3 from Hell (2019) | Directed by Rob Zombie
aka Three from Hell
Written by Rob Zombie | Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig
Follows The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
There’s a problem with Rob Zombie. As a filmmaker he’s a conundrum. He’s a jigsaw puzzle, but with a few pieces missing and those missing pieces are what’s stopping him from connecting fully with fans of the horror genre.
Never has a director in the horror genre been as polarising. There are the people that see Zombie as an extremely creative talent and there are the ones that absolutely despise him. And when I mean despise, I mean full on lambasting across internet forums and social media, hating on everything he releases. So why is this the case? He’s a heavy metal musician turned movie director, he has his fair share of fans already, but is he open to unfair scrutiny because people believe he shouldn’t belong? Do the critics shun him because of the trailer-trash content of his movies? Or is he just a poor movie director?
Obviously there’s a case for all of the above as all art is subjective and everyone has different tastes, but I personally believe Zombie receives a lot of unnecessary flack.
Yes I agree I’m a huge fan of his music and believe the music videos he directs prove he’s a huge talent in filmmaking, especially drawing off his reference of old and nostalgic horror movies. Zombie clearly loves movies, especially horror and it seeps through his music and videos.
His transition into feature length films wasn’t exactly a surprise. His debut film House of 1000 Corpses (2003) was basically Zombie’s mind spilling out on screen, his lack of restraint resulted in a film version of a scare attraction. It did birth the characters of the Firefly family which Zombie has become most famous for. His follow up The Devil’s Rejects (2005) was a far more toned down affair. With his budget slashed considerably, this fed an appetite for more innovation and character development. The Devil’s Rejects connected with fans for its grungy, road-movie tone. It’s 70s vibe harped back to films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (review).
Suddenly Zombie was hot property. Hanging out with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for their Grindhouse double-bill. His faux trailer Werewolf Women of the SS only cemented his status as one of the most promising horror directors. He also landed the holy grail gig of directing a remake of the John Carpenter classic Halloween. This is when I believe there was a shift in opinion towards Zombie. The studio wanted something new with Halloween (2007) (review); more reboot than remake. Zombie did just that. Creating an entire new mythology of the infamous killer Michael Myers, but fused with his own retro, sleazy style. The film was a box office success but was panned by critics and fans alike. For me Zombie was in a no-win situation. He delivered what the studio wanted, entered the mainstream circle, but was crucified for being too alternative?
I’ve never seen Zombie as a mainstream director… He’s far more suited to low-budget movies that he can just relax on and create what he knows best. His music videos are amazing because he’s creating for himself alone, his band, and his fan base, so there’s less pressure in a sense.
Contractually Zombie had to return for a sequel. Halloween II (2009) being a more psychedelic, bizarre movie and once again destroyed by fans and critics, but I always felt Zombie went over the top with the bizarre intentionally in protest.
Since then Zombie has released three further films, the animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), The Lords of Salem (2012) (review), and 31 (2016).
Once again for me all very polarising movies. Animated films are always a mixed bag, 31 I didn’t like whatsoever. I thought it was very flat and an uncomfortable experience overall, but The Lords of Salem is phenomenal and by far Zombie’s best movie to date. He’ll forever be remembered for creating Captain Spaulding, Otis and Baby, but The Lords of Salem proves Zombie is a serious filmmaker who can create something truly brilliant. Due to these films not setting the world on fire financially, it was only a matter of time before Zombie returned to the characters he feels most comfortable with, and the characters he knows fans want to see the most: the Firefly family.
3 from Hell brings Spaulding, Otis and Baby back from the dead (literally) to fight another day. Spoiler alert! The climax of The Devils Reject’s saw all three characters shot to smithereens in their convertible by the police. I’ll say it now, I’ll be damned that bringing them back to life on screen was ever originally planned. They’ve been resurrected because Zombie probably feels he needs them now more than ever and it’s what his fans want.
