The film was released on July 22, 2005, to minor commercial success and mixed but more positive reviews over its predecessor. At the time of release and in the years since, the film has garnered a cult following. This is the final film of Matthew McGrory before his death the same year; the film's DVD release is dedicated to his "loving memory".
On May 18, 1978, Texas Sheriff John Quincey Wydell and a large posse of State Troopers issue a Search and Destroy mission on the Firefly family for over 75 homicides and disappearances over the past several years. The family arm themselves and fire on the officers. Rufus is killed and Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) is taken into custody, while Otis and Baby escape. They steal a car, and after killing the driver, they go to Kahiki Palms, a run-down motel.
While at the motel, Otis and Baby take a band called Banjo and Sullivan hostage in their room, and Otis shoots the roadie when he returns. Meanwhile, Baby's father, Captain Spaulding, decides to rendezvous with Baby and Otis. En route, his truck runs out of gas and he assaults a woman before stealing her car. Back at the motel, Otis rapes Roy's wife Gloria and demands Adam and Roy come with him on an errand.
Otis drives his two prisoners to a place where he buried weapons. While walking to the location, the two prisoners attack Otis, but he bludgeons Roy and cuts Adam's face off. Back at the motel, Adam's wife Wendy tries to escape out the bathroom window. When Gloria attempts to rebel, Baby kills her. Wendy runs out of the motel, but is caught by Captain Spaulding, who knocks her unconscious. Otis returns, and all three leave the motel together in the band's van.
The motel maid comes to clean the room, and discovers the murder scene. The maid enters the bathroom, where she sees "The Devil's Rejects" written on the wall in blood, and is startled by Wendy, who is accidentally killed when she runs out to the highway to seek help. Wydell calls a pair of amoral bounty hunters — the "Unholy Two" — Rondo and Billy Ray, to help him find the Fireflys. While investigating, they discover an associate of Spaulding's named Charlie Altamont. Wydell begins to lose sanity when Mother Firefly reveals that she murdered his brother. After having a dream in which his brother asks him to avenge his death, Wydell stabs Mother Firefly to death. The surviving Fireflys gather at a brothel owned by Charlie, where he offers them shelter from the police.
After he leaves the brothel, Wydell threatens Charlie to give up the Fireflys. With the help of the "Unholy Two", the sheriff takes the family back to the Firefly house where he tortures them, using similar methods they used on their own victims. He nails Otis' hands to his chair, and staples crime scene photographs to Otis's and Baby's stomachs, then beats and shocks Captain Spaulding and Otis with a cattle prod, and taunts Baby about the death of her mother.
Wydell sets the house on fire and leaves Otis and Spaulding to burn, but lets Baby loose outside so he can hunt her for sport. Charlie returns to save the Firefly family, but is killed by Wydell. Baby gets shot in the calf of her left leg, brutally horse-whipped, and then strangled by Wydell. Tiny suddenly arrives and intervenes, killing Wydell, and saving the Firefly family. Otis, Baby, and Spaulding escape in Charlie's 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, leaving behind Tiny, who walks back into the burning house. The trio drives, badly injured and seemingly humbled by their experience, towards a police barricade. Refusing to surrender, Otis drives them towards the barricade, firing their guns, and all three are shot to death by the police.
When Rob Zombie wrote House of 1000 Corpses, he had a "vague idea for a story" about the brother of the sheriff that the Firefly clan killed coming back for revenge. After Lions Gate Entertainment made back all of their money on the first day of Corpses' theatrical release, they wanted Zombie to make another film and he started to seriously think about a new story. With Rejects, Zombie has said that he wanted to make it "more horrific" and the characters less cartoonish than in Corpses, and that he wanted "to make something that was almost like a violent western. Sort of like a road movie." The film was set in the mid-late 1970s. He has also cited films like The Wild Bunch, Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands as influences on Rejects. When he approached William Forsythe about doing the film, he told the actor that the inspiration for how to portray his character came from actors like Lee Marvin and Robert Shaw. Sheri Moon Zombie does not see the film as a sequel: "It's more like some of the characters from House of 1000 Corpses came on over, and now they're the Devil's Rejects."
