilla Barnes (Three’s Company), Danny Trejo (Machete), Tom Towles (Night of the Living Dead), P.J. Soles (Halloween), Mary Woronov (Chopping Mall), wrestling icon “Diamond” Dallas Page, comedian Brian Posehn and porn star Ginger Lynn, among others.
Rejects adopts a gritty tone akin to ’70s exploration films. The uncomfortable motel scene – which initially earned the movie an NC-17 rating – never fails to make me feel like I need a shower. Visually, the picture is grainy and embraces lots of handheld work, courtesy of cinematographer Phil Parmet (whose documentary background proved useful for the cinema verite style).
Zombie is careful to balance the brutality with moments of levity. Rejects is injected with a surprising amount of humor, including several laugh-out-loud moments. Ancillary characters such as those portrayed by Foree, Berryman and Posehn primarily offer comedic relief, but even the Firefly family themselves crack a few jokes (“Tutti fucking fruity!”).
While Zombie has improved as a filmmaker since his sophomore effort, I believe The Devil’s Rejects remains his strongest work overall. The film is relentless and emotionally draining, but it’s also fun and endlessly quotable. In striking that balance, Zombie solidified the characters’ place as bona fide genre icons. We’ll likely never see a sequel, which fans continue to clamor for nearly a decade later, but Zombie put the Firefly clan to rest on a high note with The Devil’s Rejects.