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'Rejects' is a depraved love letter to B-films

Rob Zombie, the erstwhile heavy-metal rocker and pride of Haverhill, Mass., has just released his second big-screen venture, following 2003's critically nuked ''House of 1,000 Corpses." Titled ''The Devil's Rejects," this sort-of sequel follows three sadistic killers as they cut a swath through the mid-1970s Midwest. It is a proudly sick film of no social value whatsoever, and all right-thinking moviegoers will properly shun it as a pox upon their multiplex.

Everyone else might want to check it out.

Steeped deeply and knowledgeably in the trash aesthetic of Roger Corman B-films and Combat Zone grindhouse fare like ''I Spit on Your Grave," ''Devil's Rejects" is a blood-smeared and almost completely scurrilous love letter to anyone who ever appeared in the junk movies of the '60s through '80s. This extends to the casting of anyone who ever appeared in the junk movies of the '60s through '80s.

True, of the psychotic central trio, only Sid Haig as the clown-faced Captain Spaulding has bona fide psychotronic street cred (he costarred in the 1968 cult classic ''Spider Baby"). Sheri Moon, as his pneumatic daughter Baby, is better known as Mrs. Rob Zombie, and Bill Moseley, as their testy, Manson-esque partner in crime, Otis B. Driftwood, has only been around since the late '80s.

(Yes, they're named after Groucho Marx characters. Rob Zombie, it turns out, has a thing for Marx Brothers movies as well, and he really loves cheesy mid-'70s rock songs such as Elvin Bishop's ''Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and David Essex's ''Rock On." No one has ever combined drive-in sleaze, references to classic comedy teams, and the oeuvre of Lynyrd Skynyrd before, in large part because no one has considered it a remotely good idea.)

As the Spauldings tear across the desert, with Sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe) the designated hellhound on their trail, each of their gore-spattered encounters contains a cameo designed to make late-night cable aficionados sit bolt upright in disbelief. There's Mary Woronov (ex-Warhol Factory regular and Miss Togar of ''Rock 'n' Roll High School") as a doomed nurse! There's Steve Railsback (the title character of ''The Stunt Man") as a state cop! There's E.G. Daily, Dottie from ''Pee-wee's Big Adventure," as a hooker! Leslie Easterbrook (the ''Police Academy" series) as the foulmouthed Mother Firefly, Ken Foree (''From Beyond") as a bordello proprietor, tough guy Danny Trejo as a bounty hunter, ''The Hills Have Eyes" oddity Michael Berryman as an . . . oddity! There's even P.J. Soles, of ''Halloween" and ''Stripes" and ''Rock 'n' Roll High School," as a threatened mom.

P.J. Soles, ladies and gentlemen! This isn't a cast, it's a class reunion.

Maybe none of this means anything to you. Maybe seeing a chunky mid-50s woman who was once the most delightful young actress in the kind of movies that never got any critical respect just doesn't float your boat. But it's enough to make some of us weep with nostalgia.

When we're not flinching. Zombie also resuscitates the unregenerate sadism of his beloved cinematic crud, and the long central section of ''Rejects," in which the villains kidnap and torture a family of country musicians led by Geoffrey Lewis and Priscilla ''Three's Company" Barnes, is just plain mean -- overdirected exploitation grunge catering to our inner rubbernecker. True, it's refreshing to find a director who doesn't pull punches, and ostensibly this is to make us loathe the Captain and his confreres all the more, softening us up for the sheriff's climactic vigilante vengeance.

But that's just a shell game. Zombie loves his drive-in killers and he wants us to love them, too -- they're uninhibited über-slobs, following their homicidal whims without acknowledging other people as anything besides targets or playthings. They're free -- in a cretinous sort of way -- and ''Devil's Rejects" lets them go out in a blaze of glory that echoes both ''Bonnie and Clyde" and ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Sorry, doesn't wash, even with ''Free Bird" yowling triumphantly on the soundtrack. With ''The Devil's Rejects," Rob Zombie proves he's a filmmaker to be taken seriously -- or at least not to be considered a total joke -- but he still hasn't figured out how to fashion something more than the sum of his enthusiasms. He has an eight-track tape in place of a soul, and it keeps switching sides just as you're starting to get your groove on.

Ty Burr can be reached at

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