Zombie hired Phil Parmet, who had shot the documentary Harlan County, USA, because he wanted to adopt a hand-held camera/documentary look. Principal photography was emotionally draining for some of the actors. Sheri Moon Zombie remembers a scene she had to do with Forsythe that required her to cry. The scene took two to three hours to film and affected her so much that she did not come into work for two days afterward.
Rejects went through the MPAA eight times earning an NC-17 rating every time until the last one. According to Zombie, the censors had a problem with the overall tone of the film. Specifically, censors did not like the motel scene between Bill Moseley and Priscilla Barnes, forcing Zombie to cut two minutes of it for the theatrical release. However, this footage was restored in the DVD version.
Rob Zombie, who is a musician, decided to go with more southern rock to create the mood of the film. The soundtrack itself was notable as being one of the first to be released on DualDisc, with the DVD side featuring a making-of featurette for the film and a photo gallery.
The Devil's Rejects was released on July 22, 2005, in 1,757 theaters and grossed USD$7.1 million on its opening weekend, recouping its roughly $7 million budget. It grossed $17 million in North America and $2.3 million internationally for a total of $19.4 million.
The film had mixed reviews with a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Zombie has improved as a filmmaker since House of 1000 Corpses and will please fans of the genre, but beware — the horror is nasty, relentless and sadistic"; and a 53 metascore on Metacritic. Prominent critic Roger Ebert enjoyed the film and gave it three out of a possible four stars. He wrote, "There is actually some good writing and acting going on here, if you can step back from the [violent] material enough to see it". Later, in his review for The Hills Have Eyes, Ebert referenced The Devil's Rejects, writing, "I received some appalled feedback when I praised Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, but I admired two things about it [that were absent from The Hills Have Eyes]: (1) It desired to entertain and not merely to sicken, and (2) its depraved killers were individuals with personalities, histories and motives". In his review for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave The Devil's Rejects three out of four stars and wrote, "Let's hear it for the Southern-fried soundtrack, from Buck Owens' 'Satan's Got to Get Along Without Me' to Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird', playing over the blood-soaked finale, which manages to wed The Wild Bunch to Thelma & Louise". Richard Roeper gave the film "thumbs up" for being successful at its goal to be the "sickest, the most twisted, the most deranged movie" at that point of the year (2005).
In her review for The New York Times, Dana Stevens wrote that the film "is a trompe-l'œil experiment in deliberately retro film-making. It looks sensational, but there is a curious emptiness at its core". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C+" rating and wrote, "Zombie's characters are, to put it mildly, undeveloped". Robert K. Elder, of the Chicago Tribune, disliked the film, writing "[D]espite decades of soaking in bloody classics such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I Spit on Your Grave, Zombie didn't absorb any of the underlying social tension or heart in those films. He's no collage artist of influences, like Quentin Tarantino, crafting his movie from childhood influences. Rejects plays more like a junkyard of homages, strewn together and lost among inept cops, gaping plot holes and buzzard-ready dialog".
Horror author Stephen King voted The Devil's Rejects the 9th best film of 2005 and wrote, "No redeeming social merit, perfect '70s C-grade picture cheesy glow; this must be what Quentin Tarantino meant when he did those silly Kill Bill pictures".
James Berardinelli was very negative giving The Devil's Rejects half a star (out of a possible four stars) and called it a "vile, reprehensible movie," saying the action was "more formula than plot." He described the dialogue as "a pastiche (at least I think that's the intention) of the kind of bloodthirsty, overripe lines found" in a genre of films from the 1970s about "outcasts who defy society by destroying it." He was extremely critical of the acting, directing, and the production values, with an ending that was "a cataclysmic misfire", and overall was not "engaging cinema."