The sequel to "House of 1000 Corpses" centers on a band of bounty hunters led by Sheriff Wydell's brother who is fueled by revenge when he finds out that his kin was slain by the Firefly family. The film will pick up shortly after the first with the Firefly clan going on the road after their house is burned down and a few family members have been gunned down during a police raid.

(2005) Film Review

This page was created on June 21, 2005
This page was last updated on August 30, 2005

Overview
Photos
About this Film
Spiritual Connections

Kevin Miller has posted an amazing reflection on this film
Part 1
Part 2


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CREDITS

Click to enlargeDirected by Rob Zombie
Characters by Rob Zombie
Written by Rob Zombie

Cast (in credits order)
Sid Haig .... Captain Spaulding
Bill Moseley .... Otis
Sheri Moon .... Baby
William Forsythe .... Sheriff Wydell
Ken Foree .... Charlie Altamont
Matthew McGrory .... Tiny
Leslie Easterbrook .... Mother Firefly
Geoffrey Lewis .... Roy Sullivan
Priscilla Barnes .... Gloria Sullivan
Dave Sheridan .... Officer Ray Dobson
Kate Norby .... Wendy Banjo
Lew Temple .... Adam Banjo
Danny Trejo .... Rondo
Dallas Page .... Billy Ray Snapper
Brian Posehn .... Jimmy
Elizabeth Daily .... Candy
Tom Towles .... Lieutenant George Wydell
Michael Berryman .... Clevon
P.J. Soles .... Susan
Deborah Van Valkenburgh .... Casey
Click to enlargeGinger Lynn Allen .... Fanny
Jossara Jinaro .... Maria
Chris Ellis .... Coggs
Mary Woronov .... Abbie
Daniel Roebuck .... Morris Green
Duane Whitaker .... Dr. Bankhead
Sean Murphy .... Turk Murphy
Jordan Orr .... Jamie
Kelvin Brown .... Bubba
Rosario Dawson .... Debbie
Natasha Lyonne .... Candy
Lorena Mena .... Jolene
Walter Phelan .... Dr. Satan/S.Quentin Quale

Produced by
Peter Block .... executive producer
Mike Elliott .... producer
Andy Gould .... producer
Marco Mehlitz .... executive producer
Brent Morris .... co-producer
Michael Ohoven .... producer
Michael Paseornek .... executive producer
Rob Zombie .... producer

Original Music by Tyler Bates and Rob Zombie
Cinematography by Phil Parmet
Film Editing by Glenn Garland

MPAA: Rated R for sadistic violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use.
Runtime: 109 min

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

TRAILERS AND CLIPS
Teaser:
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Trailer A:
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Trailer B:
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Trailer C:
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Clip 1 - 'Banjo & Sullivan':
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Clip 2 - 'Star Wars' (Rated R):
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Clip 3 - 'Brains' (Rated R):
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SYNOPSIS
The sequel to "House of 1000 Corpses" centers on a band of bounty hunters led by Sheriff Wydell's brother who is fueled by revenge when he finds out that his kin was slain by the Firefly family. The film will pick up shortly after the first with the Firefly clan going on the road after their house is burned down and a few family members have been gunned down during a police raid.

Click to go to Mike's BlogReview by
MIKE FURCHES

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In 2003 I gave one of the most controversial reviews I have ever given when I reviewed Rob Zombie’s new release titled, House of 1,000 Corpses. Forget about the fact that I didn’t especially like the movie, although I did think there was some thought provoking components of it, the fact that I would even view the movie by many was something I did that was worthy of confrontation and email that caused many to prejudge me. Well get ready for this; while I didn’t especially like House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is possibly the best movie I have seen all summer.

I have always, and still do appreciate Rob Zombie as an artistic genius, I expected that when going to see The Devil’s Rejects, and I was not let down. What Rob Zombie has done is give us one of the best portrayals of evil ever presented on screen. I am reminded of an interview I did with author Ted Dekker regarding the painting of evil, and the need to paint evil with as dark a brush as possible. Zombie paints it with as much darkness as is humanly possible. What we have as a result is a splattering of blood and evil along the way that is so dark that I personally found myself having difficulty watching what was portrayed before my very eyes.

