Rob Zombie’s 3 FROM HELL was one of my most anticipated horror movies this year. It’s hard to believe it’s been fourteen years since The Devil’s Rejects, the second film in the trilogy. I know Rob Zombie’s films tend to be divisive among horror fans, but I am a huge fan of his work. I think Lords of Salem is a cinematic masterpiece and I love 31, which I don’t think enough horror fans have given a chance. It’s worth watching just for Richard Brake’s demented performance as Doom-Head. I enjoy Zombie’s very different take on Michael Myers’ story in his Halloween films as well. Maybe one day I will finally write an essay on Zombie’s films, but right now we’re going to talk about 3 FROM HELL.
We first met the murderous Firefly family back in 2003 in House of 1000 Corpses, where there was literally a house full of mutilated corpses killed by this sadistic family. Rob Zombie’s films are not for the faint of heart. They are ultra-violent, bloody and shocking. If you don’t like crazed hillbillies gleefully killing people while Sheri Moon Zombie’s Baby is gloriously cackling, these movies may not be for you. The third film in the trilogy, 3 FROM HELL, continues the Firefly family’s psychopathic story and is just as depraved and messed up as you would expect, because this is Rob fucking Zombie.
The last time we saw the Firefly family in The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), were on the run from the cops, driving down the highway and appeared to die in a hail of bullets while “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd played. It’s one of the most epic horror movie endings ever made.
In 3 FROM HELL it’s 1978, and we find out that somehow Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding all survived, and were sent to prison. The always entertaining Jeff Daniel Phillips plays the Warden, Virgil Dallas Harper. He’s cocky and proud of himself for locking up the Firefly clan and subjecting them to inhumane conditions in the prison. An unrecognizable Dee Wallace gives a standout performance as a prison guard who enjoys tormenting Baby, but also seems to have the hots for her.
People in the community are wearing t-shirts and campaigning to “Free the Three.” Reporters flock to the prison to interview the three and one of my favorite moments in the film is when a reporter attempts to interview Otis and Bill Moseley goes full-on Charles Manson. While Captain Spaulding is on death row, Otis manages to escape, but in the process, he kills another prisoner named Rondo, played by Danny Trejo, and unknowingly sets into motion a whole new chapter to the family’s story.
Otis meets up with his half-brother, Winslow Foxworth Coltrane or Foxy as they call him, played by the amazingly talented Richard Brake (31, Mandy, Perfect Skin). Otis and Foxy launch a plan to break Baby out of prison.
Baby is a lot crazier than we’ve seen her before in 3 FROM HELL, and it’s not clear if she’s gone more insane from being in prison or if she was like that all along. I think Sheri Moon Zombie’s best performance was in Lords of Salem, but here she gives one hell of a fabulous performance as Baby, who imagines a tiny cat dancing in her prison cell. This is some wacky shit. Otis and Foxy hold the Warden’s family and friends hostage until he agrees to help Baby escape from prison.
David Daniel’s cinematography in 3 FROM HELL is spectacular. At times it’s gritty and grainy and masterfully transforms to vibrant and colorful in the final act of the film. 3 FROM HELL is almost a full two hours of madness, but the three’s journey is never boring.
Otis, Foxy and Baby decide to flee to Mexico, where they find a rundown motel to hide out. It happens to be Día de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead, a holiday that lasts several days and involves elaborate skull makeup and ceremonies to honor the dead. While Otis and Foxy get down and dirty with some local women, Baby shows off her knife skills and makes friends with Sebastian, played by Pancho Moler (31). The combination of the Firefly family’s deviant behavior and everyone else in festive skull makeup gives a darkly sublime tone to the film.
What the three don’t know is that Rondo’s son is in Mexico and is the leader of a gang called The Black Satans and they’ve been looking for the Firefly family to avenge Rondo’s death. The Black Satans dress in suits and wear luchador masks. This is when things get really wild. The final act of 3 FROM HELL is like a magnificent Robert Rodriguez versus Rob Zombie mashup I didn’t know I needed in my life.
3 FROM HELL is a decadent, perverse, filthy ride and I loved every blood-stained minute of it. I appreciate Rob Zombie’s rogue filmmaking style and this film features great cinematography and an outstanding cast of degenerate characters and some badass performances, especially from Sheri Moon Zombie. I expect some provocative conversations to come from this film, but it lived up to the hype for me. Maybe I’m a little twisted, but I enjoyed this film immensely.
3 FROM HELL is now available to own on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The home video release also includes an audio commentary from the man himself, writer/director Rob Zombie as well as a “To Hell and Back: The Making of 3 From Hell” Featurette which is actually a 4-part documentary that is available on 4K and Blu-ray (Part 1 is available on DVD).