Throughout the 2000s Rob Zombie reinvented himself from a rock star into a horror film director churning out several films including his theatrical debut “House of 1000 Corpses” in 2003, the sequel “Devil’s Rejects” in 2005 and a duology of “Halloween” remakes. In the 2010s however Zombie has been much more focused on his music, dabbling in only a few select movie projects during that time. With “1000 Corpses” and “Devil’s Rejects” still among his most popular films and the latter considered one of the best cult horror classics of the 2000s it’s no surprise that Zombie’s latest project after such a slow decade is a return to the franchise that legitimized him as a director. “3 from Hell” is the follow up to “Devil’s Rejects” and the third film in the series continuity. While most of the masses won’t get a chance to see this anticipated sequel in theaters, Fathom Events held a special three-day screening and I was lucky enough to be able to catch one of those showing locally. After fourteen years does “3 from Hell” live up to the lasting legacy of its cult classic predecessors? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “3 from Hell”.
“3 From Hell” picks up after the shootout that concluded “Devil’s Rejects” with Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and “Baby” Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) incarcerated while Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is executed for his part in the trio’s crimes. Otis manages to escape with the help of his brother Foxy (Richard Brake) and the two formulate and execute a plan to break Baby out of prison. Once freed the trio goes on the run and return to their murderous ways with the media nicknaming them the “3 from Hell”. They make their way to Mexico where they hide out through the annual Day of the Dead festival but find that while they may have escaped authorities in the United States, a new enemy connected to a prison crime committed by Otis is hunting down the trio and seeking revenge.
“3 From Hell” Is a fitting continuation of a long-thought-completed horror series that made Zombie a household name in the world of cinema, however it is the least impressive film of the trilogy in my opinion. “House of 1000 Corpses”, while odd and often divisive, still feels inventive, spooky and unnerving to this day as a genuinely fun tribute to horror films of old while “Devil’s Rejects” has earned a reputation as Zombie’s best film and provided a thought-provoking and subversive theme that caused viewers to look at the clearly despicable villains in a different light. “3 From Hell” might provide the gore and atmosphere Zombie is well known for, but it doesn’t provide near as much subtext or as many thought-provoking elements as its predecessors. It just kind of exists to continue the story of the Firefly clan to give fans a new blood-filled offering to satisfy their appetites for death and torture.
But what it does provide it does well enough to be a more than acceptable sequel. I mean when the trilogy as a whole is pretty good being the worst film in the group isn’t necessarily something to cry about. “3 From Hell” is a bit more watered down and plays it a bit safer than the previous movies, but it’s still filled with the F-bombs, gore, violence, and moments of tension and well planned pacing that made the first two films so much fun to sit through. “3 From Hell” packs in plenty of cringe-inducing deaths and isn’t afraid to make characters we hate, or the innocent, suffer even for no reason. We’re reminded plenty just how vile and evil these characters are and even the newcomer to the group, Richard Brake’s Foxy, is well developed as a dangerous murderer not to the trifled with. With that said though “3 From Hell” does lack stakes as the fate of the titular three are rarely in question. Also the absence of Captain Spaulding’s, whose actor Sid Haig couldn’t commit to the lengthy shoot due to health issues leading Spaulding to be written out early in the story, is sorely felt. Thankfully the other two previous stars, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie, return in full force to reprise their roles with Sheri Moon Zombie being the standout performance of the film and my favorite character as the mentally unstable Baby. So even without the fan favorite clown the cast is still solid and we’re given more than enough to appreciate why these murderers are so feared.
As a form of entertainment “3 From Hell” hit all the right notes for me and kept me glued to the screen from start to finish. There are some fun deaths, some entertaining new characters, and as previously stated the titular three are well portrayed and delightfully evil to the point where you find yourself enjoying them even when you know you’re supposed to hate them. However, I had a hard time justifying this sequel when it was said and done. As previously pointed out, there’s no real overarching theme to challenge the viewer nor does it embrace the artistic quality and inspired ideas from “House of 1000 Corpses”. It just kind of exists to exist and while I’m happy we have it it’s this fact, that the film fails to earn its existence beyond being Zombie’s gift to the fans, that prevents “3 From Hell” from fully rising to the occasion. It does pay homage to several horror clichés but not as smoothly as the previous films. It gives us great moments that showcase the heartlessness of its characters while also giving them a human quality and yet these killers felt much more dangerous in the past movies. Its dependence on proven formulas and its inability to do enough with its well defined characters make’s it simply a good movie that fails in comparison to the previous two, yet it offers more than enough to avoid derailing the trilogy.
“3 From Hell” is an exercise on how to do just enough to make a decent sequel without becoming a bad film. It’s a fun, gore-filled horror thrill ride that would never pass as its own film but as a part of Rob Zombie’s trilogy it does enough to continue the series’ success even if it fails to push things in new directions. While not as relentless or thought-provoking as the films that came before it, “3 From Hell” is a perfectly serviceable horror sequel that shows this series still has legs even after a fourteen-year hiatus. With fun characters we can love and hate at the same time, a well-paced story that cover a lot of ground for just under two hours, and a certain amount of Rob Zombie’s unique cinematic touch, “3 From Hell” might not be the sequel this series needed or deserved to justify its continuation but it’s a follow-up that respects what fans have been looking forward to and proves that while Zombie doesn’t always hit the mark he still has a good idea of what he’s doing behind the camera.