If portraying evil for the sake of being evil was the intent, this movie would be a waste of time, but Zombie in his brilliance does something, as I have never seen done before. He presents a story and concept where we long for justice for those who are the incarnate of evil, and yet, we find ourselves eventually caring for those very individuals. We are also presented not only with the hypocrisy, but also the hope that is available through, Christianity. I must say now, and I hope Rob Zombie sees this review at some point, but if I could interview anyone on the planet, I would like to talk to Zombie about his views on various subjects. Why for example does one who has a “perceived” notion and hatred of Christianity, portray it in such a thought provoking and intelligent way? What are his views on spirituality? In addition, there would be many other questions. To be honest, this man and his genius intrigue me tremendously.

This story carries on after the story line of House of 1,000 Corpses. It is essentially the same characters and a continuation of that story. Where House of 1,000 Corpses lacked and showed little hope, this movie is thought provoking and brings to light several components to reflect upon whether one be a Christian or not.

Rob Zombie shows his brilliance as a filmmaker in this film. He reminds me as a cross between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. I know that sounds like a crazy mix but his brilliance with edits, shocking story telling, and effect is along these lines. He also does a brilliant job at using such a horrifying story to give such a brilliant artistic presentation. From his various stylizations in this film, to the shocking character development I was enthralled.

The story reminds me of a great Christian author that I always loved, Flannery O’Conner, and specifically the story A Good Man is Hard to Find. What O’Conner accomplishes in that story is to present a side of evil that is truly evil. It has the mixture of what is good and evil and the conflict is developed for the reader. In this case, Zombie does the same for the viewer of the movie. I can’t help but think that if Flannery O’Conner were still alive that she would stand and applaud Zombie’s effort.

We see evil as truly being evil, but we also see the potential of good among those that are evil, and in a strange sort of way, we find ourselves caring for those that are evil. This is a lesson that many who present themselves as Christian could learn from. While we are often quick to judge the one we call Christ, Jesus Christ illustrated this perfectly, especially in his death on the cross and his own willingness to ask for forgiveness who were killing him.

I won’t go into much detail because I don’t like spoiler reviews, but I will say that the contrast between the Devil’s Rejects, and one that is “called by God” is brilliantly portrayed in this movie. It is while the one that is “called by God,” is executing vengeance that we find ourselves caring for the ones who are in essence evil. This creates a great conflict within the viewer. What is our role, our responsibility to those that we perceive as being evil? What is the role of the one called by God? When does one called by God, take the concept of vengeance into their own hands as opposed to leaving it in the hands of God? What is the difference between vengeance and justice? Zombie portrays this conflict amazingly well, especially from one who is perceived by many as being the “anti Christ” incarnate.

Zombie also portrays the conflict beautifully between those called by Christ, and those who are called by Satan. All through the movie, just as in House of 1,000 Corpses, we see Christianity in the background and playing a vital part to the story. Here even more so than in House of 1,000 Corpses. There is an example of Zombie’s brilliance here in one incredible scene prior to a crucifixion scene. We see a quick edit to a image of Jesus Christ on a cross being crucified. The image is on the screen for several seconds intending to catch the attention of the audience member, and thus causing us to reflect about what it is that Zombie is trying to portray. That image, and what follows is still stuck in my head some two weeks after seeing the movie. I have had to reflect for that long on the movie and not since Jacob’s Ladder and/or Mystic River have I reflected on a movie as much. For those that don’t know, those are two very respectable movies that have garnered the respect of many in the movie going audiences. Zombie’s film, in my opinion needs to have that much respect because it is that good.

Now before being condemned to Hell by many who read this review, I must say that not in a long time have I had a movie open up doors for spiritual discussion as has this movie. My son in law attended the movie with me, and before we left the theater, I had two individuals, one being the manager of the theater come and talk to me about the movie. They asked specific questions about spiritual issues, and were intrigued by the fact that I was a pastor. One individual stated that they were the child of a pastor and that the movie had gotten them to think about spiritual things. They even stated that their father had been talking to them about Alice Cooper and the journey that he has been on. My son in law was amazed at how individuals had come up and asked me about the movie and at how easy it was to open up a discussion about good and evil, forgiveness, love and, even love and caring for individuals who are evil. Zombie paints a picture that makes that easy to do, and my hope is that individuals can look beyond the gore, nudity, language and more presented in this movie and be able to discuss the serious questions this movie addresses. If they can, they will engage themselves in one of the most significant spiritual discussions they could ever engage themselves in.

