3 From Hell (****) comes back around

Rob Zombies’ 3 From Hell – 2019

Writer and Director Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Richard Brake, Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Clint Howard

There is a point early on in any Rob Zombie film where one reaches a void of depravity. If you concentrate on the story, ignoring the waste of human lives, you see a form of crude poetry. It’s not complicated, but it is exact. If you outlast the shock, you feel a stability, if not any relief.

3 From Hell continues the story of the notorious family having narrowly escaped death. They are captured, hospitalized, then convicted. The sentences vary, ten years pass and one of them escapes with the help of a relative (Brake). The story then follows a path similar to The Devil’s Rejects. The difference is this time the Fireflies look a lot more like the good guys.

In three entries we’ve really had time enough to get used to the Fireflies. Their logic is our logic. This is the vision of Rob Zombie. As horrible as his protagonists are, everyone else is worse. Sometime its over the top, like Jeff Daniel Phillips’ warden. The others are all a weak, corrupt or mouthy. They are almost all fools.

In the hands of a less confident director, this method would grate. Zombie’s eye is more assured than it was in the bumpy first entry. He’s learned a lot of tricks, but more importantly he’s been able to ditch the feeling of gimmickry since that time.

This parallels the performance of Moseley as Otis. In House of 1000 Corpses, he acted like Billy Bob Thornton with a hangover. In his second, he was just brutal rage. The ten years has not erased his sense of nihilism. He’s older, calmer and just as vicious. He has had a decade to gather his thoughts, and his sense is the world is shit, so he might as well continue thinking he is Satan. Before, he had time to sit in his house yelling at his victims. Now, he’s on the run again so he’s got less time to ponder. This means he’s less prone to kill every woman he lies with. His character is the strongest in the story by a long shot, right up until Zombie’s plot unravels in a mano a mano showdown for no particular reason.

Sheri Moon Zombie is navigating a difficult character arc with Baby Firefly. Her 10 years has been a little rough, especially of late. Her actions are a more unhinged version of her sexpot psycho that we grew used to in the first two films. There seems to be a reason for this. She gets her shots in, but a lot of time in the hole has done her no good, in terms of introspection. As soon as she’s out, she retains the actions she grew used to in the past. That I can’t tell the difference between her in this or the first film tells me more about the lunatic world Zombie has given as her playground. When there are no rules, it’s tough to figure out when she’s up, down, or sideways.

There is an important relationship that she establishes in the third act, though, that becomes a true moment of bonding for her. This is nice to see. Before long, though, the moment has passed by and the lunacy continues.

Brake has become a Zombie staple in the last decade. He’s got more to work with than his previous efforts and he fits right in with the rest of the cast. His character is less depraved, perhaps, but he’s definitely a willing partner to the Fireflies in their crimes against humanity. The movie feels a fresh wave of vitality when he’s counter to the other Fireflies and he’s much easier to root for than his character in 31.

Haig doesn’t get as much screen time as the other two and the film does suffer a bit for his absence. There is not much that can be done, though. He is 80 and there was no way he was up for the scenes of carnage that must accompany the clan. He leaves an indelible impression, going out with a beautifully blunt tirade.

Zombie the writer has more work to do with plotting. It’s hard to reconcile about 1/3 of every twist in his films. The sentences for each of the convicted killers are so different, it boggles the mind. Why in the hell is anyone convicted of as much heniousity working on a chain gang? How in the hell can a warden be put in charge of such a failure, then be put in position for even more failure? Has no one in the area of the prison thought of putting up roadblocks when it seemed to work the last time?

Thing about it, when it gets to it, you stop caring after a while and go on the ride. You want to see these guys go a bit further down the road. You want them to get away with whatever they can. The scenery when the Firefly family submits to drugs and drink and then get down with the local populace is a kaleidoscopic delight that works so well with the music, the scene could have lasted much longer without losing it’s affect.

These three films are the pinnacle of Zombie’s career. His Halloween remakes may have grossed more, but this is HIS artistic statement. They are far from perfect, but they are also unforgettable. If you enjoyed the first two in the series, this will not disappoint.

(**** out of *****)

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