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The Devil's Rejects

Zombie Crafts a Memorable Massacre

Rob Zombie's 2003 splatterfest House of 1000 Corpses was a sprawling mess, a vision of the macabre too scattered to leave a lasting impression. In his latest, The Devil's Rejects, he crams that same violent vision into a more coherent tale, and the result is a powerful and disturbing fantasy that will stay with viewers long after the closing credits.

Fans of 1000 Corpses will instantly recognize all the returning players: Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) return as members of a sadistic clan labeled -- what else? -- the Devil's Rejects when police discover over 70 mutilated corpses in their torture chamber of a basement. When the trio manages to elude capture, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), a self-proclaimed demon slayer, makes it his mission to hunt them down and slaughter them. Before this inevitable showdown, the Rejects jack up the body count, methodically slicing and dicing a group of country musicians in a roadside motel.

Sound grisly? Tasteless? Unpleasant? The Devil's Rejects is all of these things, but it is also a riveting revenge fantasy that infuses its brutal vision of hell-on-earth with dark humor and quick-witted dialogue. If 1000 Corpses was an aggressively campy but woefully misguided homage to 70s horror classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left, Zombie's latest rises to their level. With its grainy footage, stylish cinematography and gleefully subversive attention to gore, it looks like a blood-encrusted relic unearthed from a 30-year old time capsule, but the story is fresh, shocking and wholly absorbing.

The acting's not too shabby, either. Haig and Moseley bring wild-eyed, manic energy to their roles without going too far over the top, but the real revelation here is Forsythe, whose seething intensity is almost palpable. Early on, he is a sheriff merely doing his job; when his job becomes a personal quest for revenge, he begins to fancy himself the right hand of the Lord, unwittingly transforming into that which he despises most. After all, Wydell's desire to torture and kill his victims is every bit as sadistic as their desire to do the same, only he fancies himself a righteous avenger. The Rejects are no less sinister, just a bit more self-aware.

Forsythe dives into his role with the passion of a crazed zealot, and his performance is the driving force behind an epic, cathartic climax in which the wrath of God and the minions of the devil seemingly collide. If viewers aren't entirely sure whom to root for, they can be forgiven. The forces of good are no less morally bankrupt than the forces of evil in The Devil's Rejects, an irony that Zombie surely relishes as much as we do the pleasure of watching them tear each other to shreds.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars