August 12, 2005


Devil's Rejects, heavily overanalyzed.

First, some handy definitions.

Second, my first thought on seeing this clip was that the landscape of movie trailers would be changed if a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into that limo by part of the invading Cuban army prior to running into some true patriotic hero like Chuck Norris. But I digress!

Third, movies. That's actually a logical evolution from linking to a comedy clip (in which the entire comedy consists of "Hey! Those famous voices come from people! Ha ha!" And we live in a world where that's nonetheless funny, emphatically proving the first noble truth) to point three, which is purely accidental. Anyway:

Roger Ebert has a pretty damn good review of "The Devil's Rejects". I will now pause for the customary reaction people have to any mention of a professional movie critic's opinion. We all know it. "Well, I don't always agree with him, he's pretty off in a lot of his reviews I think, so I take what he says with a grain of salt, buuut..." and so on, in frantic reassurance to G'Broagfran-knows-who that the opinions they're speaking are, by bog, their own and Siskel doesn't actually have an ectoplasmic hand up their ass from beyond the grave manipulating them like a ventriloquist's dummy via rhythmic palpations of their prostrate, or that onlookers might mistake them for actually being that critic crawled into their body like that phlegm-based-caterpillar-parasite from "Hidden" (good flick. Sets a high mark in number of blood-squibs-per-stunt-body, if I recall it right) if they don't desperately assert their own independence of thought. It's one of those verbal spasms that solidifies my suspicion that a huge chunk of the verbiage flowing forth from people is unconscious, and is only retroactively confabulated to be voluntary. Like this: but I digress! (See?)

He's pretty spot-on about this one, even if he is a bit harsh on Senor Zombie's prior effort, "House of 1000 Corpses." Yes, the title is false advertising (there's a few dozen, tops, and only a handful actually transformed from non-corpses into aforementioned corpses), and yes, it's merely a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remixed and run through a video blender to become a ninety-minute long Rob Zombie video, but that's far from a bad thing.

The other bit he missed is what made Rejects work really well. Movies each have largely unstated laws in which each of their worlds work; in the kind of horror/exploitation/grindhouse flicks that Corpses and Rejects were spawned as loving homage to, one of those laws is that human mercy inherently leads to doom when matched up against inhuman cruelty. Dig it: there is inevitably a moment when one of the Meat Scenery (this is my new term for the hapless bags of blood that the audience is there to see meet unfortunate ends, and maybe for one of the chicks to stagger away nominally-alive just before the credits) characters stops caterwauling for long enough to try to get the better of whatever monster in human skin (henceforth, mihs) is troubling them. A two-by-four gets whomped into the back of Leatherface's head, or whatever. Mihs goes down. Meat Scenery hesitates, and Mihs promptly gets back up and makes their reversal of fortune reverse back again. This is purely the natural way of things, as immutable as gravity is in the real world. It's the very structure of spacetime, if you're following.

Part of actually enjoying flicks like this is that you develop an intuitive understanding that this is how this particular class of worlds works. Nominal sympathy for meat scenery comes about by recognizing, below the level of cheerful jeers at the screen, that hesitating to perform an act of cold-blooded severity (such as repeatedly bludgeoning an unpleasant sort's head until you're for damn sure he's not getting up again, say until the area of the body formerly known as the head is more of a skull-chip-and-brain pudding mix soaking into the floorboards (see "Sin City" for a wonderful example of a proper head-bashing when someone's down)) even upon someone in dire need of it, is only a human reaction. We shrink back from pure severity. The cheerful jeerings-at come from the recognition that shrinking back and expecting to live much longer is about as sensible as Wile E. expecting not to fall once he looks down and realizes his feet are windmilling nothing but air. (There's really not that much essential difference between Super Genius mugging at the virtual camera with a sign saying "Yikes" and a "I'm really a teenager, I swear!" twenty-something "actress" shrieking. The one leads to a doppler plummet and dust puff, the other to a choked gurgle. The Platonic Ideal of both is basically the same thing, and ravine-floor-dust-puffs and lung-blood-gargle are only shadows on the cave wall, yo.)

What makes Rejects really work is that there's this sheriff character in it who is transformed into the righteous arm of God's fury at the walking abominations unto His sight that is the Firefly clan. (No, not that Firefly.) You'll see this mentioned in most reviews as him becoming as bad as they are. I'm sure some have written some pseudointellectual twaddle about that Nietzsche bit about looking into abysses and monsters and things to keep in mind about them. You know the one. It's barely less in the pop-cultural consciousness than beam me up, Scotty. (Which you just know wacky ol' Friedrich would be fucking delighted to know, but nowhere near as delighted as he would be to learn that syphilis is relatively easy to treat these days.) Any review that mentions that has missed the point--the sheriff doesn't actually become evil. As he notes to Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby (in, I might add, one hell of a scene), they're all, he and they, operating on a level most people will never ever see. (Unstated, because it doesn't need to be, is the followup that never ever seeing it is a good thing.) He turns into someone that never hesitates, that doesn't shrink back from intense, pure savagery--and (if you consider this a spoiler, you're a moron) he does something that you just don't see often in this kind of thing, because the heroes never go that far. He breaks them.

That's the real climax of the flick. The sheriff's own end is pretty much irrelevant--there's the sense he doesn't meet it because he's made the common mistake of holding back, but because his purpose is fulfilled. The Cap & Co. meet their own ending a brief bit later, and I'd go so far as to say it's got nothing to do with a roadblock with half of Texas' cops using up two-thirds of the state's ammuntion reserves, and everything to do with the sheriff. And to that, I would add, amen, and rock on.

Anyway, good flick. Zombie's a cool dude.

posted by Gar @ 9:02 PM
So he doesn't actually kill everyone from Firefly? Damn, I think I was sold a bill of goods not wholly representational of the content within. I was looking forward to someone wiping that damn smirk off of Joss Whedon's face.
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