Let’s talk about Rob Zombie. Not the musician Rob Zombie but rather the film-maker Rob Zombie.
When he entered the world of horror with his 2003 directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses he got off to a flyer. The gritty, grindhouse and weird horror was inspired by the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre but had Zombie’s stamp all over it, not just in the soundtrack either.
It introduced us to the psychotic and murderous Firefly family, in particular Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). It was a decent hit for him and garnered a cult following over the years. We love it and you can read our review here. Following that, Zombie would refine his style for The Devil’s Rejects in 2005. The trio of Otis, Baby and Spaulding taking over the movie for a horrifying ‘on the run from the law’ tale. It is an excellent movie and the best work Zombie has done.
Unfortunately things went off the rails a bit from then. Gaining popularity in the horror world, Zombie would be put in charge of the 2007 Halloween reboot. A poorly done horror that was made all the worse by his sequel Halloween II in 2009.
It was these two films where people began to notice Rob Zombie had a style and he stuck to it rigidly. His attempt to make every one of his films a gritty and uber violent affair meant the reusing of tropes. Obnoxious closeups, shaky camera work, a constant slew of violence that would drag on and desensitise the watcher, rambling character speeches…these are just a handful of what you can expect in a Rob Zombie movie.
The downward trend continued into the mind-numbingly boring Lords of Salem and the terrible 31. The latter was touted as a return to his roots by uber-fans but by 2016 his tropes were more then tired, they were frustrating.
Which brings us to 2019 and Zombie’s latest body of work…3 From Hell.
When it was announced that Rob Zombie would be returning to the characters he created in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects we had mixed reactions. On the one hand, these characters were part of the man’s best work and it would be interesting to see what comes next. On the other, Zombie’s had more bad films then good and the ending to The Devil’s Rejects was perfect. Why ruin that by continuing a story that doesn’t need to be told?
Which is the over-riding feeling come the end of 3 From Hell. It simply wasn’t asked for and didn’t need to be made. There’s absolutely nothing here that makes 3 From Hell required watching, instead it’s nothing more than fan service. A chance to meet back up with characters we know and love.
Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Spaulding (Sid Haig) somehow all survived the mass shooting at the end of The Devil’s Rejects. Through news reports we learn that their survival was a million to one yet all three live, are tried and sent to prison. It’s here we get Sid Haig’s brief appearance (alas he was very ill and has since died) before he is executed whereas Baby and Otis live out their years becoming beloved figures in the eyes of a hardcore fan-base.
That there would have been an interesting story but unfortunately, it’s not one for this movie. Get used to the feeling of hoping for something more and being let down.
In prison for years, while out on work patrol (as if a mass-murdering, no-remorse psycho would ever be allowed on work patrol) Otis’ brother springs him. This is Richard Brake as Winslow Foxworth ‘Foxy’ Coltrane and together, him and Otis kill all the guards and prisoners including Danny Trejo’s Rondo. Who was a bounty hunter in The Devil’s Rejects. This is important to the plot later.
With a massive manhunt, Otis and Foxy hide out in the woods while Baby languishes in prison.
Eventually the pair go to the prison warden’s house and hold him and his family hostage until he agrees to get Baby out. Reunited, the trio murder everyone and head out on the road. Eventually they settle on crossing the border into Mexico where they are on a collision course with Rondo’s son and his gang.
3 From Hell is not a bad movie, that much needs to be made clear. However, it is not a good movie either. Sitting squarely in the middle where it does some things right and some things wrong. The two biggest takeaways from the movie are this.
Goodness, this is a boring movie. For huge sections of the film absolutely nothing happens. This might not have been so bad had it led to something exciting but often it doesn’t. On several occasions Zombie chooses to just ignore sections that could have been far better.
Sections such as how Baby and the Warden were able to walk out of the prison or how they were able to cross the border into Mexico. Forget all of that, here’s a lengthy knife throwing competition between Baby and some machismo men. Or how about a Baby vision where she sees some cat headed monstrosity doing ballet? That one had me flashing back to Halloween II in terror.
In case you haven’t got it, Baby is the star of the show here. In fact, her character hilariously outright says it to Otis and Foxy. Sheri Moon Zombie is a good actress and she does Baby great. The problem is the character works better in a supporting role where her weirdness isn’t the focus. Here, it is and it goes too far at times. Several of her prison scenes see the cheese factor dialled up too much.
She’s madder than ever which again could have been a story. Otis even remarks to Foxy that she is different. However, it goes nowhere. Another angle that could have been interesting but is dropped in favour of the same old stuff.
Thank the gods for Bill Moseley’s Otis who once again lights up the screen even if the fire we saw in House of 1000 Corpses/The Devil’s Rejects isn’t burning as brightly as it was. He has good chemistry with Moon Zombie but sadly, Richard Brake’s Foxy just feels tacked on.
Tacked on because Sid Haig couldn’t be involved. Brake is a good actor, he does sleazy villain great but here he is dialled back and pales because of it. The movie is no better or worse for him being in it. That’s not his fault, it’s how his character is written.
It does seem as though Rob Zombie may have struggled to put the story together for this. It just never seems to get going, never getting out of second gear. At its core, it’s literally prison break, pitstop and Mexico. There’s a scene in the motel between Otis and Foxy where they admit they have no idea what they’re doing or where they are going. It’s so relevant to the movie that it will make you wonder if they had broken character for it!
Along the way the trio kill a few people in Zombie’s trademark style, or at least it seems that way. Once the realisation that CGI is used, all the gore becomes meaningless. It’s not all the time, mainly for gunshots but it looks terrible.
Then we have the box ticking Rob Zombie tropes to enjoy. Shaky camera work when there doesn’t need to be any. Constant up close shots of characters, old-timey tunes playing over violence and lots of slow motion. However, the worst is how many shots have something obscuring the camera. It’s like Zombie decided to film the movie like a voyeur, constantly hiding behind something or someone. Infuriating.
At nearly two hours long, you’ll feel a lot of that and those hoping for a really satisfying payoff will be disappointed. The abrupt ending is a slap in the face and all you’ll likely feel is disappointment. It could have been so much better but it also could have been so much worse (we’re looking at you 31). Which brings us back to what was said at the start. It’s just didn’t need to be made and no-one is better off that it exists.
3 From Hell