After all the hype and build-up to Rob Zombie’s 3 FROM HELL, anything less than three reviews from the three FM team members who saw it would seem remiss. Holly, Jorge, and Eleni each give a review and final grade for this extravaganza of blood and vulgarity, which premiered in Los Angeles last night at the Vista Theatre!
How do you follow up the escape-heist-slasher fever dream that is THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, a much-cherished splatter-punk BADLANDS with a solid structure that speeds very definitively towards its violent conclusion? Well, if you’re Rob Zombie, you make a (comparatively) rambling road trip movie that begins in documentary-style and devolves into a kind of DAZED AND CONFUSED starring murdering freeloaders. There’s not much of a concrete plot, but 3 FROM HELL succeeds because the main actors are so familiar with their characters at this point that watching them feels like getting a glimpse into a true crime scene of a famous serial killer — morbid, disturbing, extreme, but nevertheless riveting.
10 years on since their assumed slaughter at the end of DEVIL’S REJECTS, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) make a miracle recovery and survive in prison for ten long years. Baby fails her parole hearing (are we really surprised?), but Otis — with the help of his equally crazy half brother, Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane — manages to break out during an exterior prison work project. Otis and Foxy set their sights on freeing Baby, and of course there are multiple bullets to the gut, face mutilations, and arguments about classic black and white films along the way. The trio end up in Mexico, where their adventures take on a bit of “college kid on a bender” flavor, and they become the target of a group of avenging terrorists in a twist that creates a conflict in the decision of who to root for.
Sheri Moon Zombie really steals the show, here. Moseley is likeably intimidating as always playing Otis, and Richard Brake adds a chaotic twist with his turn as Foxy, but most of the iconic moments belong to Baby Firefly, be it her breaking a warden’s nose, turning a soda machine into a murder prop, or developing a strangely touching relationship with the fleabag motel help over breakfast. Jeff Daniel Philips’ Warden Virgil Dallas Harper is another scene-stealer, his rage and righteous determination struggling uselessly against the storm of sadistic terror that is the Firefly family. The siege that Otis and Foxy stage at the warden’s house is downright horrifying — and includes a wink to Captain Spaulding in a tragic performance from a terrified clown who makes the mistake of knocking on the door during the stakeout.
Rob Zombie movies are not everyone’s cup of tea, and someone looking for a quick scare or typically action-packed blockbuster will surely be disappointed, but as a bloody character study with whimsical touches and uber-realistic violence — not to mention impressive performances from everyone involved — 3 FROM HELL is an unhinged ride well worth viewing.
Holly’s Grade: 7.5/10
First off, I’d like to paint a picture of my viewing experience of 3 FROM HELL: the theater had the old flat-surface seating with folding seats, the control room was late in dimming the lights, the sound dropped out for a scene or two, and the whole audience talked to the screen as if they were at home and no one else was around. While at first I was bothered by these annoyances, after a while I couldn’t help but think Rob Zombie had orchestrated it all for me and my little FM crew as part of the show.
For anyone who grew up appreciating the schlockiness of old grindhouse films, 3 FROM HELL is made for you. This is an unapologetic, in-your-face homage to the classic slasher films that shaped Rob Zombie as a filmmaker. We get a scene where Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, the equally insane half brother of Otis Firefly, is watching Lon Chaney’s HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and gushing about the tragic character to a naked vixen whom he could be ravishing or killing — dealer’s choice. The brothers are major OG cinephiles, and they reference and quote greats like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney when they’re not raining havoc down on civilians.
I can’t talk about this film without mentioning the psychotic star of the film, Baby Firefly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie. If you ever wondered what Maria Bamford would be like as a schizophrenic killer hippie, wonder no longer. Zombie gives a joyous rollercoaster of emotions and whimsy draped in blood. Among the best interactions we see her have is with horror veteran Dee Wallace playing a prison guard, and there’s a feeling of “Are they going to hook up, or will Baby just put a hook in her?” Once Baby joins up with her bros, cue the blood-stained fireworks, as death, alcohol, sex, and more death ensue.
