Rob Zombie’s ‘3 From Hell’ is Over-The-Top Grindhouse Insanity at its Finest

By Josh Lami

Neither House of 1000 Corpses nor The Devil’s Rejects ever struck me as particularly deep movies. They’re both pure, over-the-top madness from start to finish. Corpses feels a bit thrown together, and that’s because it is, this is pretty well confirmed by Rob Zombie’s himself. That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t a blast to sit through. It’s schlocky in all the right ways. Goofy as hell, but some of the best horror films are. I always found it to be a fine source of entertainment.

The Devil’s Rejects, on the other hand, doesn’t feel thrown together at all. It’s much more focused, I’d even call it tight. Gone is the campy tone and dollar store Halloween lighting. We trade that for an arid, bleak aesthetic and an all-around serious film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its share of ridiculousness, but it’s a minimalist kind of absurdity, if such a thing can exist. There are zero winks to the audience. The scene of Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe) referring to himself as the Lord’s “righteous sword of vengeance” while staring at his reflection is simultaneously poetic and completely absurd. No easy feat. Something else Zombie kept is his vile sense of humor (“Do you fuck chickens?”) and his ability to write entrancing, larger-than-life characters.

In my opinion, The Devil’s Rejects is a perfect film, a bona fide 10/10. I may have seen Rejects more than any other single film in history, if for no other reason than I’m never not in the mood to watch it.

I’ve always felt the ending for The Devil’s Rejects is one of the finest endings in horror movie history and probably shouldn’t be touched. On the other hand, I’ve always quietly hoped for at least one more movie, if for no other reason than to see the Firefly clan wreak a little more havoc. I had no idea how such a thing would happen, considering the family seemed pretty well dead at the end of Rejects. A prequel, maybe? Never loved that idea. So how could it possibly happen?

Enter 3 From Hell.

(From this point on, there are spoilers.)

If I have one gripe about Zombie’s presumed finale of the Firefly trilogy, it’s that he waited a few years too long. A decade would have sufficed, because it seems like Sid Haig would have been more up for the challenge in 2015. As it stood when 3 From Hell began production, he was not. The near omission of Captain Spaulding—perhaps the face of the franchise—is a pretty big deal. That isn’t to say Richard Brake doesn’t do a phenomenal job stepping in as a new member of the titular 3, he does, but I don’t think anyone can honestly say Cutter isn’t deeply missed in this entry.

Alas, things are what they are, and at least we do get some time with the Captain before he’s written out of the film for good.

Apart from that major hurdle, I’m happy to say I loved 3 From Hell. Is it as good as The Devil’s Rejects? No. But few things are. I never expected that, nor should anyone else. That said, I do think 3 From Hell is better than House of 1000 Corpses. Yes, 3 From Hell meanders a bit, but so do a number of films I deeply love. Zombie’s decision to make the Firefly clan’s survival a result of pure dumb luck will be polarizing for many, but for me this works much better than adding some kind of supernatural element to a story that ostensibly has none.

The most striking aspect of the first half of the movie is Baby Firefly’s decent into further madness. She’s crazier than ever, which makes sense given circumstances. She was certainly mentally ill to begin with, I don’t think anyone could argue that, and mentally ill people who spend a decade in solitary confinement don’t tend to improve. Baby has gone full crackers. She’s no less violent or psychopathic than she’s ever been, but probably no more, either. The change isn’t in her actions, it’s in her mannerisms. She’s now lost whatever loose grip she once had on reality.

Sheri Moon Zombie gets a ton of flack for her acting, I’ve never thought she was particularly bad. Not the best, but passable. In 3 From Hell, however, I feel like she’s stepped up her game. She’s still not winning any Oscars for this role, but I felt genuinely unnerved by Baby Firefly for the first time in the entirety of this trilogy. One scene in particular, we see Baby Firefly taunting a prison guard from behind a door, declaring “I live inside your head.” Also in this scene, I think we might have a little nod to David Lynch’s Eraserhead, as Baby observes a cat, dancing behind the grate of an air vent in her cell. This immediately brought to mind Henry Spencer watching the lady in the radiator. Am I saying 3 From Hell is as good as Eraserhead? Absolutely not, but I appreciated the nod. It was well executed.

Otis hasn’t really changed at all. Wonderfully portrayed by Bill Moseley, Otis Driftwood is an absolute monstrosity of a human being, and almost impossible to like… but not quite. Obviously, if this guy existed in real life, he’d be someone I had no interest in ever speaking to. He’d deserve to be locked away forever in some terrible place. But this isn’t real life, it’s the movies, and in movies, a good villain is hard to find. Otis is the epitome of a character people hate to love, and not the other way around.

Richard Brake doesn’t quite steal the show, if anything, Sheri Moon Zombie does that. Instead, Brake slides right in there, a perfect fit. His character, Foxy, is repugnant, disgusting, cruel, and delights in the torture of others. That’s exactly what we’re looking for in a movie like this.

There were a number of great sequences in 3 From Hell, including a home invasion scene which never quite reaches the intensity of that which transpired in the room of Banjo and Sullivan at the Kahiki Palms motel. It’s a hell of a sequence all the same. For me, one of the film’s highlights is a scene where Otis is forced into a machete death mach against a large man donning a luchador mask. If that’s not entertaining to you, I don’t know what else to say.

Apart from Sid Haig being all but gone from this movie, Leslie Easterbrook (Mother Firefly) and William Forsythe’s absences are felt heavily in 3 From Hell. They were such great characters, portrayed by amazing actors and a real blast to watch on screen. But we also have a new cast of interesting characters to help fill that void.

If Rob Zombie’s goal was to make audiences ponder philosophical or moral questions, or to make a profound statement about society, then 3 From Hell (along with the rest of the trilogy) would fall flat.

If his goal was to entertain—and I suspect it is—then he’s succeeded.

Final score: 9.5/10

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