Set a little bit after “House of 1,000 Corpses”, we pick up the exploits of the Firefly family as they find their abode under fire from the law, fronted by ruthlessly determined Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose seething hatred for the family stems from the murder of his brother in the earlier film, with a touch of Southern fried ‘Hand of God’ stuff as he seems just as blood-thirsty as the criminals he is doggedly pursuing. Family matriarch Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook, replacing cross-eyed weirdo Karen Black) is captured, whilst Baby and Otis manage to get away and seek refuge in a crappy motel, terrorising a family there (featuring Priscilla Barnes and Geoffrey Lewis). They are soon joined by seedy patriarch Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig) who suggests they go and stay with Spaulding’s ‘brother’, a pimp named Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree). Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”) plays Charlie’s idiot associate, the late Matthew McGrory has his final role here returning as Tiny, Robert Trebor plays an obnoxious film critic, former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page and character actor Danny Trejo play weathered-looking bounty hunters, and there are a plethora of horror and exploitation faves in small roles (Mary Woronov, E.G. Daily, Ginger Lynn Allen, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Steve Railsback, and P.J. Soles).
A much better film than his debut, “House of 1,000 Corpses” this 2005 horror/crime flick from rocker-turned writer-director Rob Zombie still isn’t all that good. There’s a really good grindhouse flick in here somewhere, but it doesn’t all hang together because Zombie thinks he’s created a Peckinpah masterpiece. It’s certainly no masterpiece, and frankly a bit one-note, as well as overdosing on the Peckinpah slow-mo. I just don’t think the film’s characters make for protagonist material, they certainly ain’t no “Bonnie and Clyde”, nor is Mr. Zombie the new Arthur Penn (or Sean Penn for that matter). I like me some Skynyrd just fine, folks, but mythologising these creeps as good time boys accompanied by ‘Freebird’ is just stupid and foul (And yet the mostly 70s soundtrack is still the film’s strongest asset). And I say this knowing full well my own country’s fondness for mythologising criminals as far back as Ned Kelly and as recently as the late Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. But this ‘family’ are a whole different, sick breed (75 victims at the start of the film, alone!). As is everyone else in the film. The Bill Forsythe lawman character is a particular miscalculation. He’s demented and absolutely no hero, through no fault of the actor who is very effective with what he has been given. I get that it might take a maniac to catch a family of maniacs, but it’s hardly fun to watch. There are no sympathetic characters here worth a damn, and Zombie offers no light, no break from the carnage and endless profanity in the artless dialogue. Sheri Moon Zombie and veteran character actor Bill Moseley in particular swear way too much, which is a shame because Moseley is otherwise well-cast and looks like a creepy cross between Zombie himself and Charlie Manson (Though if you found Moseley unbearable as Chop-Top in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” you might tire quickly of him here too).
The other issue with the film is comparatively minor, but the in-and-out appearances by the late Matthew McGrory as Tiny, are extremely clunky. It’s as if Zombie forgot all about him after the first scene.
Still, this is not the work of an inept filmmaker and the performance by Sid Haig is wonderfully sleazy. He’s creepy and funny at the same time, and when Ken Foree turns up as his equally sleazy ‘brother’, you wish the film was solely about them, because they’re so entertaining together. Leslie Easterbrook, meanwhile, is having such a high ‘ol time you’d swear it was the late Susan Tyrrell in the role. The pneumatic former “Police Academy” star also looks like she could win a latter-day Faye Dunaway lookalike contest, too. The film is filled with cameos by familiar faces, and Robert Trebor is especially terrific as a pretentious film critic and Marx Brothers expert. Former WCW and WWE wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, meanwhile, looks so ugly here he nearly makes co-star Danny Trejo look like an Adonis standing next to him. It’s also hard not to find something enjoyable about a film that has Sid Haig, Michael Berryman and Ken Foree sharing the screen together, albeit briefly.
It’s worth a look if you can stomach it, which will probably be about 10% of the population at most. It’s certainly the film Zombie fully intended to make, I don’t doubt that. It just didn’t quite do it for me, sitting somewhere uncomfortably between Peckinpah homage and grindhouse horror, which probably makes it a lot like “Natural Born Killers” in that respect (The first two “Chainsaw Massacre” films also being obvious influences). Except it doesn’t suck.
I think Zombie might just make a good horror film one of these days, he’s certainly shown that he’s seen lots of them. But neither this nor his “Halloween” remake quite make the grade. This one’s just too nihilistic for me.