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Rob Zombie has always been an enigmatic figure in the horror community thanks to his successful musical career, namely White Zombie and his solo projects. In 2003, he made his horror movie debut with House of 1000 Corpses and many horror fans (myself included) instantly fell in love with his brand of no holds barred style that recalled the gritty, grindhouse aesthetic of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie introduced us to his now famed Firefly family and almost instantly Otis Driftwood, Baby and Captain Spaulding became overnight horror icons.
Just two years later and Zombie gave us the sequel The Devil’s Rejects. It managed to propel the Firefly family and Zombie to superstar status among the horror community, even if since then the writer-director hasn’t recaptured the same magic – delivering many underwhelming entries in the genre throughout the years. Now Zombie has finally returned to the mythology of his Firefly family in the hugely anticipated 3 From Hell. Unfortunately, it’s easily one of the worst movies of the year.
3 From Hell starts out surprisingly interesting with a strong focus on the popularity and celebrity-like status of Otis, Baby and Captain Spaulding after their capture at the end of The Devil’s Rejects. All three have become beloved by American society and this newfound social status brings a new dimension to our main characters that recalls Mallory and Mickey Knox in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) or Kit and Holly in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973). Grainy TV documentary interviews provide the backdrop and get us up to speed with what’s happened since that superb finale of The Devil’s Rejects.
This opening 20 minutes feels fresh and justified. One can’t help but wish Zombie adopted this serial killer obsessed, faux-documentary style and presentation for the entire movie. Instead, after the introduction, 3 From Hell becomes everything we already witnessed in House of 1000 Corpses and particularly The Devil’s Rejects but executed without any real creative conviction or care for originality.
When things pick up, 3 From Hell turns the focus to Otis and his newly introduced half-brother, Winslow Foxworth (Richard Brake). Their focus is getting Baby out of prison so they can wreak havoc on the world like before. Brake from the onset of his arrival is an admirable little addition to circumstances. But unfortunately, it is an addition shrouded in emotional loss. Sid Haig passed shortly before 3 From Hell’s release and makes a minimal final appearance. It’s clear to see when Sid takes center stage he is not in good health and it deeply saddened me watching Haig perform his last ever scene as Captain Spaulding.
Zombie tries to replace Spaulding with Winslow’s ‘The Midnight Wolfman’ (yes, you read that silly nickname right). Unfortunately, it ends up feeling like an attempt to simply replace Spaulding as opposed to a fresh, new character. Brake does what he can with the role but in truth, Winslow is a character you have seen over and over in Zombie’s catalogue of movies and just isn’t strong enough to reach the status that Captain Spaulding occupies in fans’ hearts.
Bill Moseley’s Otis is brilliant as always, managing to steal every scene he is in. But Sheri Moon Zombie is, shockingly, more torturously terrible than she has ever been in Zombie’s movies. Baby has become almost entirely unhinged after her time in prison and with a serious lack of acting chops, none of it is exciting or interesting. Zombie’s dialogue is laughable in parts and coupled with Sheri Moon’s unnecessary over-acting, you are treated to Zombie’s own brand of torture, one that could make even the most hardened war veteran snap and give up their deepest, darkest secrets just so they wouldn’t have to watch another scene involving Sheri Moon cackling and smiling uncontrollably.
Zombie regulars Danny Trejo, Daniel Roebuck, David Ury and Jeff Daniel Phillips all make appearances and you can’t help but wish they didn’t. They are all underused and are simply in the movie to increase the kill count. Phillips is extremely poor as the Warden pulling all the strings to ensure Baby has a difficult confinement and Trejo’s inclusion is the definition of unnecessary. The Machete star’s bewilderment when questioned by Otis if his character Rondo remembers him from The Devil’s Rejects perfectly sums up my bewilderment of his inclusion in 3 From Hell. Even B-movie genre legend Clint Howard makes a brief appearance as party clown Mr. Baggy Britches only to be murdered in a tasteless manner that will have you scratching your head and questioning why Zombie even bothered to write him into the flick.
With regards to plot, 3 From Hell’s plot goes absolutely nowhere for about two thirds of it’s run-time but somehow culminates in a climax that makes absolutely no sense and wreaks of a director losing any remnants of a creative confidence he once possessed. The trio go on the run like they did in The Devil’s Rejects (although it doesn’t seem like law enforcement actually care about finding them again). They party and indulge in sexual debauchery just like in The Devil’s Rejects and they eventually are hunted down just like in The Devil’s Rejects.
The major difference is that The Devil’s Rejects culminated in a hugely rewarding finale that worked. With 3 From Hell we get an ending more fitting to Zombie’s awful last feature 31 but with an impressively horrendous juvenile attention to luchador assassins rather than sadistic clowns. I can’t figure out whether Zombie thought this would be funny or if he genuinely believed a ridiculous finale involving luchador assassins would be ‘really cool’.
Among all the negativity, Zombie does manage to provide another great musical backdrop for 3 From Hell. Just like The Devil’s Rejects, his latest deploys memorable classic rock as another character in this mythology, an effort to try and propel scenes from interesting to influential. But the material here is far too weak to enhance it above mediocrity.
Truthfully, there isn’t much more to 3 From Hell. It’s an extremely hollow movie that will leave a bad impression long after the credits have rolled. With 31, I believed Zombie had hit an all-time low. But with 3 From Hell, Zombie has truly lost any creativity he may have once possessed and ultimately, it is easy to see why it was only released briefly in select theaters throughout the US and had to settle for a straight to the bargain bin release. 3 From Hell, one can only hope, is Zombie’s final venture into horror cinema because it is, without a doubt, his worst.