The years have not been kind to the Firefly clan. 3 From Hell, the latest film in the Rob Zombie saga and follow-up to House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), follows the triple threats as they look to live another day free of shackles, free to cause harm to any in their path.
The movie has the feeling of a postscript more than a sequel, a check-in with characters we haven’t seen in a while. With that comes the wonder if 3 From Hell really earns its investment: it does, but mostly for fans of the previous films.
Bill Moseley (Otis), Sheri Moon Zombie (Baby), and Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding) return, and along with them comes Richard Brake as Foxy, another member of the family. Brake fits right into these movies, feeling like he’s always been there from the very start.
There’s a level of cruelty and malice that runs through the previous two films, finding itself here in a more retaliatory nature than instigated by them. It could be that all of the death that follows them everywhere they go has become more about survival, or perhaps they’ve grown bored of being the hunters and enjoy being the hunted now, more sportsmanlike in their slaughter.
There are signs of that in the manner of how they fight, making for a unique switch-up compared to the previous films. The way violence is filmed is a unique blend of suggestion and aggression, the slicing coming at the same pace as the editing so that it’s theatre of the mind, and offering a hint of hell to fill in the blanks. It’s a novel method of showing but letting the mind show some more.
What Rob Zombie’s created here is a true exploitation picture, going for the double-feature drive-in crowd that is craving movies just like this.
The movie manages to comment on the fascination of serial killers and the constant interest and coverage of their lives. The switch from lo-fi news to documentary style to actual storytelling early on provides a solid balance of showing how their exploits are perceived to the outside world, and the impact they have caused as their sentences are carried out.
Zombie shoots the movie with a high level of close-ups, creating this sense of tight claustrophobia and invasion of personal space with his filmmaking that makes the threat of each scene so close and so visceral. It’s an impressive display that holds on for the entirety of the movie.
3 From Hell goes out of its way to show that no one, really, is a good person. It’s a cynical view that fits this movie well, but in its entirety, the movie struggles to balance the cynical with the needed. Is this movie needed? To an extent, it’s nice to have it all back on screen, but despite its runtime, the movie feels a little slight.
It’s a hang-out movie with a sense of danger, blood, and guts. The three leads are a compelling trio, and Zombie’s style finds something interesting with its presentation and menace. But beyond that, 3 From Hell needed a little something more to push it over the edge.