On a scale of 1-10, let the hate mail begin, while it may not be for everyone, you cannot deny the brilliance of this movie. I give a very enthusiastic perfect 10. By the way, Rob Zombie, I would still love to do that interview.

Click to go to Kevin's BlogReview by
KEVIN MILLER

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Reflections on "The Devil's Rejects" Part 1

08.jpg (79 K)Let me get to the obvious question first: Why on earth would I bother to review a film about a family of homicidal maniacs who go on a killing spree? The idea seems even more ludicrous when you consider that this film’s main claim to fame is that it is the sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses, which was roundly despised by critics and horror fans alike. As my parents used to ask in regard to my viewing choices, “Kevin, why waste your time on such garbage?” In response, I have what I feel are several valid reasons for seeing this film:

1. The resurgence of the horror genre: Horror films have always been with us. However, after occupying a fringe role in cinema over the last decade, they have been slowly creeping back into the mainstream. If you look at this year’s box office, so far 14 out of the 100 top-grossing films fall into the horror category, with many more to come. (1) That’s over twice as many horror films as you will find among the 100 top-grossing films of all time.(2) Clearly, something is going on here. But is this merely a blip on the radar, a fad that will quickly wear itself out? Or does it signal a major shift in public consciousness, a renewed fascination with the macabre? In either case, why this sudden need to confront death and fear in their purest and most terrifying forms? What are we getting out of the experience? To help answer such questions, I thought I would use myself as a test subject. What would I get out of viewing The Devil’s Rejects? Would the experience be completely negative, or would something positive also result?

2. A close encounter with Scott Derrickson: Two years ago while developing my own supernatural thriller (After…, which was recently made into a movie by my co-writer, director David L. Cunningham), I had the chance to meet writer/director Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno, Urban Legends: Final Cut, and the upcoming Exorcism of Emily Rose.) That led me to an article Scott wrote for Christian Century called “Behind the Lens: A Christian Filmmaker in Hollywood.” Defending his own work in the horror genre, Scott says:

"No other genre offers audiences a more spiritual view of the world, and no other genre communicates a more dearly defined moral perspective. Haunted-house films like Poltergeist and The Uninvited offer a perspective rare in cinema—the recognition that there actually is a spiritual realm. Zombie films like Dawn of the Dead are satirical indictments of American consumerism, but they also present the uniquely Christian idea of bodily resurrection. More mainstream horror films like Angel Heart, The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby explore the satanic and demonic realm with feverish moral passion. And even the so-called slasher genre ought to be appreciated as the only kind of film that makes murder truly horrific. Though slasher movies seems to take the extreme and disturbing view that if you're young and have sex, you deserve to be butchered, the usual perspective of contemporary films seems to be equally extreme in the opposite direction, for they imply that teenage sex is altogether exempt from moral judgment. More than any other genre, horror clearly communicates the distinction between good and evil." (3)

Scott is not alone in his positive assessment of the genre. Many other writers agree that horror films aren’t just significant from a spiritual point of view; they serve a valuable social function as well.(4) Not only do horror films confront spiritual issues head-on, they also act as a “psychic release valve for our repressed fear and anxiety.” (5) In other words, rather than act out on our fears in ways that might harm others or ourselves, horror films—like roller coaster rides—allow us to confront them in a safe environment. Through the influence of Scott and others, I came to see that writing off horror films as just so much garbage doesn’t cut it. (Sorry, Dad.) If we are to be responsible as Christian critics, a more reasonable response to movies like The Devil’s Rejects should include questions like: What is this film saying about God, about the spiritual realm in general? What standard of morality is being applied here? How does this film affirm or challenge Christian theology and morality? What fears underlie the sense of dread and horror this film creates? Where do such fears come from? How do we deal with such fears when we aren’t watching horror films? How should we deal with such fears?