So here we are…the third and final instalment (maybe) of the Firefly saga. We begin by finding out all three aren’t actually dead…just badly shot?! They survive and end up on death row via a media circus, and seemingly become more idolised than feared by the public.
Sadly due to the failing health and now passing of gifted actor Sid Haig his final scene as Captain Spaulding is an unfortunately brief one at the beginning of the movie. Zombie has since revealed that all the scenes featuring Richard Brake were indeed written for Haig and the character of Spaulding. It’s a really sad situation as Spaulding is a key character within this universe, but nobody could have envisioned what was about to happen, so I applaud everyone involved with how they dealt with it. This catapults a far larger role for Brake’s character, Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, who is the half brother of Otis (Bill Moseley). What’s impressive is how seamless Brake inserts himself into the movie. It must have been tough jumping on board under the current circumstances and into a now third movie when all the characters are already established, but Brake is a fine actor and one of the shining lights of the film, along with the always impressive and very underrated Moseley. Coltrane helps Otis escape from prison during a run-in with fellow prisoner Rondo (Danny Trejo) and they embark on a violent home invasion of eccentric warden Virgil Harper (Jeff Daniel Philips) and his family. Their aim is to blackmail him into releasing their sister Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) from prison, and from the clutches of the sadistic prison guard Greta (Dee Wallace).
Everything goes to plan, albeit with a lot of carnage thrown in between, and all three escape, hit the road, and decide to head over the border to Mexico were surely nobody will be looking for them there…
The first two acts of the movie are what suffer the most. The first being the unfortunate prison scenes crowbarred in, which they’ve had to do because all three characters are now alive and well. The second being the home invasion which is almost a re-hash of the motel scene from the second film. The only time we kind of get something fresh is with the third act in Mexico, as it takes ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ out of the environments that we normally accustom them with and into something completely new.
Along the way we are introduced to lots of wacky characters and visuals that Zombie is renowned for. Superb turns from Richard Edson and Emilio Rivera fit perfectly into a Zombie movie and it’s easy to see that every actor is having an absolute blast in their roles. Zombie likes everything to be sleazy, grungy and a little unkempt, which is great as there are not many other films being produced nowadays like the ones Zombie produces. There’s an originality to his un-originality. He clearly draws references from other movies, but I’m ok with that. Isn’t that what Tarantino has always done? Like Tarantino, Zombie is a pastiche filmmaker; an obvious fan of cinema making movies.
The difficulty 3 from Hell suffers with, apart from its climax, is that it barely presents anything new that we haven’t already seen from the past few movies. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it’s just a tad messy and somewhat forgettable. But with a killer soundtrack, a few awesome set pieces and an overall cool vibe, 3 from Hell has its moments, but it’s unfortunately the weakest of the three movies. Another thing that really lets it down is the casting of Sheri Moon Zombie as Baby. I totally understand Zombie wanting his wife to be in his movies and sharing the experience, but love and sentiment is what cripples his movies, especially 3 from Hell. Sheri Moon Zombie is very limited in her acting and her character Baby is so annoying at times. The frustrating thing is she’s on screen more than any other character so there’s nowhere to hide. A friend of mine who watched the movie called her a “Poundland Harley Quinn”, which I did find quite amusing, but in all seriousness if a better actress was cast in the role with a lot more range I truly believe the film would go up a notch quite considerably.
Overall 3 from Hell is good fun and enjoyable, but once again I doubt this is the movie that’s going to win over the Rob Zombie haters.
I believe Zombie would benefit from maybe taking a break from horror and delving into just making exploitation movies. I think his sleazy, 70s style would be a great fit. He was attached to direct The Blob before he directed Halloween, but if he were to have another crack at a remake, I’d like him to tackle something like Dirty Harry or The Warriors as I do believe he’s a unique talent that’s unfairly treated because he doesn’t play to the masses.
3 from Hell is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate UK. Release date: 14th October 2019