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— by Robert Mancini

You gotta love a guy who knows the entertainment value of a homicidal clown.

Yes, the return of director/screenwriter/metal god Rob Zombie's grease-painted sociopath, Captain Spaulding, and his not-so-merry band of bloodthirsty kin in "The Devil's Rejects" gives horror fans a lot to love — specifically, the kind of flat-out gory fun that feels like it should be sharing a '70s drive-in bill with "Last House on the Left."

If Zombie were enamored with, say, the culture of Elizabethan England, he'd have more Oscars than the "Sesame Street" prop closet. As it stands, though, Zombie is a child of the '70s — raised on the Ramones, Black Sabbath, George Romero and Russ Meyer — and has thereby turned his meticulous eye (and the pop-culture-thirsty mind behind it) to what might well have been Hollywood's last genuinely maverick days.

 "Crazy things would become huge ... Led Zeppelin and then 'Disco Duck,' whatever. All bets were off."

— Rob Zombie
"I think that was the last stronghold, with music and movies and everything," he recently explained. "I think that was when anything could happen because everything hadn't been taken over by corporations who were just milking every dollar out of it. Crazy things would become huge. Led Zeppelin and then 'Disco Duck,' or whatever. All bets were off."

Zombie's love of '70s horror classics like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Dawn of the Dead" is more than apparent in "Devil's Rejects" (in the age of Wes Anderson, Zombie is pure Wes Craven), but the film also pops with the spirit of Peckinpah and early Scorsese, capturing the grit, grime, moral ambiguity and unflinching truth of '70s film.

"I just wanted that feel," Zombie said. "Those films feel raw, they feel real, and people weren't afraid to look ugly and nasty and be bad people. Things were lit poorly, and it all just had a real feel. Now, everything just feels so slick and you don't buy into it for a second. I don't, anyway."

It's fitting, then, that Zombie's "Devil's Rejects" opens the same day as the latest project from Michael Bay, the big-action, big-money Hollywood heavyweight who produced the shiny, slick, modernized versions of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Amityville Horror." At a time when gritty, relentless horror classics from the '70s are being remade, reinvented and rehashed, Zombie has made a new film with new characters and new ideas that's more of a postcard of those times than any of the huge-budget remakes.

"A lot of people have watched it and gone, 'God, this looks like it was locked in a vault for 25 years,'" Zombie said, echoing maybe the finest compliment "Devil's Rejects" could ever garner. Zombie adopted the camera techniques, angles and framing devices of the era, and captured a return to true horror in the process.

See what Rob Zombie and others have to say about remaking the horror classics.
"Take punk rock," Zombie said, reaching into other familiar territory when explaining how he got it right. "What are the Ramones? Four misfits from Queens. So, let's remake the Ramones and get four winners from 'American Idol.' That's not going to make the Ramones. It's this thing that exists within its own bizarre rules that make no sense."

While those rules might appear to make no sense, Zombie seems to have them chiseled on the inside of his skull. For example: Rule Number One — focus, focus, focus. After the often-wandering experiment in horror that was "House of 1000 Corpses," Zombie zeroed in on his vision and set his film (look, sound and feel) in the '70s.

"I could watch the first movie and go, 'OK, I'm happy with this. I don't like that. That was good, this was horrible.' I went in with a much more focused vision of what I wanted it to be.' That's why one film looks like a crazy person made it and the other film looks completely focused." (For that and a hundred other reasons, don't call it a sequel. "A sequel is basically the equivalent of a bad movie," Zombie explained. "Nobody thinks, 'Oh great, a sequel. Can't wait!'")

He also got real with his characters, enriching them with far greater depth than last time out.

"All the characters that were returning were already borderline cartoony, and that would turn into complete buffoonery unless I scaled them back and made them totally gritty and real and changed the approach," Zombie said.

Perhaps not surprising, then, that the pop-culture junkie found a modern (and syndicated) motto for this formula.

"I worked with the actors and said, 'Whatever it is you did last time, do the exact opposite.' It was like that one episode of 'Seinfeld' where George Costanza decides to do everything exactly the opposite, and his life starts becoming really good. That was like the battle cry. 'Do a Costanza! Do the exact opposite of what your instinct tells you to do.' And that's what the whole movie was."

NEXT: Making onscreen violence disgusting ('because it's supposed to be'), and why Ozzfest fans won't be watching commercials for 'The Devil's Rejects' during Zombie's set ...
Photo: MTV News

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