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Rob Zombie’s beloved psychopaths are back in action after 14 years off the silver screen.
Fans of the House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects (myself included) have had an extremely long time to sit and wait for Zombie to decide that it’s time to resurrect Otis Driftwood, Baby Firefly, and Captain Spaulding.
Personally, this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write, as The Devil’s Rejects might be my favorite horror movie ever released. As soon as I heard about the existence of 3 From Hell, my anticipation went through the roof.
After all that anticipation and waiting, is it even possible for Rob Zombie’s latest film to stack up?
Taken without any of the baggage of being the third movie in the franchise (and the way The Devil’s Rejects ended), 3 From Hell is an incredibly fun movie, assuming you have the stomach to deal with Rob Zombie’s brand of grindhouse murder.
Zombie finds a way to make Vera-Ellen “Baby” Firefly, Otis B. Driftwood, and Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane likable, in spite of being some of the vilest and most despicable characters in any horror movie. In spite of the heinous acts committed against innocent victims, it’s hard to root against the trio, which is partially because fans have invested so many years into these characters.
Speaking of heinous acts, those atrocities are what really makes 3 From Hell fun for horror movie fans. I won’t spoil the specific kills that happen throughout the movie, but I will say that they will make you uncomfortable even if you’re a veteran of the horror genre.
All of the characters (even Richard Brake as Foxy) do a fantastic job in their roles, through Bill Moseley steals the show with his portrayal of Otis B. Driftwood. Just like in the previous films, Moseley manages to turn an irredeemable piece of human filth and make him likable, which is truly no small task.
Zombie keeps up the 70s grindhouse style that has served him well over the years, and visually, the film is fantastic. There are trippy sequences, gruesome murders, old-school news footage, and everything else fans have come to expect from his movies, and they’re all still great even all these years later.
In the end, the best thing I can say about the movie is that it’s entertaining. Time flew by during it, and I was actually sad when it was over. That sounds like everything you could want from a movie, and on its own, that’s absolutely true…
Unfortunately, 3 From Hell is weighed down by two major negatives (and some smaller ones): there are far too many plot points that require to suspend your disbelief, and the film lacks a compelling reason to exist.
Starting with the suspension of disbelief, the film kicks off with a moment that’ll have you screaming out “that’s just ridiculous,” and that’s the very fact that Spalding, Baby, and Otis are even alive after the events that took place at the end of The Devil’s Rejects. To justify their survival, Zombie needed to come up with something interesting, but his solution feels incredibly lazy. Somehow, in spite of being shot over and over again, all three managed to live just by being lucky.
From there, plot points keep popping up that make you question how it is that the Firefly clan keeps managing to get so lucky. I won’t spoil them, but as you see the movie, you’ll know exactly which parts I’m talking about. Unless the devil truly is looking out for our beloved trio of sociopaths, it’s just hard to believe that they could get so lucky so frequently.
Perhaps, Zombie could have addressed this with a point in the plot, but all we really get is Otis saying “I’m the impossible” at one point.
The other big issue with 3 From Hell is that fact that it doesn’t feel like there’s any reason for it to exist. The characters don’t really advance as the film progresses, leaving them in almost the same state they were in at the end The Devil’s Rejects (minus some bullet holes).
The only character who has much of an ark is Baby. Her time in prison appears to have made her even crazier than before. There’s a real sense of danger to her in the first half of the film, but as things progress, she becomes more and more like her character from previous films, leaving her right back where she started.
Another issue is that the film feels very formulaic, to the point where you can also map out where it’s going based on the plot The Devil’s Rejects. The crew makes their escape, they end up with a group of hostages, they go party in a small town, and they have a final showdown. It almost feels like Zombie took the key plot points of Rejects and just relocated them and changed the victims to make 3 From Hell.
While it’s not Zombie’s fault, the minimal presence of Cutter aka Captain Spaulding really hurts the film. While Richard Brake does a fantastic job with Foxy, he has some big shoes to fill, no pun intended.
A lot of this movie comes down to expectations. Because The Devil’s Rejects was so close to perfect, I went into 3 From Hell expecting the same level of quality. And while the look, feel, and personality is there, no film can live up those expectations.
In the end, 3 From Hell is a fun movie for horror fans, and in a vacuum, it truly is a great movie. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and the pros most definitely outweigh the cons. Zombie’s inability to come up with a reason for the characters to have survived at the end of The Devil’s Rejects combined with the lack of real reason for this film to exist end up weighing it down too much.