3. Serial killers as superheroes? Over the last several months, I have done a lot of research on superheroes, particularly comic book heroes like Superman and Batman, to see what our fascination with such characters says about us as a culture. In general, I have come to believe that superheroes are merely a new mythology, the most recent manifestation of the Greek and Roman gods. We get a vicarious thrill out of watching them overcome evil, because they give us hope that we can do the same. Nothing too complicated there.

But around the time I saw the film Suspect Zero—which is premised on the idea that a single serial killer or “suspect zero” could potentially be responsible for the majority of unsolved murders in the United States—I began to wonder if perhaps there was a connection between superheroes and “superkillers.” Could we be drawn to both archetypes for similar reasons? Like superheroes, serial killers are everywhere—in the movies, on television, in the news, even in video games (which often turn players into virtual serial killers by rewarding them for each kill.) Where does this fascination come from? On one level, I think the ubiquitous presence of serial killers in film and fiction merely reflects laziness on the part of writers. Turning the bad guy into a serial killer is the easy way out. If the villain is simply nuts, there’s no need to develop a complicated backstory or clearly outlined motivation. But the explanation couldn’t be that simple. Writers may be lazy, but audiences are still eating up their work. It must be satisfying some sort of hunger.

That led me to wonder: Could it be that serial killer stories are merely a shadow version of the superhero myth? Just think of the similarities between your garden-variety superhero and your garden-variety serial killer: 1) both adopt new personas when they begin their public work, 2) both have secret identities, 3) both have (or believe they have) superpowers, 4) both adhere to a strict moral code, which usually allows them to operate “above the law,” 5) both believe individual action is the best way to cure society’s ills. The parallels are simply too obvious to ignore. The main difference I see is that superheroes exist to enforce the status quo while serial killers (and super villains in general) exist to challenge it, to question its assumptions, even to mock it at times. Therefore, it isn’t too unreasonable to suggest that we enjoy stories about serial killers because we also like to challenge the status quo, to stand out from the crowd and be recognized. Even though we don’t exactly approve of what these characters do, we can still cheer for them in principle. I thought that viewing The Devil’s Rejects would be the perfect opportunity to test my theory, to see if the members of the Firefly clan are really just superheroes in disguise—a dark counterpoint to the Fantastic Four.

4. My own fascination with the horror genre: For two Halloweens in a row as a child, I attempted to watch Salem’s Lot on television. Both times, I never got past the first half hour. Other early horror memories include attempts at watching The Fog and Orca. While I never had much luck sitting through such shows, I did gain a measure of bravery during high school that allowed me to take in horror classics like Jaws, Evil Dead 1 & 2, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Psycho, Hellraiser, and the first three Nightmare on Elm Street films. While I enjoyed these movies immensely, nothing compared to the thrill I got out of The Shining, which I didn’t work up the courage to see until I was in my mid-twenties. It still ranks as my all-time favorite horror flick. The sense of dreadful anticipation Stanley Kubrick manages to sustain throughout the film is unparalleled. It still scares me today.

At the same time I was taking in such horrific masterpieces, though, I couldn’t shake the sense that I was doing something wrong, that I was violating a taboo of some sort. That sense increased after I became a Christian, where I was quickly confronted with the following verse, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—of anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Not seeing how horror films fit into any of these categories, I swore them off for a while, choosing to focus on less frightening fare.

Even though I felt my interest in the genre was no longer appropriate, the fascination did not go away. It wasn’t until I embarked on the writing of After… that I was forced to confront it head-on once again. While David and I never set out to write a horror film, suddenly I woke up one day and realized we had done exactly that! Now what was I going to do? How could I, as a Christian, justify pouring my time and energy into such… garbage? Thankfully, as recounted above, I ran into Scott Derrickson and others who helped me see that perhaps there was some merit in what we were doing after all. In fact, suddenly I was excited to be on the cutting edge of a genre where most other Christians feared to tread.

