3 From Hell

Rob Zombie surprised everyone in 2003 when he wrote and directed House of 1000 Corpses. Zombie was (is) a heavy metal musician with a lot of theatrical flair a la Alice Cooper.  Few people expected him to reveal himself as a grindhouse auteur, and yet that was exactly what he did.  House of 1000 Corpses  was a grungy, low budget horror film with a load of 70s nostalgia. It’s  a  mashup of The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Manson family. It made waves.

Zombie followed it up two years later with The Devil’s Rejects. Rejects was a sequel without being a retread.  Rejects takes the Firefly family (many of the names in these movies are lifted from Marx Brothers characters) and transforms them into the gritty heroes (or, at least protagonists) of a 70s style road picture (think Dirt Mary, Crazy Larry; The Getaway; Vanishing Point). The Fireflys are still presented as psychotic murderers, but we in the audience are invited to like them and root for their escape.

The success of Rejects led to Zombie being offered more mainstream projects. He would re-imagine John Carpenter’s Halloween and Halloween II before falling back into relative obscurity as a director.  After the Halloween  movies he would make the very interesting, though largely overlooked, Lords of Salem and then the execrable 31. To many critics, 31 looked like the end of Zombie’s film career. It was a big, ugly, dumb mess of a movie, It had no coherent thesis. It was a film crying out for someone to rein Zombie in, and curtail the worst of his excesses.

Now Zombie has returned to his roots, bringing us the third film in the Firefly family saga, 3 From Hell.

The first thing to note about 3 From Hell is the massive amount of raw talent on the screen. The cast includes Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig (In a final role before his death),  Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, Bill Oberst jr, Clint Howard, Richard Riehle, and many others.  Seriously, look at that cast. Between them they have been in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; The Howling; Machete; Stressed to kIll; THX 1138;  Galaxy of Terror; Texas Chainsaw 3D; Halloween; Frost/Nixon. How could this go wrong with that cast?

 3 From Hell picks up ten years after Rejects. It retcons the ending of the earlier film. At the end of The Devil’s Rejects it seemed pretty clear that Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding all died in the final shootout with the police. Here we are told that they were grievously injured, but survived. All three have been in prison for the last decade. Near the beginning of the film Captain Spaulding is executed for his crimes.  It seems likely that Haig’s part was cut back due to his failing health.  For the rest of the film, Spaulding will be replaced by Foxy Coltrane (Richard Brake), a previously unmentioned half brother to Otis and baby.

Foxy breaks Otis out of jail and they go about trying to free Baby, who is suffering a mental collapse, becoming more and more unhinged as time passes. Otis and Foxy kidnap the warden and his wife in order to force the warden to get Baby out. Once Baby is free, they kill the hostages and flee to Mexico.  There they hole up in a hotel. They are recognized by the hotel owner, and he alerts Aquarius. Aquarius is the son of Rondo (Danny Trejo) who was killed during the prison break.  This all builds to a big fight between the Firefly family and Aquarius and his men. It gets messy.

Everybody involved seems to be having a lot of fun. Moseley is at his unhinged best, chewing through scenery and spitting his Manson inspired dialogue with rage tempered by humor. Sherri Moon Zombie does a great job playing the mental decline of the character she created in the prior films.  As frightening as she was before, here she shows no compunction, no limits.

The supporting cast all know what this is, and they seem like they are on a very weird vacation.  N one is taking this seriously, but they sure are enjoining every minutes of it.

It’s clear that Zombie has a real love for these characters. Maybe that’s the issue, though. As much fun as this movie is, it is entirely unnecessary. The Firefly family had a good run, and came to a perfect end in The Devil’s Rejects. Resurrecting them was always going to be a bad idea; resurrecting them for something as inessential as 3 From Hell feels almost cruel.  For all the panache, and style, and weird nostalgia that Zombie brings to this, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d really rather re-watch the previous two films.

If there’s a big bright side, maybe the success of this movie will allow Zombie to finally make his Reboot of The Blob that he has talked about. That’s something I could get behind.