If I’m being perfectly honest, the movie I was most anxious about for 2019 was Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell. I’ve been a huge fan of Zombie’s for decades now, in terms of his music as well as his directorial efforts, and I consider The Devil’s Rejects to still be amongst the greatest horror movies we’ve seen in the last 15 years. So, how on earth does one even begin to follow up something like The Devil’s Rejects, which ended on such a pitch-perfect note? I wasn’t sure, but thankfully, Zombie seemed to have a few ideas, and we now get to enjoy another round of murder and mayhem with the gang in 3 From Hell.
And while it may not reach the same tension-fueled heights of Devil’s, or fully tap into the off-kilter anarchy on display in House of 1000 Corpses, 3 From Hell does manage to deliver a rather surprising road trip story that’s a bit more contemplative and thought-provoking than one might expect from a story centered on three maniacal serial killers. Sure, it has some issues, but as a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and to me, 3 From Hell is a worthy sequel that I feel like most Zombie fans are going to dig on as well.
Because the plot for 3 From Hell has been kept under wraps since it was announced, and admittedly, not knowing what was coming next added to my own enjoyment, I’ll keep my overview brief. In the beginning, we learn that Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) have miraculously survived the devastating shootout at the end of The Devil’s Rejects, and they end up standing trial for their horrific misdeeds, with the trio being sent to prison separately to serve out their lengthy sentences. Otis ends up breaking out of prison courtesy of half-brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake), and the duo set out to come up with a way to bust Baby out from the pokey and away from the watchful eye of Warden Virgil Harper (played by the always entertaining Jeff Daniel Phillips).
But because of their notoriety, and the fact that their entire lives have been consumed with committing atrocious acts against humanity, Otis, Baby, and Winslow find themselves being hunted yet again, and this time, their adversaries are prepared for an all-out war.
When it comes to Zombie’s movies, especially those centered around the Firefly clan, you can pretty much predict from the get-go that there will be a lot of uncomfortably shocking violence, excessive foul language, and a ton of frenetic energy from start to finish, which is certainly the case for 3 From Hell, with Zombie’s take-no-prisoners style of filmmaking front and center once again. What I didn’t expect is just where the story of 3 From Hell was headed and that along the way, we’d see these brutal anti-heroes take a moment to think about “What’s next?,” which I’m wondering just how much of is that is an extension of Zombie’s own meditation on the last two decades of his career as a director, and the nature of returning to the realm of the Firefly family once again for his latest.
To me, Zombie just taking a moment of contemplation, specifically with siblings Baby and Otis, who have definitely evolved since horror fans were first introduced to them in 2003, was something I felt like added yet another layer of complexity to these already complicated characters.
Another reason why 3 From Hell worked so well for me were the performances. Moseley is in top form once again as the grumpy sado-masochistic Otis, and Brake, who is a newcomer to the Firefly world, is a welcome addition to the mix here, with his charismatic delivery on full display. Throughout the movie, there’s an awkwardness with Winslow trying to live up to the infamous nature of his half-siblings that was oddly relatable, and Brake’s chemistry with both Moseley and Sheri is palpable, too.
And speaking of Ms. Zombie, I gotta say that she’s pretty damn great in 3 From Hell, as we see Baby contend with her time in the slammer and what it is doing to her already damaged psyche. There’s a shift that comes in the character of Baby when she finally gets to taste freedom again, and I enjoyed seeing Sheri pull back some layers on her character here. Also, there’s a great sequence where she squarely takes down several dudes who just ooze a false sense of machismo, which was utterly fantastic, and Baby also shares several emotionally driven moments with co-star Pancho Moler (who is also fantastic in the film) that adds a bit of heart to the story of 3 From Hell and ended up being some of my favorite scenes in the sequel.
That being said, 3 From Hell does suffer from a few issues that, for as much as I enjoyed the movie, did stick out to me like a sore thumb. The first troublesome aspect was a particular scene involving a naked woman being brutally murdered. Look, I get that these are terrible characters who do horrible things, but in this day and age, I was hoping to see just a little bit of restraint in that department, as there are other ways to establish that this unholy trio have little regard for the sanctity of human life. Maybe it’s me, and I’ve changed as a horror fan, but that scene in particular made me extremely uncomfortable, and not in a good way.
Also, and maybe this is me being too sensitive or something, but at one point in 3 From Hell, Baby dons a Native American headdress (which becomes part of her costume for the latter half of the film), and while I know that this is a story set in the past, where we sadly weren’t as concerned then about cultural appropriation, it just feels weird to see it now. Again, this might be something that won’t resonate with others, but to me, as soon as Baby put on the headdress, all I could think was, “Oh no.” And beyond that, I do feel like the story spends some time in the first half spinning its wheels a bit, but once we hit the hour mark, that’s when things really start to pick up.
But as a whole, 3 From Hell was still a lot of fun and it feels like Zombie has grown a bit as a visual storyteller to boot. Led by some truly excellent performances by Rob’s frequent collaborators and a wholly unexpected story that thematically shares some DNA with The Devil’s Rejects, but never feels like a narrative retread in any way, I’m happy as a longtime Zombie fan that I can now breathe a sigh of relief that 3 From Hell gave me everything I never knew I wanted from this series, and so much more.
Movie Score: 3.5/5