3 FROM HELL (2019)
Directed by Rob Zombie
Written by Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Richard Brake, Emilio Rivera, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dee Wallace, David Ury, Dot-Marie Jones, Sean Whalen, Tom Papa, Pancho Moler, Kevin Jackson, Richard Riehle, Austin Stoker, Richard Edson, Matthew Willig, Duane Whitaker, Rob Welsh, Christine Weatherup, Anny Rosario, Steven Michael Quezada, Bill Oberst Jr., Marco Morales, Mariano ‘Big Dawg’ Mendoza, Tracey Leigh, Lucinda Jenney, Sylvia Jefferies, Jan Hoag, Stacie Greenwell, Luis Richard Gomez, Jackie S. Garcia, Alexandra Ella, Christopher B. Duncan, Flor de Maria Chahua, Tomas Boykin, Chaz Bono, Billy Blair, Rian Bishop, Amir Abdalla
Find out more about this film here
I don’t know why, but I always feel like I need to write a long dissertation at the beginning of my reviews for Rob Zombie’s films. So I guess here we go again…
As a filmmaker, Rob Zombie seems to be his own worst enemy. Zombie seems to be the type of filmmaker who has to “represent” his grungy, rock star roots and that telling a story that takes place outside of this outcast culture is somehow selling out. It’s totally fine that Zombie likes to wallow in the mud and tell tales about anti-heroes and outcasts to society. Those are fun films to watch, but one of the biggest problems with Zombie’s films is that everyone looks, acts, and wallows in the exact same muddy, grimy lifestyle. He makes them all seemingly from the same culture, representing the rebel lifestyle with the only other characters exemplifying that of victim for these horrible people to mangle.
Believe it or not, I’m a fan of Rob Zombie and every time he has a new film, I am rooting for him to come out with something that’ll blow my socks off. Though it is problematic, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is his best film where Zombie was able to communicate themes he had been conveying in all of his films most effectively. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS first presents a family of heinous criminals in the Fireflys. Not only to we see the crime scene of dozens of murders and terrors, but we also witness the assault on the Banjo & Sullivan rock band which again, is able to drive the point home that these are evil people. Then he flips the script and we get to know these people, not as heartless monsters, but as actual people. By the end, despite their horrific crimes, you can’t help but feel for these characters as they are tortured by an unhinged cop and eventually gunned down by a police roadblock. With THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, Zombie is saying these are monsters, but they are also human and he wants you to recognize that. It’s a clear and precise theme.
Unfortunately, 3 FROM HELL lacks such a theme…or any theme at all, for that matter.
3 FROM HELL picks up right where THE DEVIL’S REJECTS leaves off. While it seemed apparent that Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) died at the end of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, it is revealed that all three were rushed to the hospital and despite insurmountable odds, they survived. We are also quickly taken through “The Trial of the Century” where each member is tried, convicted of their crimes and put on death row. After this breezy, multi-media montage we go about the motions to get Otis and Baby out of the slammer as a third sibling named Winslow (31’s only standout Richard Brake) joins the group in order to continue the Firefly’s killing spree. A quick decision is made to cross over to Mexico and the film culminates with a battle between the Fireflys and a heavily armed and masked Mexican gang of enforcers.
Just writing out that synopsis above highlights fore score and seven missed opportunities of story. I would have loved to see the chaos of taking the Fireflys to court. Aside from a few Manson and Bundy movies, there are very few films depicting the trial of a serial killer, let alone a serial killer family that become cultural icons from the serial killer obsessed public. You could have even had Winslow sneaking around in the background picking off jury members or taking them hostage in order to sway the opinions of the court. Even before that, how about some extended time focusing on the recovery of the Fireflys in the hospital—again, showing the Fireflys in a new, sterile environment, dealing with their wounds, and causing all sorts of mayhem there. But nope. Instead of taking the Fireflys in a new direction or placing them in a new environment, Zombie rushes through all of this in order to get the family back on the road, running from the law, and leaving bodies in their wake. It’s the same exact place they were in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.
Zombie tries to hint at a few new themes but they all fail dismally. There’s a point in the film where Otis observes that Baby has changed while in the slammer all of this time. Sure she is portrayed in several scenes as deadly, but we all knew that from what we saw in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. How exactly is Baby different? The line is spoken but is never addressed head on and ultimately dropped in favor of an explosive standoff finale.
There is also an interesting theme going on about how purpose-less and homeless these three killers are. Their home was burned down in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Their family torn apart. There are only three of them left and they really have no purpose or place to go. What are you killing for if not for family? What do killers do on their time off? What if one of the Fireflys get sick of killing and the rest don’t or vice versa? It makes the killings feel rather pointless and there is a nihilistic playground Zombie could really wallow around in here, but again, this seems to be too heady and less in your face to be dealt with for Mr. Zombie to tackle.
So after a few scenes of the individual Fireflys on their own, once they come together, that spark felt in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is dimmed because it is a return to status quo rather than a progression of story for this family. It makes you feel sort of sorry for them—not in a sympathetic way where we see the humanity in them, but it is highlighted that there is nothing of substance to these “rebels” even after they get the freedom they are working for. In the end, the whole film feels like it only served to revive the film for franchise potential rather than telling a story as powerful as the one Zombie told in the previous entry that showed character and plot progression.
In the end, 3 FROM HELL feels like Zombie didn’t push himself but instead simply returned to something he was comfortable with. The opportunity for some really interesting developments are there, but instead the easy road is taken. It’s wasted potential, which really ended up leaving me disappointed and in a funk after seeing the film.
3 FROM HELL is far from boring. There are some heinous action set pieces featuring Baby and Otis establishing them as truly horrific monsters. The standoff at the end is, again, set to classic rock, and Zombie once again proves he is very talented in pairing music to image. The gore is prevalent, but there are no scenes as terrifying as the assault in the hotel room and truck impact from THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Moseley was born to play Otis and again chews up every scene he is in, shifting his character to more of the elder statesman of the family. Sheri Moon Zombie is fun, but is less evolved as a character–in fact she has regressed in character since we last saw her. Brake is a welcome addition to any cast and is able to convey some much needed substance as it truly seems he longs for some kind of integration into society as he identifies with Quasimodo from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and quotes him on various occasions. Still, the maniacally laughing serial killer schtick only goes so far—lacking true scare factor and only heightening the sense that everyone behind this is a mustache-twirling baddie rather than people rebelling from cultured society.
Once again, there are intriguing moments here, but many more missed opportunities with 3 FROM HELL. I hear the film was plagued with problems as the late great Sid Haig’s health issues effected the filming immensely and called for massive rewrites. Still, there is a better story about the Fireflys out there. I feel Zombie needs a co-writer as a check and balance system to curb Zombie’s indulgences. I’d like to see another movie about this family of monsters, but hopefully a little more thought will be put into it next time in terms of story, plot, and thematics. 3 FROM HELL is a breezy celebration of everything we already know Rob Zombie is into. I don’t know how many times I have to be burned to think otherwise, but I’m still hoping that there is more to Rob than just that.