30.jpg (72 K)Which brings me back to The Devil’s Rejects: Part of my spiritual growth process over the past while has entailed bringing “the deep things of darkness” into the light (Job 12:22). Rather than repress or hide my fascination with the dark side, I have determined that it is much healthier to bring it into the open, to hold it under the light of God, my wife, and my Christian community, and see if it can stand the glare. From the time I first heard of Rob Zombie’s lengthy struggle to find a distributor for House of 1,000 Corpses, I have wanted to see the film. But I kept that desire a secret, thinking I might rent it some time when my wife is away for the weekend. However, knowing that any secret between my wife and me could be potentially hazardous to our marriage, when The Devil’s Rejects came out, I finally came out of the closet and told her I wanted to see it. “For study purposes, mainly,” I said, citing some of my arguments above. But I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t admit to having some less scholarly motivations as well. Having been a fan of Rob Zombie’s music for years (which is another story), I really wanted to see what he would do behind the lens. I also wanted to see if it was as gruesome as everyone said it was. I wanted to see if I could watch it, and survive.

Comment on pt 1 on the blog

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1. Under the term “horror,” I include psychological or “smart” thrillers like The Jacket, monster or zombie movies like Land of the Dead, haunted house movies like The Amityville Horror, slasher flicks like House of Wax, and serial killer films like The Devil’s Rejects.
2. All box office stats taken from http://www.boxofficemojo.com/.
3. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_3_119/ai_83143842#continue
4. For more on this, check out the weblog “Holy Terror,” http://home.earthlink.net/~holyterrorblog/id17.html.
5. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_3_119/ai_83143842#continue

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Reflections on "The Devil's Rejects" Part 2

05.jpg (72 K)So there you have it, in my previous post I gave a nearly 2,000-word response to one question: Why I chose to watch this film. The fact that I took so much time to justify my actions should tell you something about the world in which I live. It may also help explain why Rob Zombie had such a difficult time bringing his dark vision to the screen. After all, viewed on a symbolic level, the killers in The Devil’s Rejects could be taken to represent Rob Zombie, himself. Think about it: All the Fireflies want is to be free—free to kill, torture, and otherwise terrorize their community. Rob Zombie also wants to be free, free to terrorize people on screen, pushing the limits of good taste and cinematic decorum as far as they can go. In the case of the Fireflies though, obviously such absolute freedom cannot be tolerated. Thus, a character like Sheriff Wydell arises to stop them. What about Rob Zombie’s situation? Can any freedom—particularly artistic freedom—be absolute? That certainly hasn’t been his experience. In striving to get his first film released, Zombie had to overcome an army of people just like Sheriff Wydell; people who sought to stop him on moral, economic, religious, and artistic grounds.

As is often the case, though, Wydell’s pursuit of justice turns into a quest for revenge once he realizes the Fireflies are responsible for his brother’s death. Eventually, Wydell becomes a serial killer, himself, glorying in every blood-soaked minute as he hunts down, tortures, and kills members of the Firefly clan. Interestingly, Wydell starts out believing he is working in the service of the Lord. He prays on several occasions, calling himself the Lord’s “arm of justice,” and he continues to believe he is doing God’s work even as he is doing things like nailing Otis Firefly’s hands to a chair. Could Zombie be saying something here about the Religious Right’s desire to clamp down on artistic and religious freedoms? Could this movie be trying to warn us that mingling Church and State can easily turn a quest for justice into a vengeful witch-hunt? I certainly think so. The prognosis Zombie offers for such a situation isn’t good, seeing as Wydell not only becomes the very thing he hates, the transformation process also leads to his demise.

Despite his bold statement in favor of freedom, even Zombie seems to recognize that every freedom has its limits. Otherwise, like the Fireflies, our pursuit of freedom will lead inevitably to our own doom. Then again, he could be saying that that the inevitable fate of every artist or visionary is self-immolation in the face of an unyielding society. “Beware all ye who would fight the law, because the law will win.” But surely the mere existence of The Devil’s Rejects is a fitting rebuttal to such an argument. Obviously, Rob Zombie hasn’t given up, and he has certainly learned a thing or two since his last time out. I’m not just talking about the limits of artistic freedom, either. No matter how you feel about the subject matter of The Devil’s Rejects, you have to admit it isn’t a bad little film. The story is reasonably well structured, the acting is memorable, the characters are likeable (yes, even the Fireflies), and the dialogue is often clever. From a cinematic standpoint, the film isn’t too bad either, exuding a cool, retro feel.

