The Devil's Rejects and 9/11


Recently I wrote an editorial about what I personally feel are The Ten Most Influential Horror Films of the Last 10 Years.  And with any list that gets posted on the internet, members of the site responded with all kinds of feedback from the agreeable to the absolute disagreement.  One of the films that I mentioned as being influential was Rob Zombie’s 9/11 masterpiece The Devil’s Rejects.  Most people see this as another entry in the torture porn cannon with a heavy influence from 1970’s grindhouse drive in era but to stop there isn’t only shortsighted, but also irresponsible.  Many people asked me what The Devil’s Rejects has to do with 9/11 and reasonably so, I have an obligation to expand on my theories so hold on to your beanies kiddies, here we go.

The Devil’s Rejects isn’t in any way an easy film to watch.  It’s uncomfortable, brutal, and makes use of popular audience’s perceptions of the protagonist by following around a colorful family of serial killers.  In order to try and break this down as easily as possible (also let me explain that I’m not breaking this down because I feel that readers won’t understand it, I just want to give you this basic rundown so that you can see the starting point and branch out with your own ideas). 

  • Firefly Family = Terrorists, or rather the western personification of what the terrorists think/feel/believe
  • Sheriff John Wydell = The Western World’s (ok, American) response to the attacks on 9/11.

It’s clear without a doubt that the Firefly Family are all completely insane.  They pull corpses through the woods like dead cattle without emotion or remorse.  They kidnap, torture, and maim people for what appears to be no discernable reason.  They are unequivocally monsters with no ties to the human race rather than appearance.  If you would indulge me for a moment here, its very easy to see how The Firefly Family are the representation of what Westerners see as the thoughts, values, and ideas of faceless ski mask wearing terrorists who deliver their hideous acts of violence via the World Wide Web. 

I’m not condoning any acts of terrorism or violence for influence of any type in the world whatsoever.  What I’m saying is that people who enforce and practice terrorism mostly have ideals and ideas that they plan to spread throughout the world.  So they aren’t unmotivated people who kill for no reason (that is of course a matter of perception, but as far as the terrorists are concerned, they have good reason).  However on the other side of the argument, Americans who are widely ignorant of the rest of the world’s actions, pains, and arguments see these terrorist as soulless, worthless, and well… monsters.  The Firefly Family are clearly a representation of that.  In The Devil’s Rejects, its very hard to take a step back and look at the situation like that because for some sick reason, we kind of like the Firefly Family.  This is part of the reason why I feel that this is Rob Zombie’s masterpiece.  He plays with audience perceptions not only when picking sides between good and evil, but at the same time commenting on a generation of Freddy and Jason fans.  We love and sympathize with the mass murders because they enact a sort of mob mentality justice against people in our lives who we would love to see get taken care of.  Rob Zombie knows this and plays with it, making you believe that The Firefly Family are the protagonists.  The intimidating Sheriff John Wydell is often seen as the antagonist in the perception of the film despite the ideas and principles that he stands for.

Sheriff John Wydell is the brother of Lieutenant George Wydell who was handily dispatched during the previous installment, House of 1000 Corpses.  When we first meet Sheriff Jon Wydell, he is leading a raid on the Firefly House minutes into the film.  It’s pretty clear that even if we don’t yet know that he brother was killed, this is a man on a mission.  As the film progresses, it becomes inherently clear that Sheriff Wydell’s own sanity is slowly beginning to slip away.  He wants to bring the Firefly Family to justice, but not in the traditional sense.  He wants to find them, torture them, and inflict the same pain onto them that they inflicted onto all of their innocent victims.  It’s hard to remember during the course of the film that this man is on the side of the law.  He is clearly unstable, but his reasoning is that in order to take out the Firefly Family, he has to essentially elevate himself to their level of insanity.  He even goes as far to say “We are playing on a level that most will never see” and that he “tried to walk the line”.  Wydell is in a relentless pursuit to take down the people who committed atrocities by him.  Does this remind you of anyone?

After 9/11 America was outraged and in desperate need to reconcile the eye for an eye concept of justice.  Wydell stands in for America dispensing his violence on the perpetrators just as he feels that he was wronged.  The Firefly Family are standing in for the terrorists who decide to hurt people for no understandable reason.  As I stated before, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a perfect representation of a real life situation.  It’s about the perceptions of how a country feels about the way that they have been treated.  Is Sheriff Wydell a perfect representation of how all Americans felt after 9/11?  Of course not.  Is the Firefly Family a perfect representation of modern day tech savvy terrorists?  Not by a long shot.  Nevertheless, the similarities are there and can’t be ignored.

I wrote this article to expand on a loaded idea that I glanced over in a previous editorial.  In this follow up, I wanted to emphasize that this is my interpretation of the movie.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me by any means and in fact I expect to see some counter arguments how the movie is nothing more that  a piece of trash that really pushed the boundries of an R rating.  That’s the beauty of film analysis and the debates that subsequently follow it.  In essence, the film is a piece of art (I’m not talking about my perception of a masterpiece, just how the moving narrative image in considered art) and like every other piece ever made, it’s open to interpretation.  I interpreted The Devil’s Rejects as an amazing film about ambivalence after 9/11.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Do you have another interpretation of the film?  I would love to hear it and debate about it!

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