Nasty, brutish and not all that short, Rob Zombie's sophomore shocker is a throwback to '70s exploitation pictures, with a smattering of pseudo-Tarantino smart-speak and a lip-smacking relish in extreme violence. Willy Wonka, Star Wars and the Marx brothers are all referenced in this follow-up to the effectively gruesome (but gaudily irritating) House Of 1000 Corpses but, in taking the family freakshow on the road, The Devil's Rejects eclipses its predecessor in terms of style and story, with little to it beyond sadism and a great '70s soundtrack (from Steely Dan to, um, David Essex).
It's Easy Rider as directed by a politically neutered Wes Craven: terrifyingly empty and convinced of its own cool. Of course, for hardcore genre fans or self-styled rebels, that may be one hell of a recommendation, and Zombie can certainly do cruelty (there's a motel room scene which will have queasy-stomached punters scrambling for the door). The Devil's Rejects also has, if you'll excuse us, a killer cast. Sid Haig is horribly charismatic as Captain Spaulding (a horror icon in the making), while the director's wife Sheri Moon Zombie takes to bloody humiliation and murder with a gusto that proves disturbingly sexy.
But it's William Forsythe who gets the gong for best performance. Cussing and killing and scenery chewing, the character actor, regularly cast as cop or criminal, excels in combining both as the Lord's "righteous sword of vengeance". A shame he's wasted in a creaky finale that, instead of coldly exploring vigilantism or making the audience complicit in revenge, clearly wants us to root for the serial-killing psychos the sheriff's chasing, to revel in their brutality and to feel part of the family. How much you enjoy this may depend on your sympathy for the devil.
Rob Zombie's harsh road movie sets out to be cruel, sadistic and disturbing - and succeeds. Make of that what you will.