3 From Hell (2019)
The Evil Returns
Rob Zombie has had an interesting career. Transitioning from musician to filmmaker, Zombie’s first feature House of 1000 Corpses (2003) showed great potential. Inspired by 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film was an impressive debut, the neon-colored nightmare highlighting Zombie’s knack for exploitation cinema along with carnival-esque visuals. Zombie’s sophomore picture, The Devil’s Rejects (2005), was stronger still, the film continuing the exploits of the Firefly clan whom we met in Corpses. With Rejects, Zombie crafted a grisly ode to the drive-in road movies of yesteryear, packed with R-rated madness and mayhem. The film finished with the Firefly family speeding towards a barricade of blazing gunfire, Vera-Ellen ‘Baby’ Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) being shot down by a hail of police bullets to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird.’ It appeared that this was the last we’d ever see of the sadistic clan.
Zombie’s career never again reached the heights of The Devil’s Rejects; his Halloween (2007-09) films failed to leave an impression, and whilst I dug The Lords of Salem (2012) — produced by Jason Blum in the wake of his Paranormal Activity (2007) win — it struggled to find an audience chiefly due to the bad taste left from Zombie’s mediocre Michael Myers reboots. This forced Zombie to crowdfund his next project, 31 (2016), which, let’s be honest, was his biggest bust — its critical and commercial successes are proof of this enough.
With nowhere really left to go, it makes sense that Zombie would return to the world of the Fireflys, and the series that resonated strongest with his legions of fans. Upon hearing news of a Rejects follow-up, I was curious to see how the 54-year-old filmmaker would tackle the fate of the morally bankrupt Fireflys, given that it was suggested they were killed at the end of The Devil’s Rejects. Although there was online chatter of alternative timelines or different narrative paths, writer-director Zombie doesn’t take any of these routes, instead opting for the more obvious way out — though it may be a little hard to swallow for some.
Set somewhere in the late eighties, 3 From Hell opens with a grindhouse montage of news reports suggesting that Baby, Otis, and Captain Spaulding somehow survived the barrage of bullets and were rushed to hospital and resuscitated (?), then shipped off to prison for multiple life sentences for their heinous crimes against humanity. The rejects’ trial is covered nationwide and becomes somewhat of a public fiasco, the trio revered for their anti-establishment ways, several even protesting the trinity’s innocence — ‘Free the Three’ becomes a thing. As time passes, Warden Virgil Dallas Harper (Jeff Daniel Phillips) seems to think he has a pretty solid grip on the situation, but that’s until Otis’ half-brother, Winslow Foxworth ‘Foxy’ Coltrane (Richard Brake), shows up to free Otis while he’s out doing work on a chain gang, the pair offing inmate Rondo (Danny Trejo) before fleeing the scene.
Baby, however, is still stuck behind bars, where she’s being tormented by a butch-y guard, Greta (an unrecognizable Dee Wallace), who’s made it her mission to try and ‘break’ the blonde serial killer. Eager to free their kin — so that she can join them for more callous fun — Otis and Foxy hatch a plan to get their beloved Baby out of the slammer, and before long, the three are reunited once again. On the run and out of options, the fugitives set their sights on Mexico, where they’re unaware that they’re being hunted down by a dangerous local gang known as the Black Satans. Hellish butchery is about to ensue.
3 From Hell can essentially be split into three ‘sections.’ The opening portion basically works as a recap of sorts (à la an episode of True Crime), reminding us who these characters are whilst filling in certain blanks (what’s happened to them over the subsequent years). Here, Zombie comments on media sensationalism, mainly how it can distort public opinion, and how perception can change over time, the television transforming these cold-blooded killers into cult heroes overnight. The late Sid Haig also gets to deliver a powerful monologue as Captain Spaulding before he is executed via lethal injection, Haig having just a small but memorable cameo in the film.
These ideas are quickly abandoned in the next portion, which feels like a Zombie-fied retread of The Devil’s Rejects, complete with home invasions, sleazy hotels, and the typical brutal violence and obscene language synonymous with Zombie’s brand of crude entertainment.
Things get more interesting when our merry band of sociopaths heads to a small town in Mexico, which is celebrating the Day of the Dead, where they hold up in the town’s lone hotel to hide from the authorities. Fortunately, the change in location spices things up, Zombie presenting us with a Día de Muertos cum Howard Hawks flavor — we get images of skeletons and skulls, and some Luchador mask-wearing goons to cause hell for our sordid anti-heroes. The grunge-y cinematography by David Daniel, 31 (2016), may be too rough and shaky for some, but at least we get that aggressively grimy look and classic kaleidoscope sequence that Zombie freaks have come to expect.
Although ultraviolence is the name of the game here, it’s evident that Zombie has an affinity for these characters — the same can be said about the performers, who are obviously happy to be reprising their roles and causing more carnage on screen. Sheri Moon Zombie (zombie’s wife and frequent collaborator) is devilishly mad as the wild card of the family Baby, dialing her ‘crazy’ up to eleven; sure, she overacts, but her scenes bring a boisterous energy to the proceedings — whether she’s winning knife-throwing contests or shooting assassins with a kick-ass bow and arrow, this is totally her film. Bill Moseley steps back into Otis’ skin effortlessly — a character who’s become a parody of Charles Manson and his famous ‘Chop-Top’ Sawyer from 86’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 — the 67-year-old star sharing great camaraderie with the group, mainly Richard Brake, Doom (2005), who plays his blood-thirsty half-brother Foxy.
Elsewhere, Pancho Moler, Candy Corn (2019), does a fine job as a one-eyed midget (who’s got the hots for Baby), while Richard Edson, Super Mario Bros. (1993), steals all of his scenes as duplicitous hotel manager Carlos Perro. Oh, we also get the usual bunch of redneck creeps, crims, and carneys, the latter an entertainer named Mr. Baggy Britches (Clint Howard) who gets caught in the crossfire.
When push comes to shove, 3 From Hell works best as a twisted family reunion, Rob Zombie taking us on another murderous joyride through the dusty wasteland with the depraved Firefly gang — the film doesn’t necessarily do anything new or innovating, but it’s still a bloody good time, nonetheless. Whether you’re up for the demented trip, though — that’s if your stomach can handle it — is a different matter altogether.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
3 From Hell was screened as part of Monster Fest 2019