Director Rob Zombie’s latest film is one of his best – here’s our 3 From Hell review.
In 3 From Hell, Rob Zombie follows up 2003s House Of 1000 Corpses and 2005s The Devil’s Rejects with a suitably twisted and bizarre horror/crime thriller. After a clumsy opening 10 minutes spent largely tidying away the end of The Devil’s Rejects (and exposing some budgetary restraints), 3 From Hell hops straight into a killer groove. By the time the credits have rolled, you’ll be bobbing your head to one of Rob Zombie’s very best films.
3 From Hell finds the Firefly family in police custody following the significantly-less-fatal-than-it-looked shootout at the end of The Devil’s Rejects. Facing life in prison or the death penalty, the newly famous Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) will need help some help if they’re going to get back on the road to their lives as America’s favourite serial killers.
The film may be lavished with trippy colourful sets and larger than life characters in brightly coloured clothes, but it’s also as grisly and brutal as the director’s darkest work. It sits somewhere between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House On The Left, retaining much of The Devil’s Rejects' grime while injecting a little of House Of 1000 Corpses' far out psychedelia.
Zombie draws on pop culture’s true crime obsession, Humphrey Bogart’s The Desperate Hours and women in prison exploitation movies as influences. Zombie’s work is always so unique, so out of step with everything else going on in cinema, that he’s worth his weight in Marvel films.
There’s a strange but effective moment in 3 From Hell, and I hope you’ll forgive a mild spoiler here (if you’d prefer to skip past it, head straight to the next paragraph), when clown Mr Baggy Britches (Clint Howard) is shot in the face. His big clown nose squeaks. It’s a horrible, unforgiving execution, but amongst the bang and the splatter of the sound design, there’s a faint squeak and, very sadly, it’s funny. It shouldn’t be funny, it should be awful. I wish it wasn’t funny, but it is. Much of Zombie’s film is focused on drawing out uncomfortable, unexpected human reactions.
3 From Hell is a film about camaraderie amongst killers. Zombie’s Rejects films are so strange in that he’s somehow able to keep you with his Firefly family even though they’re horrific. Their crimes could not be bleaker, played out in nausea-inducing detail onscreen, neither light nor free of consequence. Otis, Baby and Foxy may commit disgusting acts, but they’re charismatic and they look super cool. They’re fun to spend time with, beautiful people who do very ugly things.
As such, 3 From Hell asks a lot of its cast.
The late Sid Haig’s brief turn finds Captain Spaulding physically frail yet menacing. Haig is an actor we’ll greatly miss.
Richard Brake and Bill Moseley both impress. Moseley’s Otis still has those Charles Manson eyes and is mercilessly cruel, if perhaps slightly mellowed and worn from years of carrying so much violence. Richard Brake’s Foxy, a new character to the series, is thrilled to be along for the ride and keen to spill his share of the blood.
It’s Sheri Moon Zombie, though, who steals the show with a fizzing and deranged yet vulnerable turn as Baby. It really is some performance.
While Zombie’s return to the series may lack the directness and impact of The Devil’s Rejects, and perhaps errs too close to the plot of that sequel, it’s a hell of a film. It finds a new tone, one that’s perhaps a bit more reflective and warm.
It’s a tough movie to recommend because I think it’s brilliant but I know that for some of you, it would ruin your week. As mean as the 70s and so clearly spoken in the director’s voice, 3 From Hell is tripped out, violent and wonderful.
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