However, it is what I would call “over-edited.” Just check out the opening scene where the police vehicles arrive on the Firefly farm, for example. After an ominous crane shot that shows the vehicles passing under a pig’s head nailed to the top of a ranch-style archway (nice symbolism, by the way), Zombie cuts to at least three other perspectives on the scene, all showing virtually the same thing, and the cuts don’t completely match, either. Zombie’s inexperience as a director shows through in these and other scenes, but they also give you the sense of someone who is still feeling out the medium, still experimenting rather than limiting himself to a rigid aesthetic. In this sense, I really appreciate Zombie and his work. Not only is he the poster boy for persistence, he also reminds me that sometimes enthusiasm can be just as powerful as perfection, if not more. That frees me up to pursue my own endeavors without worrying if I get it right the first time. Zombie certainly didn’t, but he has taken a giant leap forward with this film. His experience helps me believe that I can do the same with my own creative endeavors.

So you are probably beginning to see that my experience viewing The Devil’s Rejects was not completely negative. On one level, I actually found the film inspiring, at least in terms of how it came to be. But was there any negative fallout from watching it? Surely viewing 108 minutes of homicidal mayhem must have some sort of downside.

The most immediate effect I can think of is the sense of paranoia I felt walking out of the theatre. At that point, it was about 12:30 a.m. Most of the other movies had already let out. As soon as I opened the door to exit the theatre, three young guys ran toward me yelling. I jumped involuntarily, and then relaxed when they said they had been waiting for someone to come out so they could go in and use the bathroom (the theatre was already locked). Nevertheless, before I got into my car, I made sure nobody was crouching in the back seat.

Being a red-blooded male, the nudity in this film also posed somewhat of a challenge for me. I felt particularly conflicted, seeing as the nudity was always paired with violence. I didn’t want to be aroused by such scenes, but I have to admit that some of them stuck in my head all weekend. That made me wonder: Is it the fault of filmmakers like Rob Zombie that men in our society find nudity—even non-sexualized nudity—so titillating? Or is it merely a reflection of how much we have missed the boat in terms of appreciating the human body as one of the Creator’s finest works? Is it even possible for men in our society to view female nudity without resorting to lust? Is such a stance possible in any society?

One thing I noticed about my viewing experience in this regard was that the audience was composed exclusively of men in their early twenties, some accompanied by their girlfriends. I think this is a good reflection of those who are drawn to the horror genre as a whole. Seeing as so many recent horror films make such a strong connection between sex and violence—featuring beautiful women victimized by violent men—I couldn’t help but wonder if this reflects some sort of latent misogyny in our society, particularly in this age group. Perhaps young men are drawn to these types of films, because they fear women—especially beautiful women—and they get a vicarious thrill out of watching other men subdue them. Then again, perhaps it isn’t wise to write down every stray thought that happens to pass through my brain, either…

Moving on to other spiritual connections, I have already reflected somewhat one what this film says about God in my discussion of Sheriff Wydell. But I wanted to add something more here: At one point in the film, Otis challenges one of his victims to cry out to God for help, to ask him to send a bolt of lightning down from the sky to destroy him. As the victim prays, Otis begins ranting about having been filled by the Holy Spirit, about how he’s been saved. In the end, however, it is all a ruse, and he kills his victim anyway. As I watched this scene, I couldn’t help but wonder why God tends not to intervene at such moments. Is he too weak to respond? Or is he just plain unwilling? Where is he in such situations, anyways? As I thought about it, I began to suspect that perhaps the answer was right in front of me.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46), Jesus describes a terrifying scene in which the righteous are separated from the unrighteous at the end of time. The determining factor was how they had treated Jesus during their lifetime.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” (Matthew 25:34–36)

Following this discourse, the righteous are stunned. They don’t remember ever doing anything like this for Jesus. That’s when he delivers the clincher: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” In other words, every time the righteous helped someone in need, they were actually helping Jesus. As I reflected on this story, I thought, couldn’t the opposite be true—every time we harm someone in need, we are also harming Jesus? If so, could the answer to, “Where is God in such situations?” be “In the victim, begging and pleading for the killer to stop”?

