Rob Zombie’s latest film “3 From Hell” is the third film in his Firefly Clan trilogy and quite simply one of his best ones. This is a blood-soaked homage to the seventies grindhouse films that Zombie grew up admiring and the kind of wild genre craziness that became a major influence on both his music and directorial style.
This is intense genre filmmaking on high levels. Zombie has been coasting for some years now (his “31” was a fun Horror one-off and his “Halloween” remake films are better left unmentioned) but this project shows that Zombie is a great genre director.
The film is stocked full of the director’s usual flourishes; cameos from genre actors, seventies-era rock tunes, outrageous characters, etc. but in this one Zombie gives his actors many opportunities to shine and never lets the chaotic material overshadow the performances.
Bill Mosley has always been a talented character actor who has trapped himself in genre films for decades now and, frankly, that is just fine. Whatever the quality of the material Mosley’s performances are consistently unique and inventive. His work in two Horror classics (as Chop Top in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” and as Otis in ”House Of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”) is iconic and beloved by genre fans around the world.
Mosley returns to Otis here and, dare I say, brings him a bit of heart (or what that character considers to be a heart!). The actor shows Otis as a man who believes he is the very symbol of the devil and what we all fear. He thrives on it. But he also recognizes that the end is near and the society he rebels against is beginning to hit back. That fleeting time and what is left of his family has become important to him, much to his (and our) surprise.
Using mannerisms and tone, Mosley gives us subtle hints of the small spark of humanity inside the monster. This is the actor’s best performance yet.
Welsh actor Richard Brake proves again that he is a ferocious actor who can set the screen on fire. Brake plays the Firefly cousin Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane who stands in for Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding. Haig was to have been in the film fully but Rob Zombie realized that, at eighty, the actor was becoming too fragile to do many of the things the screenplay called for. Due to increasing health issues, Haig agreed and was reduced to an important and effective cameo with his role retooled to fit Brake’s character and talents.
Brake’s Foxy is all dangerous swagger and violent menace, perfectly complimenting the Firefly characterizations from the first two films and balancing the madness of the Firefly clan.
We come to Sheri Moon Zombie as Baby Firefly. The character has become iconic in the Horror film universe and the actress is great fun in the first two films but she has never been accused of being the next Meryl Streep. That said, she was always good. I am here to say that her performance in this new film is absolutely fantastic! Rob Zombie’s screenplay has allowed Baby (and Otis) to go through changes, as even the worst of us aren’t what we used to be. It is many years after the carnage of the first two films and solitary incarceration has caused Baby to retreat deeper into her twisted mind and while she is still very much a violent maniac for whom killing is an almost sexual release, she has indeed changed. So much so that even maniacal Otis is freaked out by the fact that his sister is almost too far gone. Baby Firefly is tripped-out sexualized hippie insanity and Sheri Moon Zombie nails the role, bringing a surrealistic and hypnotic madness to her portrayal.
Jeff Daniel Phillips is a recent addition to the Rob Zombie “stock company” having previously acted in the director’s “Lords of Salem” and “31.” Here he plays Warden Virgil Dallas Harper with a wit and swagger that recalls the great style of the late Powers Boothe. His Southern bravado and false macho confidence is a darkly comedic treasure that adds to the film’s pleasures.
Rob Zombie carves (forgive me) his film into three very entertaining sections. The first is the back story of how the Firefly clan survive the shootout at the end of “The Devil’s Rejects” and are all three in prison awaiting death sentences. This sequence is extremely well done and shown as a documentary (narrated by Barry Bostwick) complete with old scratchy footage and cheesy tv commentary dramatics. We watch as Baby Firefly navigates her way through the manipulation of a guard that is at once infatuated with her but is also trying to kill her while Otis uses the press to spout his diatribes against “The Man,” making Mansonesque celebrities out of the clan.
The second section is after Otis is broken out of jail by Foxy and takes the warden and his family and friends hostage. This horrifically intense sequence plays out as a full homage to William Wyler’s 1955 classic “The Desperate Hours” that is properly set up with a debate between Otis and Foxy on who is tougher, Bogart or Cagney.
The film’s finale takes place in a village deep in Mexico where Zombie, Art Director Scott H. Campbell and Cinematographer David Daniel create a world where death is everywhere. The Day of the Dead festival is in full swing and the townspeople are painted in the faces of the dead while the town itself is drenched in a sunburnt depravity and populated with prostitution and villains fueled by Tequila and violence and ruled over by a gang called The Black Satans.
When the Satans descend on the village and come after the Firefly clan, the ghosts of Sam Peckinpah and Howard Hawks are felt as Zombie creates an intense, nail-biting, climax that cements the film’s title.
Rob Zombie presents us with three extremely dangerous villains capable of the most stomach-churning violence possible but, as in “The Devil’s Rejects,” the filmmaker forces us to side with them, as it seems the entire world is just as, or even more, monstrous.
“3 From Hell” is unapologetically vulgar, violent, and as far from today’s politically-correct Hollywood as you can get. It is the kind of film that rarely gets made anymore. It is also a well-directed and well-acted genre piece that is one of 2019’s most entertaining films and one of Zombie’s finest works as a filmmaker.