There are guaranteed to be people who over-analyze this film and look at it through the scrutiny of an Oscar criteria lens, but you really shouldn’t. In THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, the dialogue, violence, and sexuality felt like a device to obtain the grittiness of the genre; in 3 FROM HELL it serves as more of a punchline. Granted, it’s an inside joke made for fans of Zombie and the old B-movie culture. My only complaint is that I wanted more of the lucha-mask-wearing Black Satans.
JORGE’S GRADE: A motherf–king 7.5/10, the .5 in memory of our little one-eyed friend.
One of the many things that made THE DEVIL’S REJECTS so effective when it came out was the sledgehammer tone and aesthetic shift from its predecessor. It made people sit up and pay attention to the Firefly family and the level of evil they consider to be standard operating procedure: “Oh, I see… these people I thought were just kind of kooky are actually likely to be Satan incarnate.” How do you replicate that, especially 15 years later? Rob Zombie is smart enough to know the answer: you don’t. You go in an entirely different direction. With 3 FROM HELL, that direction is something reminiscent of a family road trip comedy, except the family is Baby Firefly, Otis Driftwood, and their half-brother “Foxy” Coltrane, and instead of travelling to the Grand Canyon to have a familial bonding experience, they’re butchering people for fun.
At one point, Baby tells her brothers, “Don’t forget, I’m the star,” and she certainly never lets the audience forget. She has more interaction with other characters than Otis or Foxy, and it seems she has more of a character arc. Baby even seems to have a moment or two of her own (albeit deranged) empathy that really seems genuine; there’s a scene later in the movie where she exhibits her own brand of genuine sweetness. It’s almost refreshing, and wholly unexpected.
Another highlight is the consistency of Zombie’s attention to detail. His dedication to a film’s aesthetic is thorough; just as HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES had a neon-and-gore funhouse quality and REJECTS went with a gritty, true-evil slasher feel, HELL goes hard on the 70’s exploitation approach. Rejects’ ultimate antagonist was very grounded in reality — a rogue sheriff out for revenge — whereas HELL pitches in a whole squad of luchadores with machine guns and machetes. It’s something right out of an old comic book (literally, as we see Otis flipping through a comic with that very image while the Black Satans assemble outside). Shots like this, as well as the aforementioned Cagney vs Bogart argument and a plethora of old black and white movies playing on TV throughout the film — to say nothing of the obvious callback to the Manson Family trials at the start of the movie — make it clear what sort of world HELL exists in: an allusion-laden pop cultural one, filled with references to the genre media Zombie loves.
None of this is to say 3 FROM HELL is without its faults. 15 years clearly took its toll: Sid Haig (here’s hoping for a speedy recovery) isn’t in it much, and the other cast members take a bit of time to get going — Otis’ interview in prison seems somewhat lackluster, while at first Baby is trying almost a little too hard to be kooky. Could this have been to support a point that these characters can’t flourish in prison? Maybe, but if that was the goal, it was too vague to give the point a leg to stand on. Some people might feel the movie glosses over their extremely unlikely survival of the shootout at the end of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS too much. But I’m not sure what the alternative could have been, unless Zombie decided the new direction for the trilogy was going to be some touch-and-go medical drama. Surviving the barrage of bullets is as laughably unlikely as any of them putting forth the idea that they are somehow not guilty of an obscenely large number of murders.
There is not an overarching narrative for the film. There are small plots, i.e. to get Baby out of prison or survive the attack by the Black Satans, but the movie as a whole doesn’t have a central storyline. It can give the impression of the movie being unfocused, but a loose narrative structure plays further into the movie being unpredictable, and at the end of the day, I’d much rather focus on Firefly Family antics and not get bogged down with a secondary story about an unrelated character.
3 FROM HELL is very different, pretty weird, and definitely not for everyone; but then, Zombie’s movies never have been. Is it better than THE DEVIL’S REJECTS? No, but few movies are up to the task of unseating a masterpiece, and this is an extremely solid follow-up if you’re looking for a new romp with the Firefly family.
ELENI’S GRADE: 8.5/10
In memory of the great Sid Haig (1939-2019), forever our Captain Spaulding. RIP.