Rreview by LL Soares
Sometimes, well water can be sweet.
For his new film, 3 FROM HELL, Rob Zombie goes back to the well that contains his feature debut, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003) and its sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), to give us a third film in the series, rounding out the blood-soaked trilogy.
I remember seeing HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES when it first came out. It was riding on a wave of infamy, having been rejected by Universal Pictures for its NC-17 level violence, and having to find distribution elsewhere (luckily Lions Gate came to its rescue). While it had a bare-bones plot (innocent people wind up in the path of a family of lunatics), it had a very distinctive style that embraced the ethos of such 70s horror classics as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), and I loved the look and feel of it. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS felt more like a fugitives-on-the-lam grindhouse flick (as well as a modern-day western), and I loved it even more, making it easily my favorite of Zombie’s films. It showed that there was still more to tell about the murderous Firefly Clan, led in REJECTS by Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and the killer clown known as Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig).
The thing is, at the end of REJECTS, our heroes (Anti-heroes? Raving mad lunatics?) died in a hail of bullets as their car raced towards a roadblock of police cars, with “Free Bird” playing loud on the soundtrack.
3 FROM HELL takes the story exactly where REJECTS leaves off, with the blood-soaked Rejects being rushed to the hospital, each sustaining at least 20 gunshot wounds. Somehow, they survive and are nursed back to health, only to be thrown in prison for more than a decade. The killers stew in their own juices for a while, then things get bloody.
We get caught up with the hospital and prison stuff via a quick documentary-like sequence that starts the film. A reporter even interviews the trio in their prison cells. This is the first and only time we see good ol’ Sid Haig, who, because of health problems, has limited screen time here. He goes on one of his trademark rants, before we’re told he’s executed soon after, via lethal injection.
Without him, how can there be 3 FROM HELL, you ask? Well, the new trio is completed with the emergence of Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake of HANNIBAL RISING, 2007, and MANDY, 2017), nicknamed Foxy or the “Midnight Wolfman,” Otis’s half-brother, who is crucial to Otis’s escape from prison. After they flee in a trail of blood, Otis and Foxy lay low as they plan a way to bust Baby out of the women’s branch of the prison. Eventually, they come up with a scheme that involves the Warden himself, a dapper, mustachioed dude by the name of Virgil Dallas Harper, played by Jeff Daniel Phillips (also in Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM, 2012, and in the TV shows WESTWORLD, 2016, and CLAWS, 2017). There’s a violent home invasion, hostage taking, and even a performance by an unsuspecting party clown named Mr. Baggy Britches (Clint Howard, Ron’s brother, who was the child star of the TV show GENTLE BEN. His other credits include SPLASH, 1984, ICE CREAM MAN, 1995, and HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS, 2006) before Warden Harper finally agrees to play ball.
Once Baby is freed (after years of solitary and the scorn of a prison guard played by Dee Wallace), the gang of three move around a lot, trying to stay off the radar of the authorities, which is hard when we’re talking about homicidal maniacs, especially now that Baby’s brain seen especially addled after her stint in the big house. We see a glimpse of this in a scene where Baby, alone in her cell, watches as a cat-faced ballerina dances behind a ventilation grate. It’s surreal enough to remind me of the some of the imagery I loved so much in THE LORDS OF SALEM (and wouldn’t it be cool if the dancing Cat woman teamed up with the naked Owl lady of UNDER THE SILVER LAKE for a demented version of the Owl and the Pussycat?). If Baby was crazy before, she’s even more batshit loco this time around, to the degree where even Otis seems caught off guard by her unpredictable behavior.
There are moments when our trio just seems tired of living, and it would have been cool if they verbalized this more. After years of craziness and violence and unrestrained murder, you wonder if they’ve reached the point where they feel like they’ve done it all and maybe it’s time to lay down and die.
They agree the best course of action is to head down to Mexico, and we’re soon South of the Border, with our trio trying to spice things up with knife-throwing contests and bordellos (and lots of tequila!) when they’re not going stir crazy in their hotel rooms. Unfortunately, this is the territory of the Black Satans Gang, led by the son of a guy Otis killed during his jail break (Danny Trejo in a brief role as a guy named Rondo), and the “proprietor” of the hotel, a twitchy dude named Carlos (Richard Edson, a terrific character actor who was also in DO THE RIGHT THING, 1989, SUPER MARIO BROS., 1993, and STRANGE DAYS, 1995) just happens to make a phone call to let them know that Rondo’s killers are in town, and ripe for the taking.
Which, of course, leads a bloody showdown between a lot of Luchador-masked assassins and three hillbilly psychopaths. Carlos’s put-upon “assistant,” a dwarf played by Pancho Moler (who was also Sick-Head in Rob Z’s previous flick, 31, 2016) turns out to be a sweet-natured ally.
Anyone who saw the previous mentioned 31 knows that the Number One reason to see the movie (one of Zombie’s lesser efforts) is for the monologue-spewing psycho clown named Doom-Head, played by Richard Brake in the movie. Despite that movie’s flaws, it’s a break-out performance. So it’s no surprise that Brake fits in just fine as the third amigo in 3 FROM HELL. He even adds some dark humor to the proceedings, as his Foxy is constantly bummed out by the way the media refers to him as a lesser criminal hanging around with Otis and Baby (he thinks he’s just as scary, Otis tells him he’s delusional). In fact, the quarreling between the three protagonists will remind you of kids arguing, and it can be just as funny. Moseley continues to give off Manson-like charisma as Otis, and Sheri Moon Zombie is kind of remarkable here as Baby at her most demented. It’s a solid performance from the otherwise underrated Moon, who shines in most of Zombie’s flicks.
The Mexico half of the film is my favorite – the dusty western feel plays like a demented funhouse mirror version of THE WILD BUNCH –and its peak is when the wacko Baby Firefly goes sneaking around with a bow, shooting arrows into the masked skulls of the Black Satans. Moon is the biggest of badasses here, and I couldn’t help but love her.
Which brings me to a quick observation – most of Rob Zombie’s movies almost seem like a love letter to his wife (albeit, a blood-soaked love letter). He writes roles specifically for her, and she’s given juicy material to work with. One reason why I loved Zombie’s LORDS OF SALEM so much (even though a lot of people slammed it) is that it’s the purest example of a Moon showcase, where she proves she can lead a movie all by herself. I really don’t know why more directors don’t hire her, but I’ve enjoyed every single one of her performances in Rob’s films.
The soundtrack is mostly the work of musician Zeuss, but there are also some choice cuts, including Suzie Quatro’s version of “The Wild One,” three songs by the excellent James Gang (“The Devil is Singing Our Song,” “Ride the Wind,” and “From Another Time”), Joe Walsh’s original band pre-Eagles, and an especially effective use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.” There’s even a song by yodeling Slim Whitman (“It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”).
How you feel about 3 FROM HELL depends an awful lot on how you feel about THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. If you hated the previous film, this one is not going to win you over. But if you enjoyed the fuck out of it as much as I did, then 3 FROM HELL will be a welcome return to the world of these demented thrill-killers.
I give it four knives.
© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives 3 FROM HELL ~ 4 knives!
Note: I saw 3 FROM HELL as part of a special 3-night-only release from Fathom Events, since this movie did not get a traditional theatrical release. It will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on October 15th.