3 from Hell

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Fourteen years ago Rob Zombie unleashed The Devil’s Rejects on unsuspecting horror audiences. The film was a hit and a major departure from the Tobe Hooper brand of theatrical nostalgia he flaunted in his debut project House of 1000 Corpses. Now, 14 years later, Zombie has returned to complete the story of the nefarious Firefly Family with 3 from Hell.

For 10 years the surviving Fireflies (miraculously surviving that hail of gunfire) have been incarcerated, garnering Manson-esque status as counter culture icons and boogeymen. Baby Firefly (Sheri-Moon Zombie) has become deluded in her isolation, Captain Spaulding (the late great Sid Haig) is knocking on death’s door, and Otis (Bill Moseley) basks in the media attention whilst patiently awaiting a chance to escape. Which arrives and cues another round of bloody mayhem and revenge which takes the trio on a bloody road trip to Mexico.

It’s the nasty, funny, retro-tinged, eclectically edited, and grimly executed procession most will have hoped for. Basking in the freak show aspect of seeing the three incarcerated, before launching them on another road trip. In a lot of ways, though, Zombie relies too much on The Devil’s Rejects. Which is disappointing when Rejects was so different to House. Iconic moments from the Firefly lexicon are nodded to throughout 3 from Hell for no other reason than reminding fans what they loved about the last film. Seeing Otis and Baby in prison is an interesting, fresh, and well-executed concept (with an incredible cameo from Dee Wallace), but without it 3 from Hell really would feel like a rehash of Rejects’ road movie angle with a side of Mexploitation.

Skipping the border to Mexico grants the film a colourful shift from the grungy, piss-stained, world of US penitentiaries. It’s a vibrantly captured atmosphere with a great energy and some of the trilogy’s slickest action. The eventual Western-style showdown is an exhilarating explosion of violence, but it’s over too quick. I could have watched Baby stalk gangsters with a bow and arrow for hours. Likewise, Richard Brake’s Foxy deserved more solo scenes. And so did Haig.

Which leads us to the sad part: the giant Spaulding-shaped hole in 3 from Hell. Sid Haig’s powerhouse performance was the glue which bound Zombie’s hillbilly horror to his modern shock tactics. Haig’s health over the past couple years had been deteriorating and, in the end, Zombie drastically rewrote the script. Spaulding appears in a short powerful scene but one can’t help but wonder how the film would have fared with Spaulding along for the full trip.

Filling those clown shoes is the ever magnetic Richard Brake who essentially tried out for the gig in Zombie’s 31. This time round Brake appears as Otis’ half-brother, Foxy. Brake is a different kettle of crazy to Moseley’s near-prophetic personification of evil and the two have great chemistry. As with The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie has managed to create a trio of characters we love to hate, but more importantly, love to watch. It’s testament to his actors and characters that scenes between them can be oddly tender, often hilarious, and hopelessly revealing.

For many, The Devil’s Rejects’ finale was a clear end to the deplorable band of villains after a mad, dynamic, incredible horror tour de force. The mere concept of a third film feels somewhat strained. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy. Zombie has compounded another stunning soundtrack, visually he’s more in control than ever (though not as ambitious as he was in The Lords of Salem), Sheri Moon gives her best turn as Baby so far, Moseley is absolutely incendiary, and the film flies by in a flurry of sadism, black comedy, retro Americana, and lurid thrills. Rather than feeling like the satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, though, 3 from Hell feels more like set-up to a whole new chapter in the legend of the Firefly family, now without its iconic Captain.

Dir. Rob Zombie

Stars. Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Richard Brake, Dee Wallace, Pancho Moler, Jeff Daniel Phillips

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