Perhaps, but that still doesn’t answer the question of the missing lightning bolt. We have established that God cares, but why doesn’t he take more drastic action to end the situation? To answer that question, we have to go back to the crucifixion. When Jesus first came to public attention, his fellow Jews assumed he would be just the sort of messiah or savior they wanted: someone who would unite them in their struggle to drive out the Roman oppressors. But Jesus proved to be a much different kind of savior, one who overcame his enemies not by killing them, but by dying on their behalf. Even while up on the cross, Christ, the ultimate murder victim, asked not for a lightning bolt to fry his executioners, but for mercy. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). So what gives? Is God just too weak to stop evil men at work, or is something else going on here?

If you think about it, Jesus was up on the cross for one reason: free will. By giving human beings free will, God created truly autonomous creatures, capable of accepting or rejecting him as they wished. But in granting humans free will, he also created the potential for evil; a life lived apart from the wisdom, beauty, and power of God. While the potential for disaster in such a situation is great, if God were to contravene our free will, he would commit an even greater evil by violating the very quality that makes us human. So, even in the most extreme situations where we are using our will to do the terrible things the Fireflies do in this film, God may not intervene by striking the killers down. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t present in the situation, seeking to woo, cajole, and otherwise convince the erring individual to reconsider his or her decision. It also doesn’t mean there won’t be eternal consequences for both the victim and the victimizer as a result.

With freedom as the highest value in The Devil's Rejects, we should probably ask what the Bible has to say about the topic. On this level at lest, I think Scripture pretty much agrees with Rob Zombie. (I’ll bet even Rob would be amazed to hear that.) The Apostle Paul puts it best when he says, “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). As Zombie has had to learn, every freedom has its limit. But even while such limits may look like enemies in the beginning, often, they wind up looking more like a friend.

Let us turn now to the topic of fear: Most people assume that serial killer/slasher films like The Devil’s Rejects play on our fear of death. However, these films actually play on our fear of a particular kind of death, namely, a violent, painful death at the hands of another human being. As West Point professor Daniel Grossman sees it, our greatest fear is not death itself but “intentional, overt human hostility and aggression that assaults the self-image, sense of control and ultimately, the mental and physical health of human beings.” (1) Where does this fear come from? According to Grossman’s study of soldiers in combat situations, it isn’t like other phobias, such as a fear of snakes, which vary according to each individual. Fear of a violent death at the hands of another human is an automatic, universal human response. It seems to be hard-wired into our psyche.

How do we deal with such fears when we aren’t watching horror films? Generally, we don’t have to, because rarely are our lives threatened to this degree. But on some level, we must sense this fear at work. Otherwise we wouldn’t have any interest in films like The Devil’s Rejects. When we do watch such films, we are metaphorically brought to the brink of death and then yanked back again, with all the euphoria such an experience entails. When we walk out of the theatre, we feel like survivors, not victims. Perhaps we even gain a measure of bravery rather than fear, confident that no matter what happens in our lives, it couldn’t be nearly as bad as what we just witnessed on film.

But is viewing grisly, violent, and terrifying films necessarily the best therapy for helping us deal with our fears? Isn’t that sort of like the now laughable "Primal Scream Therapy," which encouraged people to scream or punch a pillow when they felt angry as a way of getting the feelings out? The theory seemed to hold water until researchers discovered that such responses to anger merely compounded and intensified an individual’s angry feelings rather than reducing them. Could the same thing be true with fear? Could watching horror films actually make us more fearful rather than less? I’m still not sure. As I recounted, my immediate response after viewing The Devil’s Rejects was one of elevated fear. But that feeling had dissipated by the time I reached home. Then again, my fear of deep, dark water curtailed my swimming activities for years after viewing Jaws, and it still gets to me from time to time. In that case, confronting my fear of the unknown made it worse, not better.

