You simply haven't lived until you've traveled more than 9,000 miles with a family of serial killers.
Maybe you know them: Otis B. Driftwood, an on again-off again albino serial killer who makes sculptures out of his victims, or skins them to wear as costumes; Baby Firefly, the blood-thirstiest hot chick since Patricia Krenwinkle; and Captain Spaulding, Baby's creepy clown father (and the white brother of a black pimp) who's named after a Groucho Marx character.
Ah, but I was never in any danger as I hurtled toward (and home from) the Arctic with my 19-year-old son Matt in our three-week adventure. This ever-so-extraordinarily dysfunctional family is the creation of monster-metal auteur Rob Zombie in his indie film "The Devil's Rejects" (actually a sequel to "House of 1,000 Corpses"), and they were safe in my son's vast DVD collection. They came out only once, when Matt popped the disc into the portable DVD player somewhere between Valhalla Centre and the tundra, but they left their mark on our journey.
You see, they are the HEROES of "Devil's Rejects." Not the bad guys. They rack up more kills than the Red Baron in this blood-spattered film. They butcher an entire country-and-western band, a revenge-obsessed sheriff (they slaughtered his brother in the first film), and between them and director Zombie the blood flows swifter than concession-stand soda pop. And their methods, ranging from very sharp knives to speeding 18-wheelers, simply don't tolerate subtlety. They make Hannibal Lecter look like a Peace Corps volunteer.
Anyway, the road-tripping Firefly clan survives every attempt to capture, prosecute and kill them ... until the final scene, when they go out in a slow-mo blaze of glory, speeding their car toward a phalanx of state troopers and firing every weapon in their considerable arsenal. To the heroic, romantic strains of "Freebird," no less.
Freeze frame. Serial killers fade into heavenly bright light as cops' bullets tear them apart. Smiling. Angelic.
"So what'd you think?" Matt asked me. It's one of his favorite flicks and he wanted to share it with his occasionally-hip 50-year-old dad. "Cool, huh?"
"Are you freaking kidding me?" I harumphed in slightly bluer language. "They made those freaks into heroes!"
"No, they didn't," he responded. "It's just that not every story has a happy ending" -- adding for effect -- "like your old movies."
"Hey, not every old movie had a happy ending. But almost every old movie had a message that was worth pondering. This one had no message. It had nothing but blood and guts."
"It had a message."
"What was it? Serial killers can have fun, too?"
"They get killed at the end," he said, angling like a lawyer for anything that will stick. "Who would want to be like them?"
"That's not a message!" I shot back.
"How about ... not every movie has to have a message?" Matt said.
"That's not a message either."
"Who says? That's the message I got. Everything in this movie could happen. Probably has at sometime. Just because this isn't a movie that looks like all the movies you ever saw doesn't mean it isn't a valid work of art."
Godammit, I hate to get out-maneuvered. I had to stay in this game. Losing would be intolerable. I'd have to give back my "Father Knows Best" T-shirt.
"Serial killers who chop the faces off people and wear them aren't heroes! You can't have them being admired at the end of the movie. You can't make them look like Marines charging into a machine-gun nest on Iwo Jima for God and country! They're freakin' serial killers! You can't have this slow-motion sequence that transforms them into mythic heroes! You can't tell kids that crime is cool. And 'Freebird' ... criminy. This isn't revolutionary filmmaking ... it's just sex-and-shoot 'em up exploitation thumbing its nose at convention and anybody over 18!"
I was starting to sputter and spit, but I had him there ... Matt just smiled.
"Oh, you mean like 'Bonnie and Clyde'?"
Dammit. I hate it when serial killers win. Here's my T-shirt.