You have to take a moment and wonder if there was any sort of clamour for a trilogy defining movie featuring the classic characters that came from the mind of Rob Zombie. House of 1000 corpses was released in 2003 and its follow up, The Devil’s Rejects hit cinemas two years later. Given the ending of the second film, was there a way that it could continue? and should it? If the packed audience for the European premiere of 3 From Hell at the 2019 Sitges Film Festival was anything to go by then they couldn’t have come back quick enough.
By the grace of God, or probably Satan, the three rejects survived the shoot out at the end of the previous film despite taking over 20 rounds each to the body. Now incarcerated, they have spent over a decade gaining notoriety as the evilest killers alive. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) finally faces the grim reaper when he dies while still in custody. Otis ( Bill Moseley) is subsequently sprung from jail by his half brother Foxy (Richard Brake). Together they form and execute a plan to get Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) out of prison as well.
The film has an unusual approach to storytelling in that the first twenty minutes exclusively use news and documentary footage to firstly recap the events at the end of The Devil’s Rejects and then take the story forward over the next decade. it has a purpose but it does go on a little too long as it makes it point within the first ten minutes. Therese are bad bastards and everyone knows it. What it does do well is act as a tribute to the late Sid Haig in a way that you would think he would have approved of.
The main characters of Otis and Foxy are totally over the top, ruthless killers which is what you expect after the opening sequences. Otis may be older and greyer but the sick stuff he gets up to is still as crazy as ever. Remember, he is the calmest of the three. Moseley has been doing the role in one form or another for such a long time now that it comes as second nature to him. He totally inhabits the character with every mannerism and touches seeming natural. Or as natural as someone like Otis can be.
As his foil in the first half of the film, Foxy is just a straight-up killer. There appears to be little else he is good at or is interested in. There is no compassion or thought about what he is doing and why. There is a great scene where a clown stumbles into their company and he has to try to make them laugh to save his life. It is an excruciating couple of minutes that emphasise the way he fails time and again to raise a laugh and you can see Otis and Foxy getting more and more set on a bloody conclusion. It is a very good piece of acting, directing and writing which pays off humorously and satisfyingly.
Sheri Moon Zombie pretty much steals the film in the role of Baby. Her character is a cross between an innocent child and a feral beast. There is always an underlying menace to her that makes all of her time on-screen unsettling to watch. You really don’t know what is going to happen from one moment to the next. Her looks and her demeanour seem to draw people to her which she feeds off of and it is always to her advantage. It is a great performance that is so much more than a one-note portrayal of a twisted mind.
Apart from a single sympathetic character, there is no one that the audience can relate to positively. it isn’t that type of film. The parade of scumbags on both sides of the law means that we are detached from them leading to us not caring about their well being when violence is rained down upon them. it is telling that the aforementioned decent character is both a dwarf and has only one working eye. Even he is not someone that normally gets anyone on their side.
The film is all about the gore but to its credit, it is never the entire driving force of the story. It would have been all too easy to just string a few scenes of butchering and comedic killing together to please the core fan base. Instead, there is an actual story reason behind the violence. The scenes are brutal but they are very well constructed which makes them all the more enjoyable, so to speak.
Rob Zombie can be a polarizing director. Not everything he does gets praised and sometimes his reputation takes a bit of a kicking as was seen with his take at the Halloween franchise. Here, he is on much safer ground. 3 From Hell may not be a radical departure from the tried and tested formula but is surprisingly entertaining and well worth a watch.