45.jpg (38 K)So if watching horror movies isn’t the best way to deal with our fears, is there alternate solution? Last year, I edited a book by my pastor Brad Jersak called Fear No Evil: Overcoming the Culture of Fear. In that book, Brad argues that fear is simply not an option if we truly understand who God is. Brad begins his argument by stating that behind every fear is a lie. In this sense, our true source of fear is not the pain or death someone like the Firefly family might inflict but the lies we believe about that pain or death. What lies might be ruling us in such a situation? Something along the lines of how we are beyond God’s help, that if we die, we will cease to exist, that there is no afterlife where wrongs will be made right.

The second stage of Brad’s argument is this: Fear is not your friend… Ever!

"Contrary to popular belief, 'healthy fear' is an oxymoron. Fear should never be confused with wisdom. While wisdom tells you to step back from a precarious cliff, fear gives you vertigo. Thus, fear of heights actually increases the danger of falling. Wisdom guides someone who is lost in the woods or avoiding a predator into safety. Fear just paralyzes them or causes them to panic. They may run deeper into the wilderness or begin to act like prey. People who are terrified of predators—including human predators—are more vulnerable to becoming victims." (2)

Brad goes on to argue that our primal fears or phobias stem from our core needs, which may have been threatened at a young age. Thus, if our need to be known and loved was threatened by the fact that we were abandoned or neglected as children, we may grow up with a fear of rejection or isolation. We come to believe that nobody cares about us, that we are unlovable and worthless. These lies are so powerful that we cling to them even in the face of people who clearly love and value us. They also tend to establish a pattern for our life decisions that lead us away from God. In this way, the lies about other people “I am unlovable” or “no one cares about me” become lies about God “God does not love me” and “God does not care about me.”

If every fear is based on a lie, Brad sees only one way out of the situation: through an encounter with the Living Truth, a.k.a. God. “To know him—not as you know a historical figure like Winston Churchill but as you know your best friend or spouse—is to be alive to truth and dead to fear.” (3) Therefore, if we struggle with fears similar to the ones that lurk at the heart of The Devil’s Rejects, Brad is saying the best solution is not to confront them through such films but to bring those fears before God instead, to ask him to reveal the lies behind them, to replace those lies with the truth.

So where does that leave me, a Christian screenwriter with a horror film about to hit theaters sometime in 2006? Does Brad’s book render much of what Scott Derrickson and others have said about the redeeming qualities of horror movies into nothing more than a puddle of self-justifying spiritual gobbledy gook? Should I start repenting now? And what about my own fascination with the genre? Am I really violating a spiritual taboo every time I watch such a film, even a fairly tame horror flick like the 1932 classic White Zombie, from which Rob Zombie takes his name? Or could there still be a place for such movies, even ones as graphic as The Devil’s Rejects?

All I can say in response is this: The older I get, the less confidence I have in any sort of hard and fast moral prescriptions. The minute you say horror movies are bad, ten people will pop up with ten reasons why horror movies are actually good for you, and vice versa. In addition, horror films exist on a spectrum. On one end are those that are merely frightening (like my film). On the other end are those that are little more than immoral exploitations of blood, sex, and gore. (The Devil’s Rejects teeters on the brink of such a definition.) Consequently, what may be true for one type of horror film may not be true for another.

So I’m going to stick with the Apostle Paul and ride the fence on this one. All things—even horror movies—are permissible, but are they beneficial? That is a matter best left between you and God. I think it all comes down to the type of horror films you choose to watch and why you choose to watch them. Are you merely looking for a thrill, much like people seek from riding a roller coaster or skydiving? Are you looking for a diversion that feeds your spiritual impulses as well as your desire to be entertained? Are you, like me, seeking to understand what our fascination with such films says about us as a culture or yourself as an individual? Or is your attraction to the dark side a symptom of something more ominous, an appetite or desire that is eating away at your soul rather than building it up? Only you can answer such questions, and only you and God will know if you are telling the truth when you do.

As for me, despite some of its more gruesome moments, I am very thankful to have seen The Devil’s Rejects, if only for the opportunity it afforded me to work through these issues. I hope my own attempt at honest self-evaluation will help you work through these issues as well.

Comment on pt 2 on the blog

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1. http://www.killology.com/art_psych_trauma.htm.
2. Brad Jersak. Fear No Evil: Overcoming the Culture of Fear (Abbotsford: Fresh Wind Press, 2005), p. 70.
3. Ibid, p. 74.

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